When I spoke at the recent Reference @ the Metcalfe Seminar about Sutherland Shire Libraries use of blogging my aim was to firstly, point out the benefits that blogs can bring to library services and secondly, to encourage people who are unfamiliar with the technology to get in a have a go. Remember, these social networking tools such as blogger, flickr, myspace and YouTube are designed to allow anyone to participate in creating content for the web. There are no special technical skills required to start using these tools, which partly explains their explosion in popularity.
I will try to post more about the benefits of web 2.0 tools on this blog in the future but for today I wanted to focus on a key theme that I thought arose from the Reference Seminar, and the way that social networking tools can help.
I believe that, as libraries, we need to start to engage with our customers in their space. I don't think that we can expect them to always come to our place, whether that be our physical libraries or our virtual spaces - our web sites. This concept came up several times from different speakers throughout the seminar, including Brett Poole from Yahoo! 7 when he talked about their Answers service.
Web based tools are by no means the only way of achieving this goal, however, social networking tools allow libraries to become part of the (virtual) communities that (at least some) of our customers frequent. A library that has blogs, a myspace account, posts its photos to flickr, etc. is engaging with people that may not normally think about coming to the library or using the library web site as an information source.
The fact that many of these web 2.0 tools provide RSS feeds means that we can reuse that online content in our own web sites, letting us have our cake and eat it too! Let me give you an example based on what we're doing at Sutherland Shire Libraries.
In addition to our main Library web site we have established a blog, in which we post the latest news and other bits and pieces about the Library. Then, using the blog's RSS feed, we populate the home page of our main web site with the latest posts from the blog. When something is added to the blog the web site is updated with the latest news automatically.
Alternatively, the RSS feed also provides our customers an opportunity to consume Sutherland Shire Libraries news in their preffered news reader.
We know from many studies that libraries as institutions have a high level of trust in the community. Trust is a highly valued commodity in an online world that houses so much stuff, where the biggest problem is not finding information but sorting the good from the bad. Let's use these new tools and technologies to capitalise on that trust and reach out to potential new customers by engaging in their spaces.