I was recently asked to come up with a session for new library directors, about how to improve their libraries’ online presences. Not just websites, but their social media work as well. At first, a lot of disparate things tumbled through my mind: usability, accessibility, engagement, and all sorts of other related buzzwords. Any one of these things could certainly rate an hour of discussion, but I wanted to narrow it down to something that was meaningful and could be conveyed in a short amount of time. After some thought, I realized that there is really one underlying concept that makes any of these things actually effective. Without doing this one thing, it won’t matter what kind of fancy-schmancy website you have or how many times you post to Facebook and its ilk.
Get over yourself.
An effective online presence really comes down to not putting one’s ego first. That could be the collective ego of the library as an institution, the ego of the director, the ego of the board of trustees, or the ego of that territorial librarian who controls the library’s online content with an iron fist. As soon as any person or entity’s ego overrides the need of the online patron, the library, as a whole, loses.
Think about the following scenarios and who they actually aim to please:
- A full list of the board of trustees and/or the mission statement as a permanent fixture on the front page;
- A Facebook and/or Twitter account that only posts program and event announcements;
- A library blog that doesn’t allow comments;
- Social media accounts that only friend/follow other libraries or librarians;
- Links to the staff intranet on the library’s website;
- Online content arranged specifically for the convenience of the library staff.
I’ve seen each of these scenarios multiple times, and the one thing they all have in common is that the library prioritized the needs of itself over those of its users. Many libraries only do what’s easy or comfortable for them online. Sometimes there are logistical reasons for this, but oftentimes there aren’t.
I encourage you to take a long, hard look at what your library does online. Are you really doing it for the online fan or patron, or to please someone/something internally? A library does good work online when it realizes that the people doing the reading of the content matter more than the people doing the creation of it.