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Abstract

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. INTRODUCTION
  4. LITERATURE REVIEW
  5. METHODS
  6. FINDINGS
  7. DISCUSSION AND CONCLUSIONS
  8. REFERENCES

Academic libraries are increasingly using social media tools to promote services and highlight resources to patrons. This longitudinal study examines the social media adoption rates and practices in academic libraries in the province of Ontario over a fourteen month period beginning in April 2010. Findings indicate that while interest in social media technologies amongst librarians has plateaued, patrons of academic libraries are using these tools in increasing numbers. Outcomes suggest libraries should attempt in the future to create more original content in areas of patron interest as well as utilize their preferred platforms with greater regularity.


INTRODUCTION

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. INTRODUCTION
  4. LITERATURE REVIEW
  5. METHODS
  6. FINDINGS
  7. DISCUSSION AND CONCLUSIONS
  8. REFERENCES

Social media has become an increasingly familiar tool employed in academic libraries to market services and resources to current and prospective patrons. Until recently research in this area has primarily focused on earlier Web 2.0 tools, such as blogs and tagging. One important perception conveyed in these earlier studies is the divergent manner by which technologies are adopted and applied in dissimilar geographic environments (Linh, 2008; Chua and Goh, 2010). By acknowledging this phenomenon, these earlier researchers have not only been able to understand the penetration rates of particular technologies in a specific region, but also have acquired an insight into the potential environmental and contextual factors shaping the use or non-use of these applications.

More recent studies have concentrated on the dichotomy between the perceived benefits of social media in libraries and the actual impressions of patrons. Of particular relevance to these studies is the notion of whether social media is cherished more by librarians or by library users (Kim & Abbas, 2010). While librarians have viewed these tools as a method to connect with patrons and in particular students, their sentiments are not necessarily reciprocated by them (Burhanna et al, 2009; Chu & Meulemans, 2008; Kim & Abbas, 2010). Although library social media spaces need to remain current, active and relevant in order to retain user interest, previous scholars have suggested that academic librarians need to ensure they do not misallocate personnel and technical resources on an ever-evolving group of technologies that are largely used for non-academic purposes (Burhanna et al, 2009; Kim & Abbas, 2010; Jacobson, 2011).

The objectives of the present study are twofold. First, to conduct an examination of the adoption rates and usage patterns of social media sites by academic libraries in Ontario. We focus on four popular social media applications—Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Flickr— and examine a wide range of measures to assess adoption and usage patterns, such as Twitter followers, Facebook likes, etc. Second, the present study ponders not only whether or not social media sites and services are being adopted throughout the province, but how they are implemented and function on a regular basis within the unique context and mandate of academic libraries. To investigate how they are being integrated into library services over time and the challenges involved, we conducted a longitudinal study collecting data in two waves: April 2010 and June 2011. We compare adoption rates and usage patterns over time and draw conclusions about social media usage trends and challenges in academic libraries.

LITERATURE REVIEW

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. INTRODUCTION
  4. LITERATURE REVIEW
  5. METHODS
  6. FINDINGS
  7. DISCUSSION AND CONCLUSIONS
  8. REFERENCES

The majority of general observations have fixated on the successes of embedding Web 2.0 and social media tools into the library's online repertoire. Particular attention has been paid to the ability of libraries to market services, remain relevant to younger patrons and achieve a new level of interaction between library personnel and either current or prospective patrons.

Within the existing literature, tools such as blogs and wikis are viewed as ideal sources to disseminate news and information. Cooper and May (2009) describe the implementation of a blog at a small academic library in Alabama as a tool in reaching out to students, regardless of their presence on campus or previous affinity with the library. Draper and Turnage's (2008) survey of 265 academic librarians found blogs were overwhelmingly used to market the library's services. Belden (2008) observes that using external sites, such as Wikipedia and MySpace, was instrumental in promoting the digital collections of a small academic library in Texas.

Web 2.0 and social media applications are also highly valued for their ability to connect libraries with users who may be unaware of their existence. Matthews (2006, 2008) suggests libraries can create services that are more responsive and attuned to the changing needs of users. Sadeh (2007) argues implementing a Web 2.0 or social media presence is fundamental to remaining pertinent and meet user expectations, particularly with younger users.

However, studies by Linh (2008), Xu, Ouyang and Chu (2009), Burhanna, Seeholzer and Salem (2009) and Kim and Abbas (2010) all suggest libraries take for granted the actual level of technological understanding and sophistication of their users, particularly those who are classed as Millenials. Additionally, both Xu et al. (2009) and Kim and Abbas (2010) found librarians were often more interested in the library's social media applications than students. Thus, while libraries are adopting social media, they often misjudge the technological prowess and interest of their users and the impact their services provide.

METHODS

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. INTRODUCTION
  4. LITERATURE REVIEW
  5. METHODS
  6. FINDINGS
  7. DISCUSSION AND CONCLUSIONS
  8. REFERENCES

The university libraries examined in this report are comprised of the 21 member libraries of OCUL (the Ontario Council of University Libraries) in 2010. Their members represent the most significant publicly funded university libraries in the province. Ontario provides an ideal geographic context for examining the scope and content of social media in an academic setting since it features a diverse collection of campuses both urban and rural, large and small. For the purposes of this study, only libraries located on the main campus of each OCUL member were analyzed and libraries located on affiliate campuses were excluded. The main reason was because the majority of library resources and materials for each OCUL member library are located at libraries on the main campus.

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Figure 1. Geographic location of Ontario academic libraries.

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Figure 1 shows the location of the 21 academic libraries included in the present study. Most academic libraries are clustered in the Southwestern Ontario region near the US border. Only social media channels deemed to be official were monitored. A social media platform was considered official if either a link to the website was available on the library website, or one of the library's official social media pages provided a link to the resource. For each social media platform, specific types of information were recorded and gathered to best understand the nuances of that particular application and the context of its use, such as content type, likes, re-tweets, and views. Statistics were gathered at two points in time: April 5th 2010 and June 30th 2011. The aim was to catalogue the popularity, growth, changes, content and application of four popular and renowned social media platforms commonly used by academic libraries in Canada: Facebook, Twitter, Flickr and YouTube.

FINDINGS

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. INTRODUCTION
  4. LITERATURE REVIEW
  5. METHODS
  6. FINDINGS
  7. DISCUSSION AND CONCLUSIONS
  8. REFERENCES

Adoption rates: Social media was most widely and actively used in the more populous region of Southwestern Ontario. Of the 21 academic libraries examined in 2010 and 2011, 12 (2010) and 14 (2011) libraries had at least one official social media channel, respectively. During the interim period, three universities previously without a social media presence acquired one (Wilfrid Laurier, Nipissing and Algoma), and one university (Laurentian) deleted their sole social media account. Libraries located outside of Southwestern Ontario were less likely to use social media tools (see Figure 2). Moreover, Tables 1 and 2 show that libraries located in Eastern and Northern Ontario, who have the lowest school population tend to be slow adopters and to employ social media less. For instance, Algoma only has 6 tweets in total in comparison to Toronto which has 205 over the study period. The study findings suggest that both the geographical location of an academic library as well as the size of the university (based on enrolments) has an impact on the adoption and use of social media.

We expected Facebook to be the most frequently used platform, but our findings show that Twitter was the most popular format, followed then by Facebook. YouTube was the least widely used social media tool by academic libraries and Flickr use was largely static. Some social media sites were neglected or abandoned for long periods of time calling for more research to examine the key reasons. The most active social media sites (measured in terms of frequency of updates) generally had the most followers and viewers. An exception to this trend was YouTube. YouTube content posted by academic libraries rapidly gained increasing viewing figures despite a lack of activity and new content.

Table 1. Social media adoption by Ontario university libraries.
UniversityFacebookTwitterFlickrYouTube
(University Population1)20102011201020112010201120102011Totals
Algoma (656)010100002
Brock (15,169)111111118
Guelph (23,307)010111004
Laurentian10000001
Laurier (15,081)010100002
McMaster (25,955)111111118
Nipissing (5,675)000100001
Queen's (21,482)001111004
Ryerson (27,605)111111118
Trent (7,272)1100002
Toronto (70,975)001100002
Waterloo (29,769)111111118
Western (34,001)01100114
Windsor (14,413)111111006
York (46,714)011100003
Totals711813775596
Ratio20.330.520.380.620.330.330.240.240.38
Percentage335238623333242438

Usage: Social media served a variety of different purposes. Although social media was primarily used to communicate information to current and prospective users, the rate of activity, manner of content creation and methods of delivery varied according to each institution. Table 2 shows the content of tweets for each academic library. News is the most frequently tweeted about content across all libraries, followed by promotion, external linkages, responses to requests, and finally general announcements. A total of 10% of all tweets across all academic libraries had been re-tweeted.

Table 2. Content of tweets by Ontario university libraries.
School NameNewsPromotionResponseCampus LifeExternalRe-Tweets
1. Algoma230010
2. Brock1521021555532
3. Guelph9270110
A. Laurier400041
5. McMaster14925272112
6. Nipissing67401916
7. Ryerson146261041210
8. Toronto101242591233
9. Waterloo1052756122
10. Western12996713720
11. Windsor6767561110
12 York592069122177
Totals1,07340116459221183

Ontario's university libraries use Facebook to distribute library news, display photographs and supply information about library resources and services. Since April 2010, the number of academic libraries using Facebook has increased from six to ten (see Table 3). However, within the period examined in this study, one university library, Laurentian, deleted their Facebook page, and two other libraries (Ryerson and Mills Library at McMaster) seemingly abandoned their pages for long stretches during this study. Four libraries (Brock, Wilfrid Laurier, McMaster and Trent) had customized their Facebook page to include functions enabling visitors to either engage in chat reference with a librarian or to search the library catalogue. Every library had at least one photograph on their Facebook page with the University of Waterloo's Dana Porter library having the most with 65 (see Table 3). Only one library, Brock, included YouTube videos on their Facebook page.

The number of Likes was used to establish the popularity of a Facebook page. The library with the most Likes was the University of Windsor with 787, while Algoma University's recently created Facebook page had the fewest with 30. When examining the popularity of a library's Facebook page, there appears to be no correlation between the size of a university's full-time student population, the sophistication of the Facebook page or the frequency of updates and the popularity of a library's Facebook page. This opens many questions about what factors determine the popularity of Facebook sites and shows the need for future research expanding on the measures employed.

Table 3. Facebook in Ontario university libraries.
School NameUsed Facebook 2010Used Facebook 2011Number of Likes 2011Customized PageNumber of Photos
1. AlgomaNoYes30No1
2. BrockYesYes153Yes12
3, LaurierNoYes45Yes6
4. McMasterYesYes117Yes1
5. RyersonYesYes700No16
6. TrentYesYes353Yes1
7 WaterlooYesYes349No65
8. WesternNoYes36Mo10
9. WindsorYesYes787No6
10. YorkNoYes94No52
Totals  2,664 170

Patron interaction and accessibility to resources: Only four of the 21 libraries studied opted to modify customizable social media applications to provide greater access to existing web-based library resources, such as OPACs. This could be linked to a lack of technical skills to implement such customization. A minority of libraries elected to engage in direct interaction with patrons using some form of social media. In limited instances, the methods employed when interacting with patrons suggest patterns of behavior similar to those described by Lawson (2007) and Mathews (2006, 2008), in which some librarians may be using social media to gauge opinion about the library and respond to the private comments of patrons that have been submitted into a public forum without the patrons' expressed desire or consent to reply to their issues.

DISCUSSION AND CONCLUSIONS

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. INTRODUCTION
  4. LITERATURE REVIEW
  5. METHODS
  6. FINDINGS
  7. DISCUSSION AND CONCLUSIONS
  8. REFERENCES

Libraries throughout the province use social media tools with differing levels of activity and interaction. Over half of academic libraries in Ontario have adopted a social media application, with some becoming ardent advocates of the medium. The rate of adoption for these technologies has largely plateaued since April 2010. Around a third of the libraries examined do not have a social media presence. Possible barriers affecting social media adoption and use in areas such as Eastern and Northern Ontario could potentially include limited access to wireless services, technological infrastructure and other technologies; difficulty delivering equal services in English and French in largely bilingual communities; difficulty securing funding and training opportunities; and a lack of interest or skills amongst staff members. Despite some libraries creating content geared toward the needs and interests of their audiences, libraries could improve their reach by diversifying some of their output and developing additional original content in alternative formats, such as YouTube videos, rather than post only text-based content.

The limitations of this study are due to the accuracy of publicly available data regarding usage of social media and the lack of information about the use and policies surrounding social media usage within academic libraries in Ontario. However, this study does demonstrate some noticeable patterns regarding usage, adoption and content development, which are relevant to how social media is perceived and used within academia.

REFERENCES

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. INTRODUCTION
  4. LITERATURE REVIEW
  5. METHODS
  6. FINDINGS
  7. DISCUSSION AND CONCLUSIONS
  8. REFERENCES
  • Burhanna, K.J., Seeholzer, J., & Salem, J. (2009). No natives here: A focus group study of student perceptions of Web 2.0 and the academic library. The Journal of Academic Librarianship, 35(6), 523532.
  • Belden, D. (2008). Harnessing social networks to connect with audiences. Internet Reference Services Quarterly, 13(1), 99111.
  • Chu, M., & Meulemans, Y.N. (2008). The problems and potential of Myspace and Facebook usage in academic libraries. Internet Reference Services Quarterly, 13(1), 6985.
  • Chua, AY. K., & Goh, D.H. (2010). A study of Web 2.0applications in library websites. Library and Information Science Research. 32, 203211.
  • Cooper, J. D. and May, A. (2009). Library 2.0 at a small campus library. Technical Services Quarterly, 26(2), 8995.
  • Draper, L. and Turnage, M. (2008). Blogmania. Internet Reference Services Quarterly, 13(1), 1555.
  • Jacobson, T.B. (2011). Facebook as a library tool: Perceived vs. actual use. College and Research Libraries. 72(1), 7990.
  • Kim, Y.M., & Abbas, J. (2010). Adoption of Library 2.0 functionalities by academic libraries and users: A knowledge management perspective. The Journal of Academic Librarianship, 36(3), 211218.
  • Lawson, D. (2007). Taking the library to the users: experimenting with Facebook as an outreach tool. In L.B. Cohen (Ed.), Library 2.0 initiatives in academic libraries (pp. 145155). Chicago: Association of College and Research Libraries.
  • Linh, N.C. (2008). A survey of the application of Web 2.0 in Australasian academic libraries. Library Hi Tech. 26(4), 630653.
  • Mathews, B. (2006). Do you Facebook? Networking with students online. College and Research Libraries, 67(5), 306307.
  • Mathews, B. (2008). Twitter and the library: Thoughts on the syndicated lifestyle. Journal of Web Librarianship, 2(4), 589593.
  • Sadeh, T. (2007). Time for a change: New approaches for a new generation of library users. New Library World, 108(7/8), 307316.
  • Xu, C., Ouyang, F., & Chu, H. (2009). The academic library meets web 2.0: Applications and implications. The Journal of Academic Librarianship, 35(4), 324331.