Review of “Doing social media so it matters: a librarian’s guide”

Solomon, Laura. Doing Social Media So It Matters: A Librarian’s Guide. ALA Editions, 2011.

I was excited about this book. At only 65 pages, it seemed like a quick read that could point toward some best practices and fresh ideas about social media in the context of libraries. It was clear and well written and provided a good introduction. However, I was slightly disappointed – disappointed that it didn’t cover everything I had hoped and disappointed that such a book was even required to remedy some of the social media blunders libraries still make.

One major reason it was disappointing was its target audience seemed to be people with no background in social media. One way to perceive this is by interpreting the first line from the back cover summary:

Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, LinkedIn: it’s difficult enough to keep abreast of social media Web sites, let alone understand how they fit into today’s library.

If you nodding and thinking “Finally! A book to explain this!” – then you might like this book. However, if you are shuddering and thinking – “No, I pretty much understand these sites.” and/or “Why is MySpace listed?” – then you may want to avoid this book.

Most of the introduction and general advice is accurate and clear, but it is also very basic. “Interact with people in social media, or risk becoming irrelevant.” (p.3). That’s accurate, clear, and even good advice. But what misconception is that clarifying? Who is that helping? Sadly, this information should help librarians! Other studies (for example, Academic Libraries on Facebook: An Analysis of Users’ Comments) have demonstrated that many librarians completely ignore this principle – “Based on this study, the total number of comments on library Facebook pages would be significantly lower overall if it were not for the library staff posting on their own library walls and commenting every few weeks.” A particularly irritating habit – libraries liking their own Facebook status – is one example that demonstrates how out of touch some institutions are with the norms of social media. Sadly, many libraries need the basic reminders that Solomon provides in her book.

My second complaint is that some of the practical advice she offers simply isn’t compelling. On a section titled “Status Update Makeovers” she views this as an ineffective update:

The internet computers are not available due to maintenance.

I’ll admit this tweet is  impersonal and formal; but I don’t see how her remade example is substantively better:

Argh! Power surge took down a server – no Internet here this morning, sorry!

I don’t know how/whether the “Argh!” or the exclamations points – and 4 of her 5 good examples have exclamation points! – make the posts more personal or emotional. In fact, a recent article in the Atlantic shows that, for news related tweets, the perfect tweet is actually “kind of boring”. If her goal in writing is to make social media “matter” – I can’t see how her remade tweets “matter” any more.

Without stereotyping or being too harsh, this book fits the standard library model – to learn about a subject, you buy a book (in this case, a $37 book!). The advice is good, basic, and (quite sadly) still important for libraries to hear. However, if you already have a grasp of social media, this book might be disappointing. Final verdict: this book is useful, but isn’t life changing.

Regular Expressions in the Library – 2

Imagine you’ve just witnessed a hit and run accident. A car hit a biker and sped away. Despite the shock, you managed to remember the license plate number and promptly report it to the police. Great! You think the license plate number was 123ABC. They search their system and – yes! – it’s a match and justice was served.

This (obviously fictional) story is my way to introduce the idea of regular expressions. Theoretically, regular expressions could enable the police to find this car without perfect search terms.

Regular Expressions Solve Crime

Let’s change the memory. Instead of remembering the whole license plate number, you remember the first five characters –  123AB – and that the license plate had six characters total. You could do multiple searches like this:

123AB1
123AB2
 …
123ABZ

That would work…but it would be much easier to use the search term:

123AB.

In regular expressions, the dot character represents a single character. Searching “123AB.” would be functionally equivalent to searching all of the examples listed above (“123AB1“, “123AB2“, etc.). Again, the dot metacharacter matches only single items. Searching for “123AB.” would not match a license with 7 characters – if the license plate number was 123ABCD, they would get away!

Better Searching with Brackets

Let’s say that searching 123AB. worked, but it gave too many results. And, even though you can’t remember it exactly, you are pretty sure the last character was a letter and not a number (or perhaps this is a requirement for valid license plate numbers). The police could tighten up their search by using the following search term:

123AB[A-Z]

This expression uses two new characters: it uses square brackets and the hyphen symbol. Defined quickly, square brackets “identifies a user-defined class of characters, any of which will match” and the hyphen will “identifies a range of characters to match” (Source). The hyphen requires that items appear in their natural order – searching for 123AB[Z-A] would not return any matches. Other examples:

  • If you knew the last character wasn’t an A 0r B = 123AB[C-Z]
  • If you thought the last character was a vowel = 123AB[AEIOU]
  • If you thought the last character was a number = 123AB[1-9]

Summary

Three metacharacters in regular expressions could help solve this crime:

  • The dot characters matches any single character
  • Square brackets define allowable characters
  • Hyphens can be used to define an allowable range of characters.

Regular Expressions in the Library – 1

In several library contexts (MarcEdit, for example) , I’ve read or been told “have you tried doing that using Regular Expressions?”. Having no idea what this meant or referred to, I did a little wikipedia-ing and found out a little more about this method of matching text strings. Initial thoughts:

  • Yes, I think this can accomplish some important library-related tasks.
  • No, I don’t know anything about them.

I’ll chronicle my attempts to understand and explore Regular Expressions on this blog under this heading. I’m doing so with the intended context of MarcEdit, but hope to think of other ways Regular Expressions could be used to do library work.

First, a definition via Wikipedia:

In computing, a regular expression provides a concise and flexible means to “match” (specify and recognize) strings of text, such as particular characters, words, or patterns of characters

I’ll jump right in and discuss some special characters that made regular expressions so powerful. I like examples and getting messy, so here we go! I’ve decided to adopt a crime show format genre for my initial explorations. Enjoy!

Turning Tweets into Stories

I work in the technical services department of my library and I spend most of my time ordering and invoicing all the books for the Brandel Library at North Park University. It’s quite enjoyable (most of the time…) and most entries will be about my work and interest in the technical details of the library.

But, in addition to being the Acquisitions Coordinator, I’m also one of the library’s tweeters.

I (@ameyer24) began tweeting in 2008, but my library (@brandellibrary) started tweeting in March of 2012. I really love  tweeting for the library and am quite proud of the small following we’ve built and the conversations that we’ve entered into. In many ways, tweeting for the library is much easier than tweeting about my own life – mainly because I know the library can make big contributions to the conversations happening on twitter. It’s been great.

For this post, I wanted to share a tool I used that really encapsulated the value and importance of twitter. I used Storify to tell the story “Brandel Library, Finals Week, 2012“. Storify is a web service that “helps its users tell stories by curating social media.” I focused on just twitter, but Storify can also pull from facebook, youtube, flickr, instagram, google plus, and other websites. This flexibility and ease of use makes it an extremely valuable way to collect bits of social media and weave them into a compelling story.

I think this is especially important in an academic library setting. Storify can help libraries:

  1. Demonstrate the value of social media. I hear that many libraries have a difficult time demonstrating the value of social media. I think a carefully curated story shows (to a wary director, to the administration, to the wider campus community) the value and importance of entering those conversations. I think our story provides concrete examples about how twitter can benefit the community. Our story reveals how other patrons actively answered questions about the library. It tells us something about how people use the library space. It shows the pride some people have for the library. Twitter is no longer a ‘waste of time’ – it’s a new way we can demonstrate our value to the broader campus community.
  2. Thank their community. After creating and publishing the story, I sent out tweets thanking each person who contributed something to the story. Along with retweeting and responding, this was another way to show individuals how much their voices mattered to the library. Twitter is great because of the conversations it can create. I am careful not to use twitter as a place to post announcements – I want to use twitter as a way to engage patrons and communities in conversation. I want to have public conversations through twitter, not shout library announcements.

I’m surprised that I haven’t seen more academic libraries create and curate stories to Storify. It seems like a perfect way to weave discrete bits of media into a compelling story that demonstrates the value of social media and that rewards library patrons for sharing their experiences.

I’d love to hear or see how other libraries are using Storify to tell different stories. I’d also love to hear any one speak to whether/how Storify could be used to archive and preserve these digital conversations.

Hello World!

Greetings. After formatting, reformatting, and starting again, I think I’m ready to unveil my library related blog. It’s been a long time coming, but I think I’m ready for it. I will write more once I settle in a bit more and begin to think of some projects to document here.

Best!