In Brief: This article discusses how and why The College of New Jersey (TCNJ) Library decided not to develop library-specific social media channels and why other academic institutions should consider a similar approach. For many years, most literature on social media was how-to based (Jacobson, 2011); as a result, when academic librarians discuss engaging students, they start with a presumptive answer of “social media” and then work backwards to the how and why. In contrast, TCNJ’s Library addressed the question: “Should the Library actively develop its social media presence?” We first looked at the social media channels already supported by the college, and considered whether our audience was already being reached by other well-maintained sources. Second, we looked at what students were already posting on social media about TCNJ’s Library, both publicly and anonymously. Finally, we surveyed the students to better understand their social media usage, concerns, and desired method of interaction with the Library. Considering all of these factors, the Library decided not to develop or maintain its own social media channels.
This paper discusses how and why The College of New Jersey (TCNJ) Library decided not to develop library-specific social media channels. For many years, most literature on social media was “how-to based” (Jacobson, 2011); as a result, when academic librarians discuss engaging students, they start with a presumptive answer of “social media” and then work backwards to the how and why. The understanding is that since students are on social media, librarians should be too.
In 2014, TCNJ Library had an abandoned Twitter account and was absent from all other social media outlets. At that time, the Library Steering Committee (LSC) issued a charge to the Library Web Committee that stated “TCNJ Library does not have an official policy for participating in social media. The LSC has received a suggestion to consider the nature and extent of the Library’s online presence in social media venues.” The Library governance process requires a three step process for any charge to ensure that there are opportunities for formal testimony and open comment from affected individuals. The steps are:
- Identifying and reporting the problem. If necessary, the Library Steering Committee (LSC) will prepare a charge identifying the issue for the appropriate committee.
- Preparing a preliminary recommendation.
- Making a final recommendation.
Committees are expected to be proactive in inviting stakeholder groups to provide testimony at both steps # 2 and #3 of the process. This type of feedback is usually gathered through open forums in the Library, but attendance by undergraduates at these forums tends to be very low. Instead, a survey was created to better understand undergraduate preferences and potential levels of engagement.
For the last decade, libraries have investigated how to best make use of social media for everything from marketing and outreach to information literacy and instruction. In a 2006 article published in Library Journal, Beth Evans of Brooklyn College declared that the best way to reach students at her institution was Myspace (Evans, 2006). The same year Brian Matthews of Georgia Tech declared “Among college students, Facebook is king” (Matthews, 2006).
In 2010, Andy Burkhardt published guidelines for a library’s social media presence. In the article, he points out that when libraries are planning to use social media, or any technology they should first ask “Why are we doing this, and what do we hope to gain from it?” (Burkhardt, 2010). While he offers no specific examples of what a library’s social media goal might be, he discusses its use as a tool for marketing new products or initiatives. He further explains that libraries should devise concrete goals for social media. One potential goal he cites is “after one year we will have 100 fans” (Burkhardt, 2010).
In her 2013 book entitled The Librarian’s Nitty-Gritty Guide to Social Media, Laura Solomon defined specific goals for social media usage. She recommends setting tangible goals such as “more people at events and programs” and “new knowledge about your patrons and how they view the library” (Salomon, 2013). Laura Solomon also reminds users that to accomplish the goal of getting more people at events through social media, it is not enough to just announce the event as a library would in a newsletter. Effective social media requires a lot of time, effort and planning in order to build connections and community (Salomon, 2013).
Social Media at The College of New Jersey Library
In order to better understand the Library’s social media needs, the first step was to examine the social media policy of the College as a whole. The College publishes guidelines for creating a social media presence. TCNJ’s Office of Communications, Marketing, and Brand Management ask that the following questions be answered before starting any new social media channel on campus.
- What do you hope to achieve?
- Who is your audience?
- What channels would reach them most effectively?
- Do you have the resources and commitment to run these channels well?
- Are other related departments already doing something similar?
- Do you need multiple channels? Would few, stronger channels be better?
The Library Web Committee first considered the question: “Who is our audience?” To find the answer, the committee looked at TCNJ Library’s mission statement: “The College of New Jersey Library, in support of the College’s mission, provides high-quality information resources, expertise and a learning environment that enhances the search for knowledge and understanding. The Library serves as an intellectual, cultural and social center for the College, empowering TCNJ community members to become self-directed, lifelong learners and responsible citizens” (http://library.tcnj.edu). Based on the mission statement, the Library’s audience is the entire TCNJ community.
The committee next looked at the question: “Are other related departments already doing something similar?” The committee found that the College was, and is, aggressively pursuing an active social media presence. For example, TCNJ created a page for use by faculty, staff, students and alumni called TCNJ Today. TCNJ Today is designed to share campus news, and pulls data from all of TCNJ’s social media accounts. TCNJ also has many official social media channels designed to reach the entire campus, including a Facebook page, Twitter account, YouTube channel, Instagram account, etc. All of these channels are already designed to reach the Library’s audience and the Office of Communications encourages individual departments to share their information on these already established channels. Many TCNJ schools and departments also have their own social media channels, targeting specific groups.
The next question the Library Web Committee evaluated was whether the Library had the resources to create and maintain social media channels of its own. Maintaining social media channels requires large investments in time and maintenance. Social media managers are frequently reminded of the Pareto principle, otherwise known as the 80/20 rule (Matei & Bruno, 2015). This rule states that only 20% of social media content should be about the brand – in this case the Library – and the other 80% should be other content that is interesting to and shareable by users. The type of posting required to keep a social media site relevant and interesting requires a significant amount of personnel hours and expertise, particularly in finding non-promotional material. As the library had no additional funding to hire new personnel, social media content would need to be generated by existing librarians and staff. This would require shifting responsibilities and would take librarians and library staff away from other ongoing and proposed projects.
Around the same time, other departments on campus began encouraging the Library to develop an institutional repository and digital archive. While these projects were not related to social media, limited resources and manpower made it impossible to continue with both of these efforts simultaneously. It was likely that these two projects would require the same librarians and staff to be successful. There was a great need to preserve and archive student and faculty research and material was being lost. Additionally, the demand for digital materials related to college history was growing as the need for fundraising on campus increased.
Finally, the Library looked at the most important question which asked: “What do we hope to achieve?” This came last because it was the least clear. TCNJ’s Library currently does not do any library programming throughout the year. While there are some events held inside the Library, the Library does not organize or sponsor them financially. Any promotion that the Library did was to advertise services and resources and to develop relationships with the TCNJ community.
The Committee also recognized that the Library markets itself and supports its community through building and maintaining strong relationships. The Library prioritizes face-to-face interactions to build relationships with students and faculty. An information literacy course is taught every semester by a librarian and is required of all incoming students. Subject liaisons teach dozens of library sessions throughout the semester. The liaisons also work individually with faculty and staff members to market our services by building relationships. In 2015 alone, librarians answered 5,600 reference and informational questions. Librarians also serve on college-wide committees and planning councils, insuring that no matter what is being discussed, the Library is always part of the conversation.
Faculty and staff opinions were gathered during open forums in the Library as part of the governance process. Open forums are held during open campus meeting times and allow interested faculty, staff and students to weigh in on proposed policy changes. Anonymous questions are gathered through a web form before the forum to frame the discussion. Participants are encouraged to give feedback at the forums or to provide it anonymously through the webform afterwards. This data is compiled and used during the decision making process, however due to Institutional Review Board (IRB) constraints, those comments cannot be shared publicly.
Student attendance at the open forums was predictably low so the Library decided to conduct a survey to assess specific undergraduate social media behavior. 86 undergraduate students were surveyed at TCNJ in the spring 2016 semester. Researchers obtained permission from professors to distribute surveys in randomly selected courses during regular scheduled meeting times. Students were then given the option to spend the first five minutes of class either completing the survey or working on other course work. All survey participation was optional, and the college’s IRB reviewed and approved the survey. The survey used the following definition: “Social media refers to any commercial product through which users create online communities to share information, ideas, personal messages, and other content. Examples include, but are not limited to Facebook, Instagram, Yik Yak, Snapchat and Twitter.”
The survey addressed the following research questions:
- For what purposes do students use social media applications?
- What are the students’ privacy concerns when using social media both personally and professionally?
- What are the students’ expectations for social media interactions?
- Is social media the best way to reach our audience?
The survey was designed to determine why TCNJ students use social media. Results showed that, while 97% of students utilized social media for personal use, the numbers were lower for professional, academic and college-related activities. 78% of students surveyed indicated that they used social media for academic course work, 70% used social media for professional purposes and 60% indicated that they used social media to interact with non-academic areas of the college such as housing or dining services.
In addition to assessing students’ social media habits, the survey also asked about their privacy concerns and how often they post publicly or anonymously on various topics. A Likert scale ranging from “very comfortable” to “not comfortable at all” was used to assess how willing students were to make public posts on various topics.
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In order to understand what type of communication the students expected to receive, we used a Likert scale asking students to rate how likely they were to expect a response to different types of feedback. 46.5% of students surveyed stated that they agreed or strongly agreed with this statement “When I post a comment or complaint about a customer service experience to their social media channels, I hope to get a response.” Fewer, only approximately 37%, said that they agreed or strongly agreed with statements asking if they expected to receive a comment when posting to their own page, a third party or in an anonymous forum.
While, approximately 78% of students said that they use social media for academic course work, only about 50% were comfortable or very comfortable having professional or academic discussions on social media. Furthermore, students expressed less comfort using social media for activities related to course work, grades and teacher reviews. Therefore, while it was apparent that students were using these channels regularly, in view of the expressed discomfort with social media for academic and professional purposes, the Library determined that student needs could best be met through face-to-face interactions and other channels.
What Patrons Were Already Doing
If the Library was not going to create our own social media channels, the question then became how could existing channels best be used to reach the Library’s users? To do this, it was important to identify where TCNJ community members were online and more importantly where they wanted to find the Library online.
In order to find where TCNJ faculty, staff and students were and had been online, the committee did targeted searches of various social media accounts looking for posts mentioning both the words, TCNJ and Library. All of the posts shown in this paper were found in 2016, anywhere between one year and four years after they were posted. While too much time had passed to effectively respond to these individual posts, they were evaluated to better understand how the Library could respond to these types of postings in the future.
The posts reviewed were gathered from a variety of sources, including student-run and personal Twitter and Facebook accounts. While some of the posts addressed real or serious problems in the Library, others did not. It also was not always clear if the user expected a response. These posts could generally be categorized as related to facilities issues, noise and other student behavior complaints, and directional questions. Some examples of the posts are shown below.
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Currently, the Library provides several ways for students to report problems or request information. There is a Send-A-Suggestion form located on the Library website that allows users to send in comments or questions about the library. There is also a chat box, email form and SMS number on the Library website as part of our Ask-A-Librarian service. All of these methods allow the user to either comment anonymously or include their name. Issues raised on social media are already handled through these other channels. Students are also encouraged to come to the reference, circulation or IT help desk to ask questions and to report problems.
After evaluating the student survey, faculty feedback and existing social media interactions, the Library Web Committee concluded that there was not a sufficient need to justify creating Library-specific social media channels. Like most libraries, TCNJ Library has limited time and resources to accomplish its goals while meeting the needs of all of its patrons.
While the Library strives to keep up with ever changing technology, decisions need to be made that best meet the needs of the majority of the TCNJ community. For now, developing library-specific social media channels has been put aside so the Library’s efforts can stay focused on moving forward in other directions. Projects that are more highly demanded on campus, such as the Library’s institutional repository and digital archive need to take priority.
Despite the decision not to create library-specific social media channels, social media is a platform that cannot be ignored. The Library Web Committee determined that the Library can reach a wider audience through already established channels, without spending time and effort to develop and maintain Library-specific channels. The Committee continues to develop better relationships with TCNJ campus social media coordinators to ensure that news items get shared on the well-maintained channels that already exist. When trying to reach the campus community, librarians and library staff are encouraged to send newsworthy information to TCNJ’s Office of Communication, Marketing and Brand Management. This information will then be shared through social media channels already created and maintained by the College. In order to do this, the Library created a social media policy to encourage and to set guidelines for these types of communications. The policy is currently under review by Library administration.
Thank you to my reviewers Bethany Messersmith and Leah White and publishing editor Sofia Leung for their time and assistance with this project. Also, thank you to The College of New Jersey Library Web Committee for believing in me when I said it would be okay to not do something, even if it seemed as though everyone else was doing it.
- Burkhardt, A. (2010). “Social media: A guide for college and university libraries.” College & research libraries news, 71(1), 10-24.
- Constine, Josh (2016). “Yik Yak’s CTO drops out as the hyped anonymous app stagnates.” Tech Crunch. Retrieved from https://techcrunch.com/2016/04/06/yik-yuck/
- Digital Trends Staff (2016). “The history of social networking.” Digital Trends. Retrieved from http://www.digitaltrends.com/features/the-history-of-social-networking/
- Evans, B. (2006). “Your space or MySpace?” Library Journal, 37, 8-13
- Jacobson, T. B. (2011). “Facebook as a library tool: Perceived vs. actual use.” College & Research Libraries, 72(1), 79-90..
- Matei, S. A., & Bruno, R. J. (2015). “Pareto’s 80/20 law and social differentiation: A social entropy perspective.” Public Relations Review, 41(2), 178-186.
- Mathews, B. S. (2006). “Do you Facebook? Networking with students online.” College & Research Libraries News, 67(5), 306-307.
- Solomon, Laura. (2013). The Librarian’s Nitty-Gritty Guide to Social Media. Chicago, IL: ALA Editions
- Young, S. W., & Rossmann, D. (2015). “Building library community through social media.” Information Technology and Libraries, 34(1), 20-37.