What Potential Pitfalls Exist When Deciding To Use Social Media?

While much discussion takes place regarding the benefits and potential uses of social media, consideration must also be given to the potential costs of using this technology.  As David Lee King discusses in his 2011 article, 41% of the U.S. population has a Facebook profile.   (Lee King, 2011).  Facebook is but one example of the power reach that social media technologies can have for any organization, including a library.  As with any new system, implementing social networking at a library can have drawbacks, some practical and some even legal.

                The main advantage of social media and other Web 2.0 applications is that information does not just come from the provider to the user, but that users actually provide their own content.  (Chung & Lampert, 2011).  This raises the main practical problem, staffing for monitoring and responding to user questions and input.  As an extreme example, the New York Public Library has 122,000 Twitter followers, 32,000 Facebook “fans,” and 1,500 subscribers to its YouTube channel.  (Kho, 2011).  Each of these social media sites not only requires updating, but responses to user questions.  Simply ignoring comments and using social media to solely deliver information does not use the networks to their full capabilities.  (Hall, 2011).  It may take too much of a librarian’s time to provide the input needed.  (Chung & Lampert, 2011).  In one case study, the Coco-Cola company started a blog which generated comments and questions from visitors.  (Chung & Lampert, 2011).  Due to the time required to respond, the blog stopped answering questions after one year.  (Chung & Lampert, 2011).  How can a library address this problem while still using social media to its full potential?  How can a low level librarian help solve this?  What about supervisory librarians?

                Social media also raises some potential legal issues.   (Carson, 2010).  Any system where users are invited to share information, videos, or other content raises the possibility of copyright violations.  (Carson, 2010).  How should a librarian deal with a comment, link, or video contained in a library’s social media site that contains materials subject to copyright?  Think of movies uploaded to YouTube.  What is the library’s responsibility in policing this content?  What policies could help alleviate this problem?  Defamatory comments in a site are may raise issues.(Carson, 2010)  What should a library do when a user/patron posts something that is potentially defamatory?  What if the subject of those statements challenges them in a communication to the library?

List of References

Carson, Bryan M. (2010, 2010 October-November). Libraries and social media: social media can prove highly useful to libraries but can also pose a variety of Legal Risks. Librarians need to develop and implement usage policies before problems arise. Information Outlook, 14, 9+.

Chung, Su Kim, & Lampert, Cory. (2011). Strategic planning for sustaining user-generated content in digital collections. Journal of Library Innovation, 2, 74+.

Hall, Hazel. (2011). Relationship and role transformations in social media environments. The Electronic Library, 29, 421+.

Kho, Nancy Davis. (2011, 2011/06//). Social media in libraries: keys to deeper engagement. Information Today, 28, 1+.

Lee King, David. (2011, 2011 May-June). Facebook for libraries: it’s easy to use social media’s most popular tool to connect with your community. American Libraries, 42, 42+.




About Matt McQuillan

Student - M.L.I.S. Wayne State University

18 thoughts on “What Potential Pitfalls Exist When Deciding To Use Social Media?

  1. Nancy Ellis says:

    Your questions about the cost associated with maintaining social networking connections was intriguing. I looked at some library sites that I am familiar with, or that I knew to be large library systems. I was surprised to see that Wake County (Raleigh, NC) had more social network connectivity than the Boston Public Library. I am curious how Raleigh maintains more social networking than Boston. The graph in Pitfalls and Praise about which social media is most commonly used seemed to hold true in these libraries as well.
    I am fairly new to the subject of social networking, and needed some introductory information. I found great information at “howto.gov”,(http://www.howto.gov/social-media/social-media-types ) including a complete list of the various types of social media with descriptors. If you click on “blogs”, you can follow a link on how to create policies for your blog with example policies.
    I feel that this blog raised a lot of questions about the issues surrounding social media in libraries, and sparked my curiousity.

    • Matt McQuillan says:

      While I can’t find any specific research on the issue you raised, I believe it is easier for a smaller library system to implement social networking based on the amount of time involved. If a social network were set up in Boston, there could be thousands immediately interacting with the site. This would require numerous librarians to respond promptly. While Raleigh is also a large city, it is not quite as large as Boston. Plus, Raleigh is know for a number of large tech companies. The city also has multiple large medical centers, which could contribute to the tech friendly patrons. Overall, I think the demographics of the cities makes a difference in how patrons use social networking. Let me know if you agree or disagree.

  2. Susan Maunz says:

    Thank you for the website Nancy, This is great public access to “how to” webinars on all sorts of social networking. I viewed the Twitter webinar and it was very helpful.

  3. Toni Janik says:

    What do you see as the benefits or pitfalls of using social media to provide real time chat reference service in the academic, special or public library? The Medical Librarians at the Detroit Medical Center hospitals are currently trialing a live chat service for their staff and physicians.

    • Matt McQuillan says:

      For an academic library, live chat could give distance education or off campus students the ability to utilize their librarians almost as on campus students would. A medical library would seem to benefit in that doctors could instant receive help with their questions, this could even be during an appointment.

      Obviously as discussed in the article, there would have to be additional staffing to respond to the live chat requests. As with any customer service, long wait times for responses would defeat the purpose and benefits of the live chat. In any setting but especially medical, there would need to be updated security to maintain privacy, this could add to the basic IT costs.

    • Emma MacGuidwin says:

      I think real time chat reference services are a great idea as long as the library provides adequate guidance to patrons about the scope of the service and how to use it. The Library of Congress has a good explanation about their live chat reference service, and they provide tips for initiating sessions and avoiding digital communication problems (http://www.loc.gov/rr/askalib/chathelp.html). I think that some people might be uncomfortable with not being able to have face-to-face interaction with a reference librarian because of the need to ask follow-up questions, but there are definitely situations where a fairly short chat session is all a patron might need.

      • Matt McQuillan says:

        Those are great points. There have to be some limits to the scope of chat references sessions. That is one way a library could limit the “human” costs of responding to live chat. Also, as noted in our textbook, a library always has to consider the needs of all its patrons, including the less computer savvy. Social networking should not make their access to information in person suffer disproportionately.

  4. Alexis Davis says:

    I love love love that you addressed that questions and comments must be addressed. That is something that bloggers often times don’t address and it drives me nutty : ) There is so much more to a blog/facebook page/twitter account that creating content. I’ve always felt that one of the purposes of social media is to inspire and invite discussion and, when that aspect is lost or ignored, it really loses its individuality for me. I think that if a library is going to use social media then it should become the responsibility of one or even many employees to moderate and respond!

    • Matt McQuillan says:

      I completely understand your point. If there is only one direction of communication in social networking, the point is lost. Web 2.0 implies two way communication. If a library simply posts information on Facebook or Tweets links to stories on its website, it is being underutilized. That library should simply focus its time and resources on a better website rather than wasting time on social networking.

  5. Emily Oleniczak says:

    The academic library at Aquinas College has a live chat opinion on its website. The live chat is not available 24/7 (which might be beneficial to college students who are studying all night, but impossible for library staff to keep up with),but only when there is a librarian at the Reference Desk. It is definitely helpful for quick how-to questions from students (like how to cite a source), but like Emma MacGuidwin pointed out, most reference questions have follow-up questions and require a physical face-to-face meeting.

    • Matt McQuillan says:

      I like your idea to limit the time available. Only the largest libraries, such as large universities, would likely be able to afford constant staffing. Actually, Colorado has a solution to this problem in the public library arena, http://www.askcolorado.org. Participating public libraries around the state share responsibility for staffing the live chat area 24 hours a day year round (except holidays). It is not likely the participating libraries would be able to have a live chat site staffed to this extent, if it would be available at all. Is collaboration across systems is one potential solution to the staffing cost problem associated with live chat and other social networks?

  6. Lori Mangan says:

    I actually just finished attending my state’s annual library conference and there were several sessions on social media, Pinterest and other issues that you are discussing here. One of the things that all the presenters said was that if your library uses social media it must be kept current. One marketing director went so far as to say that if your system can’t respond to a question or comment within 24 hours your system should not be using blogs. The PR director from another system said that he has a staff person in his department that he gives 2 to 3 hours a day just to update thier social media. This would seem to create a difficult situation for smaller systems. Do you let anyone do updating or do you allow that much staff time to be spent on this task? I think that these will become even more of an issue as other types of social media emerge.

    • Matt McQuillan says:

      That is an excellent point Lori. As discussed in the main post I made, there are potential legal implications at play when dealing with comments, such as copyright violations and defamation. Allowing just any employee to moderate comments could lead to problems if that person is not familiar with the issues. Having a formal policy and educating all employees on it could negate some of this concern.

  7. Nancy Ellis says:

    The idea of live chat means that there will be a record of the information provided. One of our readings gave statistics on the fallability of reference librarians’ answers. I know that I have given information on the spur of the moment when working with the public only to think of the correct information after the person has gone. With most online reference services, there is time to research and formulate an accurate answer.
    I just read an article “Brice Austin (2004): Should There Be “Privilege” in the Relationship Between Reference Librarian and
    Patron?, The Reference Librarian, 42:87-88, 301-311” where Austin makes a case for Reference Librarians to be held to the the same laws of priviledge as lawyers and thier clients, or psychologists and their patients. Achieving greater professional stature would come with greater liability and responsibility.
    “I have made this letter longer than usual, because I lack the time to make it short (Blaise Pascal, 1656-1657)”. It takes time and thought to construct a concise and accurate response to a research question. Live chat would be acceptable for mundane, everyday questions, but I do not think it is the best method of communication for professionals.

    • Matt McQuillan says:

      Nancy, you make a great point on this. I definitely agree that librarians should be just as accountable as other professions if they are ever to be considered of equal stature. Live chat is a quicker question and answer format, more like ready reference where it lends itself to time limited answers. What about a bulletin board or other format where a patron could post a reference question without having a librarian “on the line” with them? This could allow limits such as a 24 hour response time. This would let the librarian look up the appropriate answer without the pressure of instant response. It could also allow the librarian to respond to inquiries when they have time, freeing up some staff time that would be needed to accommodate constant live chat session. What does everyone think?

  8. Jessica says:

    I think that this was a great, thought-provoking article. I have very limited experience in a library (and hope to rectify this soon) but I had never thought to think through some of these issues. Of course, it makes perfect sense and only adds to the usability of a library, and truly makes a library a community centerpiece. It seems as though the best way to break up the workload of answering patron questions from Facebook or twitter would be to have some sorting mechanism (I don’t know if it exists yet, but it could), that would separate like-minded questions into the right categories. Then one person could be responsible for a category, or if one category gets more questions than others, it would only make sense to have more than one staff member to answer those questions. In the world of social media and responding to patrons, it only makes sense to “divide and conquer” the aforementioned workload.This would also make the task of paying for the maintenance of a social media website more plausible, because the only way to have a social media option for your library done correctly, is to always have it updated.
    There are other issues you’ve raised, but honestly, I don’t know how I’d solve the issue of legality or copyright within a social media outlet. At least, not yet.

  9. Mandi King says:

    Matt, you bring up some interesting points about copyright issues and possible offensive comments. I have heard that some libraries are now hiring “Social Media” or “Emerging Technologies” librarians to not only police the content posted on their various social networking sites but also to act as a public relations team members for the library, getting as much information out about the library as possible. I can imagine the amount of time this would take up and the necessity to designate certain individuals to act in this capacity as it would be a full-time job to stay on top of it all. Another issue would be how the title of “social media librarian” would make you feel as a librarian. You spend many years earning your MLIS just to police facebook all day? Perhaps this would be a position better suited for a paraprofessional rather than a librarian.

    • Amy Nelson says:

      The library where I work just moved one of our Branch Librarians to administration and changed his title to “Technology Librarian.” He built our new website and is constantly updating our website, Facebook and Twitter accounts. The Director also has him teaching computer classes for patrons as well as classes on eReaders. He spends well over 40 hours/week just on these things. It really is an overwhelming workload. The Director is looking into introducing chat and email reference to our patrons as well. I think she is going to have to have another “Technology Librarian” to handle all of the work. But this is where the future is heading.
      As far as the patrons who are less technologically minded, we have plenty of resources for them as well. The needs of the community are varied, and as such, we need to grow and adapt to accommodate everyone.

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