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Visualizing the Flow of My Library’s Information Online

   August 4th, 2011

My library just launched our long-overdue Facebook page. In the course of preparing it, we had a discussion about why we needed a Facebook page, what we wanted to use it for, and how it related to everything else we were doing online.

This led to the realization that no one really understood exactly what all we were doing online. We have a website, Twitter account, blog, email newsletters, flickr account, and now Facebook, but no clear policy as to what gets posted where, when information is duplicated, how things are updated, etc.

To help understand how our various types of information are represented online, I created the diagram below - it's probably not 100% complete, but it does cover most of our bases:

Flowchart of flow of online information

On the left are our different types of information (MacKay is our branch library), and the arrows show how that information flows through different electronic tools. There isn't necessarily a hierarchy at work*, other than perhaps the automatic updates necessarily come after the manual updates. Otherwise, the boxes are laid out just so they all fit on the page.

After discussing this, we uncovered two philosophies at work:

  1. use the different end tools - website, Facebook, Twitter - for unique content, so as not to duplicate things and essentially "spam" our patrons that use more than one service (for example, you can see above that no event information is posted to Facebook)
  2. publish all of our content almost equally through all of our channels, so we're sure to reach all our patrons regardless of which tool they choose to use

I don't think they are mutually-exclusive, but it does take a lot of work and forethought to do it well. I also think that more of what we do could be automated, as cutting down on the manual postings would save staff time.

Do other libraries have similar online information relationships? I imagine things range from very structured to a free-for-all to orphan accounts galore, but I'm curious to hear what other libraries are doing, to get ideas on how to do it better at my library.


*Something to note on the diagram is our "secret" Twitter account. We have a primary Twitter account we encourage patrons to follow and we use for regular tweets. The secret account is one we use only to post messages directly to our homepage. The reason for two, and why I don't really want anyone following to the homepage updater one, is that clearing the message off the homepage requires sending a blank tweet - it's not the end of the world if anyone follows it, but the blank tweets do look odd. Besides, everything posted to it gets posted through our primary account anyway.

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12 Responses to “Visualizing the Flow of My Library’s Information Online”

  1. Heather B Says:

    We have accounts on Twitter, Facebook, LibraryThing, Flickr, and probably some other places I don’t know about or can’t remember right now. I am the person primarily responsible for all of these except perhaps Flickr.

    Twitter and Facebook are used to talk about things going on at the library and to post information or random articles/links of interest. I often post the same information to both accounts because I don’t think that the same people are following us on both services. I try to use Twitter a little more to engage with the community (searching for tweets containing words like “library” or “need” and “book” and replying, for instance). We will be trying out a book discussion on Facebook as part of our community read this fall; I have no idea how that’s going to go but would really like to get people engaging with our page more. We also post some photos on Facebook.

    LibraryThing… I got us on there because I love the site and so that I could post events. I don’t really know what I’m doing with it beyond that right now. I think it could be leveraged for something interesting, with some creative thinking. We do have one patron who’s “friended” us there.

    I don’t know what we use Flickr for as a library or if there’s overlap between our photos there and on Facebook. I certainly don’t put things up there. We have a separate Flickr account for our town, where we are posting the results of a digitization project we’re doing with community members’ historical photos. That is getting a reasonable amount of attention.

    We also have an e-mail newsletter through Network for Good. It goes out once per month and lists all of that month’s events. If I have space I’ll also highlight other library happenings (some recent examples include talking about a couple of long-term volunteers leaving, soliciting contributions for our digitization project, talking about our expanded open hours).

    So there’s a lot of redundancy for us. I tend to subscribe to the second philosophy that you list. I think that different people will prefer different social networks to interact with us, and even if someone is following us in multiple places I absolutely believe that in marketing you have to say something three times before it even starts to stick in someone’s head. That said, I’m just about to implement program evaluation forms that will ask where people are getting their information about our events. That way I know what I can safely stop doing so I can regain some time! Maintaining these accounts plus our other publicity activities can get pretty time-consuming.

  2. ReadingPower1 08/06/2011 « READINGPOWER Says:

    […] Swiss Army Librarian » Visualizing the Flow of My Library’s Information Online :: Brian Herzog […]

  3. Brian Herzog Says:

    @Heather B: I forgot about LibraryThing – I add our book groups and other events to LibraryThing Local too. And I’m with you on the second philosophy – I think it’s best if we go where ever our patrons are, not try to dictate where they need to be. I’d be curious to hear your your evaluation program goes.

  4. Reflections on a Swiss Army Librarians’ Information Flow « library geek in training Says:

    […] decided to re read Brian Herzog’s post at Swiss Army Librarian this morning because I felt that his post was really valuable to assignment two and in deciding […]

  5. Allison Says:

    Hi Brian
    I am a Undergrad student from an Australian University and I find so much value from reading your blog. I just stopped by because I find this post particularly useful and inspiring as a student studying a Social Media class. Just thought I would let you know I did a post on your article on my blog for my class. Look forward to reading more from you.

  6. Caitlin Says:

    Generally, I subscribe to the second philosophy as well (here’s the setup I recommend to schools http://t.co/w1vqk5A). While there is some crossover among the tools, each one really has a unique audience. For example, teens love Facebook, but don’t care for Twitter, and hate Email; whereas your baby boomers more often prefer email. I say, let people choose which tool they’ll use to get information, and send a consistent message across all of them.

    That said, when I think of my public library, they blast every event over twitter, but thankfully use Facebook more sparingly and more for announcment and discussions. I’d probably block them on Facebook, if they used it like they do Twitter.

    Perhaps a good compromise is to follow philosophy two, but have separate feeds for events.

  7. Michelle Says:

    What a great idea! I have just created one for our library service, which will give everyone else (besides myself and my manager), an idea of what is going on with our web presences and exactly how much work is (or is not) required. Gotta love RSS feeds!

  8. Megan W. Says:

    I am sort of blown away by this. I am currently in library school after four years of working in a small public system. I always see this disconnect between the thoughtful ideal solutions of school and the time and resource crunched ‘get it done’ attitude of work. Something like this, which seems so simple and obvious represents the kind of melding of the two I am looking to train myself into during my second year in school.

    Who thought, information professionals mapping the flow of information we provide should seem so novel and exciting, but it does seem novel and exciting for some reason. Maybe it was more a symptom of the environment I was in previously, but I think as a profession we need more simple but thoughtful planning.

    Anyway, thanks for sharing!

  9. Brian Herzog Says:

    @Megan: to be honest, most people at my library experienced the same sort of amazed revelation once they saw it all laid out like this – including me. And for me, my first reaction whenever I see something is to try to simplify it – and this mish-mash of arrows seems pretty ripe for simplification.

  10. Michelle Says:

    Finally put your post to good use. Thanks!

  11. Connecting Librarian » Blog Archive » Information flow Says:

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  12. Swiss Army Librarian » Automate the Internet with If This Then That :: Brian Herzog Says:

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