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Social networking: Citizen engagement

Web 2.0 – hype or helpful?
NIGEL LANCASTER discusses how Web 2.0 and social networking tools can promote libraries and their resources to a wider audience.


eb 2.0 and social networking have been increasingly persistent buzzwords in the technology world since Tim O’Reilly and Dale Dougherty coined the term in 2004 (O’Reilly, 2005). IT industry analyst Forrester recently identified seven Web 2.0 categories (Shiels, 2008): blogs, mashups, podcasting, RSS, social networking, widgets and wikis, all of which could be included in the arsenal of public library communication. It predicted that social networking would attract the greatest levels of investment. In the business environment it is predicted that ‘enterprise 2.0’ will spend almost $5bn on social networking tools by 2013 (Shiels, 2008). In the library field today there are myriad events on the Web 2.0 theme. One of the key themes at the Public Library Authorities Conference in October is connecting people through such digital technologies. Library usage is moving from traditional face-to-face activity to new forms of electronic interaction, enabling libraries to build closer relationships with existing users and to forge new virtual relationships and communities with those who do not currently use the library service. Libraries can improve communications with customers by using Web 2.0 to foster and create new citizen interfaces, discussion groups and online activities, following the example of mainstream social networking sites. Web 2.0 allows users to publish their own content on the web and opens up a world of social networking facilities such as the ability to share text, video and audio outputs. The popularity of social networking sites has grown enormously over the past decade. The website says: “Social networking websites function like an online community of internet users. Depending on the website in question, many of these online community members share a common interest such as hobbies, religion, or politics. Once you are granted access to a social networking website you can begin to socialise. This socialisation may include reading the profile pages of other members and possibly even contacting them… While there are a number of social networking websites that focus on particular interests, there are others that do not. The websites without a main focus are often referred to as ‘traditional’ social networking websites and usually have open memberships. This means that anyone can become a member, no matter what their hobbies, beliefs, or views are. However, once you are inside this online community, you can begin to create your own network of friends and eliminate members that do not share common interests or goals.” (What is Social, 2006)

(, which focuses on fantasy and sci-fi and has an estimated 185,000 registered users. LibraryThing, a site for booklovers, boasts 400,000 users ( In an indication of the growth in popularity of such sites, News Corp paid $580m for the parent company of MySpace in 2005 when it was just taking off and had a mere 17m members. Just two years later in 2007, Facebook was valued at an estimated $15bn (Waters, 2008). It is the UK’s number one social network with over 8 million users (BBC, 2008).

How libraries use social networking sites
A recent survey reviewed the use of mega-internet sites by libraries in the US and other countries, including the UK (Primary Research Group, 2008). 23.9 per cent of the 120 libraries surveyed were from the public sector. Presence on social networks such as Facebook is growing. The survey snapshot showed that 6.9 per cent of the public libraries and 17.36 per cent of the survey population already had a presence on Facebook, with a further 27.59 per cent of respondents planning a presence. Early in 2008 East Renfrewshire Council became the first public library service to use Facebook for publicity purposes. Its page provides details of services, as well as a space for engaging in discussion or asking advice (Bradley, 2008; Browne, 2008). Others such as Harrogate Library have followed suit (Harrogate Library Project, 2008). Public library presence was higher on MySpace with 31 per cent of the survey already having taken this step and 27.5 per cent planning coverage on that site. UK users include Newcastle City Library, whose site includes videos, music and blogs (Newcastle City Library Service, 2008). In addition, 24.14 per cent of public libraries have one or more YouTube accounts, with 17.24 per cent planning to have a presence in the next year. UK proponents include the National Library of Scotland, which uses it to help publicise the John Murray archive (The Scottish Government, 2007), and Southwark Libraries, which used it to promote the launch of its Latin American collection (Imagen Latina Television, 2008). The survey also showed that library websites were becoming increasingly important, with 18.3 per cent having spent some time thinking about search engine optimisation for the library, 8.33 per cent having spent considerable time and 1.67 per cent having used a consultant or freelancer to help optimise their rankings.

How libraries can integrate Web 2.0 into their own online presence
Libraries are increasingly seeking to integrate social interaction and networking into their services and to encourage their users to form groups around topics, authors or books of interest. With the development of Web 2.0 and the growth of social networks, community-created data and many-to-many publishing, users and service providers are starting to believe that information provision works best as an interactive, two-way activity. Users expect to be able to provide and receive feedback on data; this may take the form of peer reviews, gaining insight from other experienced users in the community, or even updating incorrect or outdated

Wikipedia lists 120 ‘major’ social networking sites, ranging from ‘traditional’ sites such as MySpace ( with an estimated 110 million users (Swartz, 2008), to the relatively obscure and specialist such as Elftown 6

“Library chiefs need to focus on increasing their status within the local authority, as well as on embracing new ways of working and new technology, if they are to make the most of the opportunities offered by Web 2.0.” Nigel Lancaster
information themselves. Such services will help to encourage library patrons to use library websites as one of their top online sources, rather than turning to large search engines as the answer to their prayers. Public library authorities can use Web 2.0 software to offer service promotion via tools such as expert reviews, recent searches, library-generated ratings, recommendations and tag clouds. Jerk Sintorn, CEO of IT systems and services company Axiell Library Group, points out, “Google brings up a huge number of hits and the number of hits is increasing exponentially. What Google doesn’t do is to alert users to the most relevant or the highest quality hits. That’s where librarians can really add value.” Most would agree that librarians should be promoting the use of the hand-picked and often expensive quality information sources they offer, rather than offering instruction in use of the Google search engine, as reported by 69 per cent of libraries in a 2008 survey (Primary Research Group, 2008). Related resources could be integrated into the OPAC search or other library search engine, perhaps in the form of automatic searching of local authority and national websites and paid-for services. Reader development services such as book reviews, discussion groups, ratings and suggestions could be included as part of the library’s online presence. Local information or ‘community-owned information’, such as materials from archives, clubs and societies, record offices and picture libraries, could appear on the site in addition to provision in leaflet form. Personalisation is a key part of the new online Web 2.0 ‘revolution’ and users will expect the library site to offer features such as user-generated ratings; peer reviews; tagging; debate and discussion fora, as found on traditional social networking sites; and ‘my library’ functions: the creation and publication of personal libraries, which could be supplemented automatically by items borrowed or reserved from any library. As well as offering new facilities and improved ways of delivering services, Web 2.0 tools will hopefully also attract new users. In the US libraries have started to introduce such services. Ann Arbor District Library ( introduced what it termed its ‘SOPAC’ or Social OPAC back in January 2007. John Blyberg, Ann Arbor’s then systems administrator and chief architect of the project, commented: “The SOPAC represents a slew of features that I’ve wanted to implement for quite some time now. I’m rather excited to see if library users will respond to these tools in an OPAC setting as much as Web 2.0 users have to commercial social networking sites. I’m fairly confident they will… So what is the SOPAC? It’s basically a set of social networking tools integrated into the AADL catalog. It gives users the ability to rate, review, comment-on, and tag items.” (Blyberg, 2007) St Joseph County Public Library ( is also a pioneer of services delivered over the web. Its website has included a blog since 2003 (Anderson, 2005) and now includes features such as ‘IM a librarian’, ‘books on iPod’ and the facility to ‘check your email’ on accounts such as AOL and Yahoo direct from the library site. Its 2005-2007 technology plan aimed to “discover the newest technology – that extends, expands and enhances our services, while ensuring equitable access to information.” (St. Joseph County Public Library, 2005). In the UK library world, a recent report for CILIP implies that consideration should be given to new methods of service delivery (Conway, 2008). Such moves are already afoot in the UK academic library field where “library curators post their own blogs, libraries podcast, and learners are urged to post interpretative content around library collections and catalogue entries.” In addition, “social bookmarking enables students to flag up online academic resources that they found especially useful. Comments can be added and shared with their peers – the equivalent of writing notes in the margins of a book.” (Midgley, 2008).

Libraries at the centre of local authority information
The move towards integrated, personalised information operates at an organisational level, as well as at an individual level. Local authorities want a 360° view of citizens. Integration of information through a CRM (Customer Relationship Management) system will allow staff to better serve their citizens by being able to see all relevant service and demographic information for each resident in a single place, with the ability to cross-reference. Cross-department co-ordination of activities becomes possible: for example, Libraries and Social Services directorates would be aware of an older person moving temporarily into a respite care home, and would thus be able to reroute services accordingly. A single account and payment interface is also possible, making service payments more efficient for the citizen and allowing the local authority to address social inclusion, poverty and debt collection in an holistic manner. The benefit of this for users is that they will be able to find all local authority information in one place. In academic libraries, “today’s students are used to accessing simple, single and intuitive interfaces such as Google, Yahoo and MSN, but are less happy struggling with what can be harder-to-use and more ‘clunky’ multiple library interfaces.” (Midgley, 2008). The same can be said of public library users, who generally are perhaps even less used to dealing with computer interfaces than students. The citizen-centric philosophy within local government means that, increasingly, citizens will be able to access both service commissioning and personal information through a single, person-centric local-authority web space. Users will be able to check information on any interaction with the authority. They will be able to move easily from task to task, e.g. from library renewals to arranging a refuse collection, without moving from bespoke system to bespoke system, and without needing to log in to each individual system. Local authorities are increasingly providing these services – typically marketed as the ‘My Council’ function. However, the vision is still lacking as regards information discovery and associated social networking for local people. There is a real
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“Google brings up a huge number of hits and the number of hits is increasing exponentially. What Google doesn’t do is to alert users to the most relevant or the highest quality hits. That’s where librarians can really add value.” Jerk Sintorn
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opportunity for library and information services to deliver services in this space. DS, a specialist management systems supplier for the public library market, has recently launched its DSArena product, which will provide these services and complement the OpenGalaxy library management system. David Fay, City Libraries’ Manager for Newcastle Libraries, Information and Lifelong Learning, is looking into the possibility of using DSArena: “We already use MySpace to generate interest in the library from the Generation Y digital natives. DSArena would provide a natural extension of this to allow us to attract new customers who are used to the high degree of personalisation and interactivity offered by Web 2.0 sites. We are also excited about the ability of our customers to share information and experience online without needing to visit a library. We would also anticipate other user groups, such as our Silver Surfers, would be fast to adopt Arena.” Libraries would probably want to keep a dedicated OPAC for more traditional users, with Web 2.0 services offering an

alternative or a complement. Certainly in the US, libraries such as Ann Arbor District Library have chosen this route, preferring to offer users the traditional alongside the new. Social networking initiatives in the library world are generally driven by library information professionals in conjunction with the corporate IT team. It is likely that other departments within local government will follow, as they see how the library initiative can complement their offering. Patrick Conway, author of the recent Conway Report for CILIP (Conway, 2008), has warned that “...some local authorities don’t fully recognise that the library service can contribute positively to their overall strategic objectives and this may be because the Head of Service responsible for public libraries does not have a seat on the council’s top table” (CILIP, 2008). Library chiefs need to focus on increasing their status within the local authority, as well as on embracing new ways of working and new technology, if they are to make the most of the opportunities offered by Web 2.0.
Nigel Lancaster is Sales Director, DS.; 0115 900 8000 DS is the market leader in technology solutions for UK public libraries and archives and has over 30 years experience in developing generations of systems for its customers. DS is a member of the Axiell Library Group.

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O’Reilly, T. (2005). What is Web 2.0 [Online]. Sebastopol, California: O’Reilly Media.

[Accessed 26 July 2008] Primary Research Group (2008). Libraries and the MegaInternet Sites: a survey of how libraries use and relate to Google, Yahoo, Wikipedia, Ebay, Amazon, Facebook, YouTube and other mega-internet sites. New York: Primary Research Group. Shiels, M. (2008). ‘Web 2.0 is set for spending boom’. BBC [Online]. 22 April 2008 [Accessed 26 July 2008] St. Joseph County Public Library (2005). Technology Plan 2005-2007 [Online]. South Bend, Indiana: St. Joseph County Public Library. -2007.pdf [Accessed 26 July 2008]

Swartz, J. (2008). ‘Social-networking sites going global’. USA Today [Online]. 10 February 2008. [Accessed 26 July 2008]

The Scottish Government (2007). John Murray Archive [Online]. San Bruno, California: YouTube. [Accessed 26 July 2008] Waters, R. (2008). ‘LinkedIn networking site joins $1bn club’. Financial Times [Online]. 18 June 2008.

[Accessed 26 July 2008] Newcastle City Library Service (2008). Newcastle City Library Service [Online]. Santa Monica, California: MySpace.

[Accessed 26 July 2008] What Is Social (2006). What Is Social Networking? [Online]. Webster, Texas: What Is Social [Accessed 26 July 2008]



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