Course:LIBR559M/2013GroupIII-wiki/Social Media in Academic Libraries

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See also LIBR559M class projects 2013.


  • Dyana Banks, Sarah Hanan, Yanli Li, Helen Tang

Academic Libraries and the Net Generation

The purpose of this entry is to introduce to readers how social media currently is used in academic libraries. It provides an overview of why academic libraries are using or should consider using social media to reach their patrons; the social media tools frequently and less frequently adopted by academic libraries, including by Canadian academic libraries; examples of social media best practices in academic libraries; and challenges academic libraries are facing in implementing social media, as well as strategies they should consider.

Why Use Social Media?

For patrons of academic libraries, use of the Internet and social media is ubiquitous. Today’s college students are members of the Millennial generation, also known as Net generation,[1] and “digital natives,”[2] who grew up turning to the Web for information and sharing and creating knowledge using multimedia tools. Eighty-six percent of Canadians ages 18 to 34 have a social networking profile, compared to 50 percent of all Canadians, the vast majority on Facebook.[3] Among U.S. college students ages 18 to 24, almost 100 percent use the Internet, compared to 75 percent of all adults; and 86 percent of undergraduates use social media, compared to 60 percent of adults.[4] Meanwhile, nearly a third of faculty members are using social media for teaching, mainly wikis and blogs; and nearly 65 percent for personal use, especially Facebook.[5] With faculty and students increasingly using Web 2.0 tools to share information and ideas, social media clearly has gained hold in academia.

At the same time that social media use by their patrons is on the rise, academic libraries are facing immense financial, technological and staffing challenges. While holdings and usage of costly digital resources have increased, visitor gate counts at academic libraries significantly declined between 1998 and 2008, as did reference transactions (by 75 percent in doctoral universities), and circulation (by more than 60 percent).[6] Libraries are under pressure to strongly communicate their value to their communities and demonstrate their contributions to teaching, research and student engagement.[7]

In this environment, social media is playing an important role at some libraries in communicating their value, supporting their patrons’ academic development and building new relationships with supporters. At the same time, social media presents a range of challenges for librarians, and implementation remains uneven. In “trying to help young people understand the world around them,” librarians must understand “the relationship between new media and old media.”[8]

Current Adoption of Social Media by Academic Libraries

Academic libraries have become major players in adopting social media into their services because social media tools allow them to engage users in library activities and collect users’ feedback to improve their services.

Social Media Tools Widely Adopted By Academic Libraries

  • RSS: the most popular tool used for providing library news, announcements and library blog updates.[9]
  • Instant messaging: the second most popular tool and mostly used to provide virtual reference services.[10]
  • Blogs: used for publishing news, marketing library services, recommending resources.[10][11]
  • Social networking: adopted by most academic libraries for sharing news, pictures and video clips with users, marketing library services, and even offering online reference services and OPAC search.[9][10]
  • Microblog/Twitter: adopted by academic libraries to broadcast news and annoucements[10] and to provide links and useful tips[12].
  • Social bookmarking/Tagging: many academic libraries offer users this functionality to tag in OPACs[13], subject guides[10],library blogs[9].

Social Media Tools Used Less by Academic Libraries

  • Wikis: mainly used for managing resources limited to staff and collaborating between staff within or across libraries. [14]
  • Vodcast/Podcast and video/audio sharing: used for offering news, interviews, tutorials and even lectures in the form of audios and videos.[10][9]
  • Picture/presentation sharing: used to share pictures of library events and presentation slides.[10]
  • Mashups: it is a “web application that uses content from more than one source to create a single new service displayed in a single graphical interface” [15]. Some academic libraries use this technology to incorporate Google Maps to show library location or provide search interface of Worldcat, or use Google Books to show title images in their OPAC[10].
  • Personalized webpage: MyLibrary and MyResearch are examples of this technology. A few academic libraries use this tool to allow users to personalize their library homepage for quick and easy access to their information needs.[12]


These social media tools are regularly used in aggregation by academic libraries to facilitate user engagement and contribution. For example, social networks are integrated with IM, blogs with RSS and tagging, etc.[9]

Canadian Academic Libraries' Use of Social Media

Canadian academic libraries actively embrace social media in their library services. Some of the findings in "An Environmental Scan of Social Media Usage in Libraries 2011" are:

Use of Social Media Tools Provided by Academic Libraries

Although academic libraries are actively engaging with social media tools, the users' adoption of these tools is at a comparatively low level. There is a big gap between the availability and the use of these tools, especially those user-initiated functions such as tagging and wiki. [9][12]

Examples of Social Media Best Practices in Academic Libraries

During the last decade the use social media has expanded beyond just maintaining friendships online, it has in the past few years morphed to allow students to maintain connections with their university, university athletic teams, academic departments and libraries. Libraries have been embracing social media although there is no standard at this time, some universities use social media infrequently while other universities have hired on full time staff to maintain and use social media in order for it be used more effectively.

Unlike the United States where there is a single official language, Canada has two official languages, which can skew how effectively social media is being implemented at the university academic level. When thinking of social media, many often only take into account the larger and more well-known social media outlet such as Facebook and Twitter, which although popular and find wide use in the English speaking world in other languages there are other social medias which are available. [16]

After examining several different universities it became apparent libraries may have started using one form of social media and later changed to meet their patrons’ demands or to a platform which was more user friendly. McGill University Library first form of mainstream social media was Twitter in June 2009 and in July 2012 began using Facebook. The month prior to go onto Facebook the library lunched its mobile website.

"McGill Library’s is pleased to announce the official launch of a new mobile library website as of June 1. Access library services any place, any time on your iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch and most smart phones. Features on the mobile site include: Catalogue search, Course Reserves, Ask us, Library hours, Library finder on Google Maps, Library News, and FAQs:" [17]

This is evident in the case of McGill University. The library decided to discontinue its blog after three years, “However, this is not the end of the Library’s blogging activities, but rather the start of several new and exciting initiatives we’re undertaking to better communicate and connect with all of you.” [18] [19] There are limitations to some social media site which prevent guests from exploring the users feed beyond a certain point.

Trying to locate information on the implementation of social media within a small university library was not as readily available. Unlike at McGill University Library were one could use its past library as a point of reference it was more difficult to locate information on the use of social media. At Bishop’s University in Québec after searching through Facebook itself the library Facebook was located and the library joined in July 2009, which is one year earlier than McGill University. At both Bishop’s University and McGill University the library Facebook pages were used to inform students of the services were offered and while giving students another means of accessing librarians and the library. At the Bishop’s University there was no single Twitter page for the library itself but the university’s twitter did advise students of the happenings at the library, including extended hours and services.

Challenges and Strategies of Integrating Social Media into Academic Library Services

Over the past few years, individuals and organizations increasingly collaborate and communicate using social media tools. Social media has become a catalyst in academic libraries for marketing their services and resources to library users. However, challenges are still facing academic libraries in using social media.

  • Although many academic libraries are adopting social media tools, they may not have a clear vision of how to integrate these tools into the overall goals of the library.
  • Earlier studies examining challenges within academic library settings in social media application have primarily focused on aspects of technology, funding and staffing. Technical barriers include limited access to wireless services, technological infrastructure and other technologies.[20] Due to lack of funding or interest or skills among staff members, social media sites have been abandoned or no longer updated in some libraries.
  • Recent researchers have started to perceive significant barriers to greater integration of social media into academic library services. Many libraries are already experimenting with different social media services like Twitter or Facebook to interact and connect with their patrons, yet how to grow their social media presence and gain more fans or followers is still a question.
  • Concerns about privacy and the “inability to measure effectiveness” are also on the list of librarian concerns about social media.[21]

In an effort to integrate social media tools into academic library services, academic libraries should:

  • be aware of the significant role that social media may play in enhancing academic library services. It is a powerful new form of communication and helps to spread the word about different events or services that the library is offering.
  • launch and sustain a successful social media presence. Marketing strategies include advertising, linking wherever possible, word of mouth, introducing during instruction sessions and so on. [22]
  • improve their reach by diversifying some of their outputs. For instance, video content is much welcome in addition to text-based content.
  • be more deeply engaged with their patrons using social media, for instance with regard to providing greater levels of customization where applicable.[23]


  1. Oblinger DG, Oblinger JL, editors. Educating the net generation. Louisville (CO): Educause [Internet]; 2005 [cited 2013 Jan 31].
  2. Burhanna KJ, Seeholzer J, Salem J. No natives here: a focus group study of student perceptions of web 2.0 and the academic library. J. Acad. Librarian. 2009 Nov; 35(6):523-532.
  3. Ipsos. Canada’s love affair with online social networking continues. Canadian Interactive Reid Report special feature on Social Networking [Internet]. 2011 [cited 2013 Feb 3].
  4. Smith A, Rainie L, Zickuhr K. College students and technology. Pew Internet and American Life Project [Internet]. 2011 [cited 2013 Jan 31].
  5. Moran M, Seaman J, Tinti-Kane H. Blogs, wikis, podcasts and Facebook: how today’s higher education faculty use social media. Pearson Learning Solutions [Internet]. 2012 Oct [cited 2013 Jan 31].
  6. Regazzi JJ. Constrained? An analysis of U.S. academic library shifts in spending, staffing, and utilization, 1998-2008. College & Research Libraries News [Serial on the Internet]. 2012 Sept [cited 2013 Jan 31].
  7. ACRL Research Planning and Review Committee. 2012 top ten trends in academic libraries: a review of the trends and issues affecting academic libraries in higher education. College & Research Libraries News [Serial on the Internet]. 2012 June [cited 2013 Jan 31].
  8. American Library Association. The state of America’s libraries: social networking. 2011 [cited 2013 Jan 31].
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 9.4 9.5 Xu C, Ouyang F, Chu H. The academic library meets Web 2.0: applications and implications. J Academic Librarianship. 2009; 35(4): 324-331.
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 10.4 10.5 10.6 10.7 Mahmood K, Richardson V.J.Jr.Adoption of Web 2.0 in US academic libraries: a survey of ARL library websites. Program: electronic library and information systems. 2011; 45(4): 365-375.
  11. Clyde A. Library weblogs. Library Management. 2004; 25(4/5): 183-9.
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 Kim Yong-Mi, Abbas J. Adoption of Library 2.0 functionalities by academic libraries and users: a knowledge management perspective. J Academic Librarianship. 2010;36(3): 211-218.
  13. Abbas J, Hsin-liang C, Lomax E. Who is tagging information? Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Society for Information Science and Technology; 2007 Nov; Milwaukee, WI.
  14. Bejune M. Wikis in libraries. Information Technology in Libraries. 2007; 26: 26–38.
  15. Engard NC. Library Mashups: exploring new ways to deliver library data. Medford, NJ; 2009.
  16. Giustini, Dean. An Environmental Scan of Social Media Usage in CARL/ ABRC Libraries 201.
  17. Lange, Jessica. McGill Library Website has Gone Mobile! McGill Library Blog.
  18. Amy. Follow the Library on Twitter. McGill Library Blog.
  19. Bilodeau, Edward. McGill Library Blog Winding Down… Getting Ready for Something New! McGill Library Blog.
  20. Chu M, Meulemans Y.N. The problems and potential of Myspace and Facebook usage in academic libraries. Internet Reference Services Quarterly. 2008;13(1): 69-85.
  21. The Pearson Team. Social media in higher education: The decreasing barriers to increased Integration[homepage on the Internet]. c2010 [updated 2010 Dec 10; cited 2013 Jan 31].
  22. Burkhardt A. Social media: A guide for college and university libraries. College & Research Libraries News. [Serial on the Internet]. 2010[cited 2013 Jan 31].
  23. Collins G, Haase A. Q. Social media use by Ontario University libraries: Challenges and ethical considerations[homepage on the Internet]. Conference Proceedings of the Canadian Association of Information Science. 2012.