Libraries: Facebook Group, Fan Page or Friend Your Librarian?

I have gotten quite a few questions about Facebook and whether I think libraries need a Facebook page, how should they set one up and how do they mesure its usage.  All very good questions and my quick answer: It all depends.

Should my library have a Facebook page?

I don’t know.  Who are your users and what are they doing?  Is Facebook blocked at your institution?  If your users are medical students you might consider having a Facebook page.  If your users are older physicians who don’t even use email then you probably can focus on something else other than Facebook.  If your institution blocks Facebook, you probably don’t want to deal with trying to maintain a library page on Facebook since this will most likely be done on your home time and most of your users wouldn’t think to look for your library on Facebook since it can’t be accessed at work. 

Should the library be a group, should it have a fan page, or is it more effective to have people “friend” the librarian?

In the early days, Facebook was more for connecting people together and you had to be a little creative to set up a organization or company’s page.  Many librarians jumped on to Facebook and offered their librarian services to patrons who “friended” them.  I am not sure how effective that was and is.  Some librarians had good responses while others felt a lot like a person who emailed me, “I have been on Facebook for years and despite teaching classes and telling students to friend me for help in the library, I have yet to have one library patron friend me.” 

Personally, I just don’t think friending your librarian is all that effective.  It might have been an adequate work around in the early days of Facebook, but now libraries can have their own pages and I don’t see it as important.  I give this example.  One of my favorite restaurants is Melt Bar & Grilled, the Northcoast Shores sandwich is to die for.  They have a Facebook page and I have become a “fan” of them on Facebook.  I am not “friends” with the servers, cooks, or the owner of the establishment.  As a “fan” of the restaurant I am aware of events and sales taking place and sent out through Facebook.  If I was a “friend” of the servers, cooks, or owner I might get information about events, but I am going to get a lot of other stuff that I am going to have to slog through too.  I have nothing against librarians wanting to have patrons “friend” them, I just don’t think that it is most effective use of Facebook and libraries.

Should the library have a fan page or be a group?

Again this is question about how well you know your users.  Most libraries seem to have fan pages and to me that makes sense because most people tend to think of libraries as place.  However if you are a group of libraries or you have an active user group within the library you might want to consider creating a group.  Ann Smarty wrote a nice simple column explaining the pros and cons of fan and group pages.  Facebook Group vs Facebook Fan Page: What’s Better  has a nice little chart where you see what features are available to fans and groups.

How do I measure usage of my Facebook site, I don’t want to spend a ton of time on something that gets no use?

Nobody wants to spend any more time on anything more than they really have to, so it is understandable that people are worried about a library’s Facebook usage (or any library resource for that matter).  Once you looked at your users AND decided that they might be the type of people who would be using Facebook then you are going to want to look at how you can measure the library’s Facebook usage.  This is a little tricky because there isn’t something like those online usage statistics that we can get from journal publishers.  Additionally, Facebook is sort of a closed system, you can’t get in behind the scenes and start adding a little coding here and there to track usage.  The easiest method you can use to look at usage is to look at the number of people you have following.  The downfall to that is that this just one number, it doesn’t really look at how active those people are on your page.  Many people can simply be a fan and never visit your site again.  Obviously you may want to know a little bit more about what people are doing and what things they are clicking on.  One way to do this may be to look at the referring URLs into your own library website.  If you have links on your Facebook page going back to your website or to your databases, depending on your set up, you might be able to tell that a certain percentage of people accessing these resources or your web site are coming from Facebook.  Finally the last method to measure usage would be to create a survey.  Do an online survey and link to it from Facebook, Twitter (if you have Twitter) and your home page, ask people if they know you have a Facebook site, if they use it and how they are using it. 

Facebook is just one small tool in the outreach tool box for libraries.  It might be the most popular and trendy tool right now, but it is still a tool.  Don’t let the hype influence you to use it if there is no need.  Don’t force a square plug into a round hole.  Equally important, don’t ignore it. You should be familiar with as many tools in your outreach tool box as possible because if things change in your library or with the tool, you need to know if it might be relevant to your institution.  Three years ago I never thought I would have a need for my dad’s air compressor, but soon with a new home and basement remodel that little gem paired with a nail gun will be very helpful.  Two years ago I said Twitter and Facebook may not have any real use in libraries, times have change and some places have wonderfully proved me wrong using these tools effectively in their institutions.  Like I said, quick answer: It all depends.

Trying to Get Your Institution on the Twitter Train

A few weeks ago I was a part of the Technology Forum for the Midwest MLA Annual Conference in Columbus, OH.  I spoke on libraries using Twitter and Facebook.  Later I wrote a blog post linking to the slides as well more of my thoughts on the topic. 

Ever since then I have gotten a few emails from people asking how they can convince their IT departments to allow Facebook and Twitter so they can reach out to library users.  I have sat down and thought of a few good arguments for librarians to use with their IT people, however upon reflection I don’t think that will be very productive. 

The short of it is, the IT departments are not going to deal with security perceived issues because the librarian wants to use social networking tools.  We can plead and beg all we want but in the minds of the IT people Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, etc. are either security risks or bandwidth hogs that have no real world use in the hospital world.  We are spinning our wheels to approach them on this, we would be better off trying to get them notify us when they mess with the IP ranges causing all sorts of havoc with the authentication systems of our online resources.  At least we can easily and directly show how that (IP ranges and the changing of them) impacts our work and that of the employees doing research at the hospital. 

Recently (within the last 4-6 months) my institution opened up Facebook after years of it being blocked.  The library had no part in Facebook being unblocked.  Facebook, Twitter, and few other social networking sites are being used by my institution and other institutions for marketing, public relations, patient relations, and alumni relations  purposes.  Often an institution’s head of marketing or the CEO is the driving force behind these sites magically being unblocked.  When the Chief of Public Relations and Marketing sees that a competitor’s hospital is using Facebook and Twitter to effectively communicate to patients and market the hospital, you better believe he/she is going to want their hospital get involved too. 

Who do you think IT is going to listen to, the librarian who wants to set up a Twitter feed from the catalog to the library website or the CEO who wants to use Twitter to help distribute institutional news and information?  If the CEO wants his/her institution to use these applications, IT has a little more reason to investigate and make sure these resources don’t pose a security or bandwidth threat to the institution than they do if the librarian asks. 

So what do you do if your hospital hasn’t adopted these social networking applications?  I guess it all depends on the size of your hospital and how well you know the big fish.  There are a lot of recent successful examples and articles of hospitals using these things.  Perhaps if you are in a small hospital and know the big wigs fairly well you might begin sending them some of these articles.  If you are in larger hospital or you don’t have a real working relationship with your CEOs then perhaps you can start by contacting someone in marketing.  That person in marketing may not have enough clout but they might know somebody else who does. 

While you as the librarian may not have the direct power to get your hospital to unblock social media sites, you might be able to influence those who do.  Social media hits many more areas than libraries.  It is a huge marketing and public relations tool that many hospitals and academic medical centers are persuing with specific marketing plans and goals. 

Here are just some articles that might be of interest to pass along to your marketing department or your CEO. 

Of course if they want examples of hospitals who are using social media one only needs to go on to Ed Bennett’s web site Found In Cache, who has compiled the most extensive list of U.S. Hospitals using social networking tools.  As of October 4, 2009 he lists 194 hospitals with YouTube Channels, 203 with Facebook pages, 284 with Twitter accounts and 44 with blogs for a total of 391 hospitals using some type of social networking application.  For some reason these 391 hospitals have found ways to use social media without any HIPAA problems.

Peruse the list and you will see big hitters like the Cleveland Clinic, Mayo Clinic, Johns Hopkins, and Beth Israel (CEO writes his own blog here) all using social media.  If you or your marketing department or CEOs think social networking is just for the big guys, you will notice that smaller community and specialized hospitals have jumped into the fray as well.  Evergreen Healthcare in Kirkland, Washington (230 beds), Gritman Medical Center in Moscow, Idaho (25 beds), and Howard County General Hospital in Columbia, Maryland (203 beds) as well as many others are on the list.  Who knows, if you check out this list you may see your hospital’s main competitor on their already.

IT’s complaint that these resources pose a threat and may violate HIPAA may be valid, but if there are 391 hospitals out there doing it, I bet somebody might have found a way to make sure it doesn’t pose a HIPAA or any other security risk. Just wild speculation of course.

Giving Feedback on PubMed

Medlib-lis on fire with the feedback about the PubMed interface.  Some people like the clean interface and autofill features.  Others are frustrated by the number of clicks it take to get somewhere (they seemed to have increased) and there seems to be confusion with LinkOut, Advance Search not “staying” for multiple searches, and limits not carrying over. 

Whether you love the new PubMed or hate it, you should really give the correct people feedback on the new design.  But did you know there are actually three places you can write to about the new design? 

1. Preview Page Feedback – On the preview page  there is a feedback link that goes directly to NCBI.  This link is labled Feedback and is right above the search box.

2. Help Desk Link – In the footer of the regular PubMed  page there is a link to “Help Desk.”  Information submitted through that link is sent to the Medlars Management Section which is the group that normally handles PubMed problems.

3. Customer Service Staff – This is a form  that goes to the reference staff who get correspondence from the “contact us” buttons on the NLM main website, MedlinePlus, etc.

I have heard from one person that enough people had complained about a specific issue in the feedback link that NCBI made changes to address that issue.  So they are listening to your feedback.

Personally, I would like some clarification about the relationship between NCBI and NLM.  NCBI are the people who are responsible for PubMed, correct?  Is NCBI a part of NLM or are they a separate department from NLM?  If they are a separate department from NLM then how does NCBI handle the specific needs of librarians who use the PubMed database?  I realize more than just librarians use PubMed, but it seems that every so often NCBI changes PubMed in a way that is counter productive to librarians and library searchers.  For example, there was the time when PubMed put the library LinkOut icons at the bottom of the abstract (where nobody looks first) and the publisher icons at the top. 

Change happens everywhere and all the time.  We aren’t going to be 100% happy with everything but it is important to provide feedback to the appropriate parties so that we all can be involved in the process.

Recording Poster Sessions on Video

While I was attending the Midwest MLA Annual meeting this past week I got the idea that it might interesting and helpful to try and record some of the posters during the poster session on video.  I ran this idea by the co-chairs of the meeting committee and we decided it would be neat to try.  Well the  idea was good, but overall I was not pleased with the results.  This a perfect example of learning through failure. 

My Goal:
Take my Flip camera around and ask poster presenters if it was ok if I filmed them and ask if they would like say a little something about their poster.  Upload that information to YouTube (Sorry hospital librarians that is the easiest hosting service I can think of. I can’t access it at my work either) Link to the video through the Midwest MLA conference blog  and through this blog. 

The Reality:
Most people were ok with filming them but it was often difficult to get their permission without interrupting them while they were speaking to another librarian visiting their poster.  Plus I had to make sure I got the permission of the librarian visiting poster if I accidentally got their face on camera as well. 

Poster presenters are all too eager to talk other librarians about their poster and what they did and how they did it.  However, they are significantly less enthused to talk directly to a camera.  Of those who gave me permission to film, not one wanted to speak directly to the camera.  They would rather speak with another person than give a few brief statements about their poster to the cameraman (me).  So I had to lurk around waiting for somebody who was interested in the poster to start speaking to the presenter.  Let me just say, lurking is never a good way to get people to be interested in a poster or to talk. 

The Flip camera is small and produces images that are easy to slap up on the web.  However it does not have image stabilization and its microphone picks up a lot of the background noise (which can be quite loud in a poster session). I did my best not to jiggle the camera and to get the audio of those speaking, but lets just say I am more suited for a career as a librarian than one in T.V. or movie production.

The Future:
I think video recording the poster session still has the potential to be useful, especially for those unable to attend the conference.  It is nice to have the poster online, but a big part of the poster session is listening to the presenter and others discuss the poster and the opportunities and challenges of the project.  Just having an image of the poster online misses all of the exchange of information and knowledge.  However, if I were to do this again there are a few things I think I would do differently.

If something like this is planned ahead of time by organizers then it would be much easier to have forms signed ahead of time by poster presenters. 

If it is something spur of the moment, then you still need to get permission from the poster presenter and that can get a little awkward because you feel like you are interrupting (and often are) them in their train of thoughts.

Talking to the Camera:
This is a two person job, a roving reporter and cameraman.  Find an inquisitive, outgoing and talkative buddy who can speak with the presenter about their poster and ask questions.  People had no problem talking to another person in front of the camera but they were a bit camera shy when faced with just themselves and the camera.  The buddy really helps get the conversation going.  

Additionally, you will already have the permission of your loquatious librarian buddy so all you have to worry about is getting permission from the poster presenter.   This can easily be accomplished by the buddy asking ahead of time before you begin filming.  Something as simple as, “I am interested in your poster do you mind if we video record while we chat?”

The Flip is really an easy camera to work with but the lack of internal image stabilization and the audio difficulties make it really difficult for me to endorse this camera for a loud busy poster session room.  I don’t think you need a professional video camera for this endeavor, I just think there might be some better alternatives.  I don’t have this camera, but the Kodak Zi8 is a pocket video camera ($180) that has internal image stabilization and has external microphone jack. Check out your camera options.

So without further ado, here is the one video that was somewhat decent among the many that I took.  I want to thank Mary Schleicher who let me record her and also let me lurk a short distance away for somebody to ask her questions.  Creating a Collection Development Policy for a Variety of Old Medical Books.  (The video is on YouTube, so if you are like me, you may have to watch it at home.)

Libraries Leveraging Facebook, Twitter, and Other Social Media

Monday afternoon I was a part of the Technology Forum for the Midwest MLA Annual Conference in Columbus, OH.  I spoke on libraries using Twitter and Facebook.

You can see my slides at  I specifically wanted to show examples of what other libraries were doing with these two social networking sites.  I tried to find as many medical library examples as possible (I even found one example of a hospital library).  But there were also neat things being done by other libraries and I went with those examples when I found they were doing something that the medical libraries hadn’t picked up on yet.

Some of my favorite examples:

  • Weill Cornell and Loma Linda both have tied their catalog new books feed into their Twitter account. So when a new book is added to the catalog a tweet is sent out with a tinyurl.  Clicking on that tinyurl gets you to that record in the library catalog.  I thought this was cool.  I don’t know how difficult it is to set this up, perhaps somebody who has done this could comment.
  • Health Library & Resource Center of El Camino Hospital put their patient education material up on their Facebook page under Notes. 
  • UTS Libraries (University of Technology, Sydney Libraries) use Twitter’s tweet poll feature to create a quick survey and ask for feed back on an issue.  In this case it was the use of QR codes, but almost any question could work.

I notice a lot of libraries out there dipping their toes into the social networking arena, but as I was researching this topic for the presentation, I started to notice that a lot of libraries good efforts seemed a little disjointed.  What good is having a Twitter account if you don’t list the feed on your home page.  I’ll even go a little further with that idea.  What good is even having the Twitter icon on your site if you don’t have the feed displayed anywhere on your website.  There are tons of libraries that are using Twitter as a sort of “what’s up at the library” news service.  Yet, I really couldn’t find all that many that tied this news feed into their own news feed on their own library web page.  Why?  Why do these libraries have two different news feeds?  Which on should a patron pay attention too?  We spend so much time on authority records in our catalogs and databases, yet where is our authority control on our Twitter and news information feeds?  I don’t mean specifically what they are posting but the fact that there are two (or more) sources of different news information.  This is extremely distracting.  So a library patron has to subscribe to the Twitter feed to get information and check the library’s site for information, not good.

There are lots of widgets, plugins and other things that allow you to include all of these social tools (Facebook, Twitter, Blogs, YouTube) into your current web site.  I am just going to use Twitter as my example.  Twitter has its own widget that allows you to display your Twitter feeds on your site, all you have to do is copy and paste the code.  But lets say you don’t like the look of Twitter’s widget and how it displays on your site, there are other widgets and applications out there on the web that you can search for that will allow you do to this too.  Additionally there are ways to send your blog posting’s URL and title to Twitter.  And don’t forget about RSS.  If you there isn’t a widget out there that will do what you want, you might want to look at the RSS feed and figure out how you can import it easily into your page.

Why is having your Twitter, Blog site, YouTube account, SlideShare account, etc. tied into your library’s home page important?  Because the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.  A library’s Twitter news account there hanging out on the web is not as useful or helpful by itself.  Same with the blog, YouTube, and slides from SlideShare.  How is a patron going to know you have a particularly helpful video demo on using PubMed and RefWorks if it is just on YouTube under the library’s YouTube account.  Sure you linked to it, but wouldn’t it be more helpful to be able to see the video within the library’s website? (I know many hospitals can’t access YouTube, in this example I am really appealing to the academic medical librarians.) Let’s say you have a bit of news for the library on a new database that is greater than 140 characters (Twitter’s limit).  You decide to write a blog post about this new database.  The blog is linked to on the web site.  Heck your library might even be grabbing the RSS feeds and be posting them on the web page.  But if you use a little widget you can get that blog feed put in Twitter which you now display the feeds on the News and Information area of your site.  Finally to use the Cornell and Loma Linda catalog Twitter feed example.  Take that Twitter feed and display it under the a section on your website labeled new books.  Loma Linda has a recent books  link, but that goes to a list that can kind of large and somewhat confusing to patrons. 

Wrapping all of this stuff together makes these sites more powerful in the context of the library and the library website.  It also makes these resources more valuable to us and our patrons.  Of course that brings me to the end of my presentation where I discussed making sure you evaluate your usage of these resources and try to determine your ROI.  Don’t just assume these things are doing there job and they are important to your library and your users, but measure them.  These applications are all very new and sometimes there aren’t the best things out there to measure usage (aka popularity) but look for something that might work.  If you are unsure about how to do this you really need to check out TechSoup’s Meeting Archive: Understanding the ROI of Social Media, it is specifically directed at nonprofits and libraries.

I have had a few emails from people asking me about the time commitment for something like this.  Everybody is doing less with more and have little time to invest in new projects.  My response is, these things do require some time to create and get going.  But if done correctly and depending on how extensive your project, the upkeep is extremely minimal. 
Here is a an example:  Our library has an Inter and Intranet website.  Right now if a major system like OhioLink goes down we post a red note at the top of both home pages to let our patrons know about the problem.  To do this the web adminstator goes to our saved copy of each page, adds the news item, uploads it to the server, then we wait for a half hour to an hour for the server to refresh before our message is live.  If we add our Twitter feed to our page we won’t have to do all of that and any librarian could add a message, not just the web admin.  So if we discover Illiad has freaked out and isn’t working, any one of the librarians can go on Twitter write the tweet which is then automatically displayed on our home pages.   Easy squeasy. 
That is just one example and it illustrates how you need to have a plan for your social media.  Don’t just go out an adopt it because all the cool kids are doing it.  Look at what is out there and determine whether it meets your needs.  Too many libraries and librarians are creating Twitter accounts for the library without a plan and without logically tying it into library services.  They have Twitter accounts floating out there with news and information and they wonder about its effectiveness.  You have to make it relevant to yours and their situations for it to have a chance at being successful.  A link or the icon to the library’s Twitter feed without putting it in any context isn’t relevant to most users.

Is Getting the Answer Quickly the Most Important Thing?

That is a little bit about what Midwest MLA keynote speaker Clifford Stoll talked about today. While we don’t want to drag our heels to find information, the process by which we find it sometimes is lost. We have become a society that often relies on getting information fast but doing that isn’t always cheap and the information isn’t always good. He drew a triangle with words Good, Cheap, Fast at the corners and used food as the example of how we get things. You can get cheap food fast (ala McD’s) but it isn’t really that good. You can get good food for in a reasonable amount of time (ala restaurant) but it isn’t cheap. You can get cheap good food (home cooking) but it isn’t always that fast. Stoll says that most researchers want the right answers fast. But the right answers aren’t always fast, nor are those answers always right, especially in science. For many years people believed the correct scientific answer was that the sun revolved around the Earth. The process at getting the right answer is just as important answer. Sometimes by finding the answer you create more questions and in answering them you develop a completely new right answer to the original question. After all, if Copernicus had asked for the right answer quickly he would have never developed his heliocentric cosmology theory and we would still think the sun revolved around the earth instead of the earth revolving around the sun. Through out the history of medicine how many standardized medical treatments we have thought of as “right” have later been revolutionized and changed by another medical researcher? I am probably going to go out on a limb here but I bet that researcher didn’t ask for the quick right answer.

Leading In MLA

The MLA Leadership and Management Section blog is hosting regular discussions every Tuesday on “25 Counterintuitive Principles of Leadership.”  Check out the Leadership and Management column in the upcoming October 2009 MLA News.

While I am on the topic of leadership and MLA, I want to congratulate those who were selected for the 2009-2010 NLM/AAHSL Leadership Fellows Program.


The fellows and mentors selected for the 2009–2010 class of the leadership program jointly sponsored by the National Library of Medicine (NLM) and the Association of Academic Health Sciences Libraries (AAHSL) have been announced.


Heidi M. Nickisch Duggan, Associate Director Galter Health Sciences Library, Feinberg School of Medicine, Northwestern University.

Irma Quinones, Interim Library Director, University of Puerto Rico Medical Sciences Campus

Bart Ragon, Associate Director for Library Technology Services and Development, Claude Moore Health Sciences Library, University of Virginia

Debra C. Rand, AHIP, Director, Health Sciences Library, Long Island Jewish Medical Center North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System

Keir Reavie, Head, Biological/Agricultural Sciences and Map Services Department, Shields Library, University of California-Davis

PubMed Redesign is Here

The moment we have all been waiting for is here, PubMed’s redesign is live and available for everyone to poke and play with.  Right away the splash page is a bit of a departure from what we are used to.  At first glance I like how it appears cleaner and less cluttered, however it will take me some time to get used to.  For example I was looking for the Advanced Search feature underneath PubMed Tools near Citation Matcher and I couldn’t find it.  That is when it dawned on me that the link for Advaced Search is up above the search box. Oops I should have thought of that.

The newly redesigned PubMed is now accessible from a  link on the page (New! PubMed: Try the redesigned PubMed) or directly from

Check Out the Midwest MLA Posters

The Midwest Chapter Medical Library Association’s Annual Conference is right around the corner (4 days away) and there are 15 papers and 31 posters being presented at the meeting.  Things are hectic at meetings (even the Chapter ones) time flies by and before you know it you are on your way home trying to remember everything you saw.  So for those of you who are going to the meeting it might be a good idea to check out the abstracts of the papers posters ahead of time online.  Reading the abstracts before the conference gives you the opportunity to formulate questions ahead of time and for the poster session it helps you prioritize which ones you need to see. 

Click here to check out the papers being presented.

Click here to check out the posters being presented.

For those of you who aren’t going to the meeting, it is even more important to read the abstracts of the paper and poster sessions because this may be the only time you see the information.  Who knows, maybe somebody presenting is doing something in their library that you have wanted to do too.  You might be able to contact them and bounce ideas or ask some questions.