Michigan State University is a large public research university with over 45,000 students. MSU offers more than two hundred different programs, both graduate and undergraduate. MSU library maintains multiple branches, both on the campus in East Lansing and elsewhere. The main library has two wings and five floors containing circulating material, reference material, help desks, copy centers, a coffee shop, a printing press, and administration offices, among other features.
It is one of my favorite academic libraries I have had the privilege to use. Although, pardon my bias, I am an alumna of MSU. I will attempt to reign in my love for this library, but in full disclosure, this may be a little fangirl-y.
I spoke to Ranti Janus, a system librarian and a liaison to the Museum Studies and bibliographer for the Library & Information Science collection at MSU’s main branch of the library. Ranti maintains the Facebook, Flickr, and Twitter pages of the university. However, maintaining social networking is not in her job description. Ranti told me, “I saw an opportunity to establish a MSU Libraries presence, created the account, and communicated it with the PR Committee group.” The PR Committee helps determine what goes on the sites, but Ranti maintains them.
Prior to speaking with Ranti I felt that social networking had benefits to a college or universities library, but it did not occur to me to think about it in terms of public relations. At the end of the day, that is what social networking is for a library, another opportunity to relate to their patrons and promote their services in a positive light.
It also allows the library to have a sense for what the students and their patrons think about services offered, “We can monitor what users’ perceptions are about us. “ Ranti told me, “If they complain about something about the library (“the library building is too hot!”), we could send out message explaining the situation (“Sorry, folks, the AC is broken. Please bear with us.”) We need to humanize our presence to make users comfortable interacting with us.”
If a student is more comfortable interacting with the library over these social networking sites, perhaps they will be more eager to speak to a reference librarian, or just make greater use of the libraries. These are all positive efforts to bring students to the library as more than just a place to study!
It is also a great tool for libraries to gauge the feeling of patrons on different announcements and updates (or reductions) to services. This is being done by, “How many “like” the wall post on FB, or how many clicks the link we sent through FB, twitter, blogs, etc., or if users re-tweet us.” Ranti said that they are “still learning the best time to send out info to get the biggest bang for the buck. This is not the only way to find out the impact, obviously, but at least we know whether people pay or do not pay attention to us.”
Personally, I feel that MSU is doing things correctly in their uses of social media! It informs and engages their patrons, giving them an easy forum that is widely understood. The Facebook page is engaging, their twitter is a mix of wryly written updates, posts from their blogs, and retweets regarding important campus updates. The Flickr page is beautiful, and you can find promotional images of LOL Cats, pictures of a variety of different library locations on campus, and rather humorous “What not to do to a Book” photo gallery (Books are for reading, not target practice!).