In search of a social library

Data networking is functioning as the basis for library activities to an ever-increasing degree, which gives rise to a number of surprising things. New chains for producing services are being created, posing a challenge to libraries to keep up with developments. Patrons are rendered a more visible role and social groups pop up out of the masses more clearly.

Opportunities for cooperation increase

As part of a project called Parteco, the Medial Laboratory at the University of Tampere, the Tampere University of Applied Sciences and the Finnish Funding Agency for Technology and Innovation (TEKES) created three scenarios or enterprises for working in data networking and social media. The scenarios possess points of interest to the world of libraries as well.

The first scenario involves a mutual server that all parties involved can utilize. Libraries in Finland, for example, have formed regional consortia for purchasing a library system together, in which case they are able to make use of just one mutual collection database.

In the second scenario, the patrons themselves produce database content that everyone can use. The Library 2.0 services offer patrons the opportunity to tag, evaluate, and describe the works in the collection. Information from peers is important, although it may not correspond to that of professionals in terms of quality.

Library 2.0 also offers patrons the opportunity to form groups and communities the members of which produce database content and share it amongst themselves. Being in the library, the groups may also take advantage of the library’s services. Using ‘Mashup’ technology, library services, such as category data, may be linked to the library’s external services.

In the third scenario, participants create a base for the assistants with which they are able to produce content for some kind of service. The assistants constitute a community in which they give encouragement to each other. The products are evaluated and the best ones are introduced into use. Numerous library professionals in Finland are creating a mutual subject guide based on this principle.

Taking part in new value chains

Due to data networking and a participation economy, the value chains of production are in the process of changing. The musician-publisher-storelibrary- patron chain could indeed be musician-publisher-patron, or even more condensed musician-patron. Libraries must be able to make themselves needed in new production and mediation chains as well. Digital material distributed to libraries over the Internet is problematic because permission to ’borrow’ is needed from the assignees. Usually vendors already have a network channel that, in theory, reaches the end-user without the library.

To get patrons to use network material, the library must be able to prove it is able to find users that they would not otherwise reach and to tell them who they are.

Flirting with target groups

A weakness in libraries lies in the fact that they are not used to identifying target groups, excluding children and groups with a different language background, and directing services to them. Although libraries have always been public places where people socialize, they usually meet their patrons either in masses by the Book-O-Mat or individually at the info counter, rarely as the member of a social group.

With the coming of social media, libraries are not only open to the masses and individuals, but also to target groups. The groups founded by patrons through Library 2.0 are opening up the stage and presenting their roles.

The social media maintained and utilized by libraries work according to the rules of media. They are usually directed toward a certain group in order for the customer relationship to work. If you want the media to succeed, you must also listen to the target group and services must be shaped according to what the group says, and this is how it makes contact with the library and the library achieves more profound understanding of the group.

Multicultural target groups in Espoo

The central Espoo library is located in a multicultural housing development and for that reason wishes to actively maintain connections to different ethnic groups

The library hosts public events on a regular basis. Just recently the library hosted a Chinese cultural evening, a Windows Vista course for beginners, a celebration of the fact that the library’s new facilities will be opened in exactly one year, and author Eva Wahlström visited to tell of her work. She is a young, beautiful, and successful boxer who has also written a book.

The facilities at the central Espoo library are worn and too small, so the new facilities are more than necessary. The stage for events is merely a sofa and chairs – everyone who visits the library automatically participates in the event.

Informatician Jaakko Sannemann says, “The patrons think it’s great that their library is active and certain events are targeted at them. It even seems to improve confidence.” The new library will be the centre of various events. The objective is to have something different every day.

In order to understand the various ethnic groups, the library has made an effort to hire staff from as diverse ethnic backgrounds as possible. The objective is to learn about the needs of the different groups and improve services according to what has been learned.

“I think we have been rather successful as regards children and adolescents, but we’re still working on obtaining contact with adults.”

Library experiences with social media

The library has expanded its activities into the social media of data networking simply because that is where the patrons are.

The library maintains a blog, which has opened up a new channel for contacting its own patrons, especially young people. Sannemann also has his own blog, which is intended for other professionals. He uses it to share his experiences pertaining social media, for example.

He has constructed a small area for the Second Life virtual world. It has a three-dimensional link library as well as conference and exhibition facilities. It is merely an experiment for the time being, the future depends on how well the library’s patrons find their way to Second Life.

A couple of the teams comprising library staff have used Facebook as their basis for activities. The library has a video camera, which can be used to upload events on the data network for those who were not able to attend the event. Sannemann has used You Tube and Flicker chiefly as a place to upload pictures and videos because they offer proper tools for organizing data.

From play to work

“For now, this is a hobby, seeking to do something creative. At this point, it’s important that the staff be able to use some of their working hours to make quick experiments to enable them to find promising types of services the library could benefit from.When they find one, the executive committee discusses it and, at best, allots resources to professionally maintain it at which time the hobby becomes work.”

“At this point, blogs have been the promising services. They’ve reached the intended target group. All in all, our experiments with social media have strengthened the staff ’s confidence greatly, something we’ll need when facing the challenges of the new library. Before, our library was professionally remote, but now with the help of blogs and active discussion fora, we have contact with other professionals.”

Blog for the central Espoo library:

Jaakko Sannemann’s blog:

Seppo Verho
Managing Editor

verho AT

Translated by Turun Täyskäännös

Managing Editor, Kirjasto-lehti