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To Engage or Not to Engage? Social Media in Public Libraries

by on January 18, 2019

Libraries across the country take a wide range of approaches to their social media presence(s). According to Techsoup, most libraries spent less than five hours weekly to support their social media presence. Before launching into the social media maze or going further down the path, take a little time to discuss with relevant library staff the five Ws: Who, What, Where, When, and Why. Creating a clear path for your social media efforts is time well spent.

WHO Will Manage the Accounts
To start, be sure policies about staff participation, patron confidentiality, and acceptable use are clearly defined. Libraries are public entities, so the law defines much of what is required. Be sure staff are trained in handling patron information, including photos, within the bounds of data privacy. Copyright applies to online content as well, so sharing information on a library platform needs to respect this boundary also. The American Library Association offers guidance on social media policy considerations. Who will monitor accounts and how often? How often will each person post — what is the schedule? How will posting be handled when someone is off work? David Lee King, Digital Services Director at Topeka & Shawnee County Library, has established these guidelines for staff who manage social media. One rule of thumb, consult the employee handbook for guidance. Also be clear about who can create content or add a platform.

Look through best practices and think about how best to set up the accounts to get the best results. For example, creating a library administration account email can help keep a bright line between work and personal social media use. Notifications for the library pages will only go to the library account. Also keep in mind requirements for identification – be clear when sharing information on a personal account about your link to the library.

WHAT Will Your Library Market or Promote?
Are you hoping to increase program attendance? Or bring more people to the library? Or advocate for library issues? Think about and set goals for what your library’s social media platform will do. Do you want to pay Facebook to promote posts? If so, have you thought through the privacy implications of using this function? Have you defined what is unacceptable behavior online? How and when will the library have the right to remove content on its platforms? Will you accept advertisements on your page?

Many libraries use their platforms for event promotion. This can be done through normal posting or through special platform functions, such as Facebook Events. There are pros and cons to using these types of features, so watch metrics to see what works more effectively for your library. Some libraries are going beyond event promotion on social media. Many libraries are using hashtags like #bookfacefriday. NYPL took its social media presence to the next level last year with its #InstaNovels hashtag as well as its Black Friday promotion.

WHERE – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest
Techsoup found that the platform of choice for libraries is Facebook, followed by Twitter and Instragram.2 Something to consider is which audiences your library is trying to reach through social media. Demographics for each platform are very different. In 2018, Pew Research found 68% of adults were on Facebook and 73% were on YouTube. To reach teens and millennials, YouTube, Snapchat, or Instagram may be more effective. Pew’s study also found a lot of reciprocity across platforms. For example, 90% of Twitter users also are on Facebook.3

Whatever platforms your library uses, communities of practice abound online. On Facebook, groups such as the Libraries and Social Media Group provide places to share questions and ideas with other librarians. A recent article in American Libraries, Snapchat in the Library, featured libraries on that platform. Follow other libraries on your platform of choice to gain insights and ideas for posts. Follow other libraries on your platform of choice to gain insights and ideas for posts.

Consider the amount of time you will dedicate to this effort. Draw clear boundaries between work use of social media and avoid blurring the line between personal use and the library. Social media maintenance and monitoring can take a lot of time. It’s important to know how much time and effort you and the library can dedicate to it. Frequency and timing of posts is also dependent on the platform. Many libraries post daily on Facebook<sup>4</sup>. Time of day is important as frequency in generating social media engagement. The topics you post about also have optimal times for posting. You can read more about post frequency in the following articles:

Probably the most important question to answer is why do this, why has a social media presence? A clear purpose is vital to social media success. Are you aiming to communicate with patrons, promote library activities, or enhance patron service? Every library is unique – a reflection of its community. Social media pages for libraries are equally varied. Voice is important. Sound too stodgy and people will tune you out. Come across with too much jargon and people will tune you out. Do you want to be professional and approachable? Or funny and whimsical? Your voice will hape the types of content your library posts.

The two challenges most cited by libraries in the TechSoup study were growing audience and follower and administration, staffing, and time. Take time to set up your social media presence and you will decrease these challenges for your library. Defining clear purpose and strategies for social media can help yield tangible results from social media.

Do you know of other great social media resources? Share them in the comments below!


1. “How Libraries Use Social Media.” TechSoup. October 12, 2017. Accessed January 5, 2019.

2. Ibid.

3. Smith, Aaron. “Social Media Use 2018: Demographics and Statistics.” Pew Research Center: Internet, Science & Tech. September 19, 2018. Accessed Janaury 05, 2019.

4. “How Libraries Use Social Media.” TechSoup. October 12, 2017. Accessed January 5, 2019.

Other Social Media Resources

Social Media Image Dimension Guide for 2019

Ten Must-Haves for Your Social Media Policy

Creating a Social Media Policy

The Librarian’s Nitty-Gritty Guide to Content Marketing Workshop – Laura Solomon Slidedeck