Orcadian Twittering

Screenshots of 3 tweets from Orkney Library

We know that libraries have never been at more risk, and the worst hit ones are often in the poorest and most remote areas. Large libraries have a slightly easier time gathering support, but what do you do if you are a small or rural library? How can you make people aware of your service if you are on an island where the population is less than that of a small city?

Orkney Library is based in Kirkwall on Mainland and serves the population of Orkney providing both archival and regular library services. A regular day can see around 400 people walking through the doors and the library is a busy and lively community hub. What makes Orkney Library extraordinary is that you’ve probably already heard of them. This is remarkable for a library that is based on a small island off the coast of the far North of Scotland. The reason you have heard of them is because this library has completely nailed social media.

Okay, so how did you get started? What made you think that Twitter would work for libraries?

We thought Twitter might be a useful promotional tool for the library. It seemed that the traditional methods of promoting ourselves (local press, posters in shop windows etc) were only effective in reaching certain parts of the community, and we hoped twitter would give us a new audience. We didn’t for one minute think that audience would end up being thousands of people across the world. Our Twitter feed, Facebook page and archive blog all started in 2009 and we haven’t looked back since.

What have been the positive effects of using Twitter like this?

We have been successful in attracting younger members of the community to our online presence. Everyone uses social media these days, so we have an increasing number of queries/comments/feedback through Twitter and Facebook. Where someone would have e-mailed or phoned before, they now send us a Facebook message or a tweet.

An unexpected benefit has been the direct contact we now have with authors, publishers, agents etc. We can now make an initial approach about an event to the author, and if we get a positive response, we then follow it up through the usual channels. Social media also proves useful for getting proof copies, reading group sets etc. Seeing the discussion of particular books on Twitter helps with stock selection; if something is getting a lot of coverage we will probably buy it for stock if we don’t already have it.

Have you seen a rise in usage and/or issue figures since raising your profile this way?

In line with the rest of the country our issue figures are down, but not at the rate of decline seen elsewhere. Our visitor numbers are quite steady, and we believe this is partly due to social media raising our profile in the local community, and beyond. Every year more and more people visiting Orkney pop in to see us because they follow us on Twitter. Our website has seen a significant increase in traffic since we started using social media. In 08/09 we had 14,000 visits, in 14/15 we had 44,500.

Attendance at library events has also increased. Before social media we might have around 20 people for an author event, since we started using Twitter and Facebook, we can fill events to capacity, and have a lengthy waiting list for returned tickets.

What have been the high points and low points of having such a visible public profile?

High points personally have been making some good friends through social media, being invited to speak at events such as London Book Fair, and getting paid to make fun of funny book covers.

For the library the high points have been people seeing us in a new way, social media has been great for helping combat a few of the stereotypical ideas of what libraries are. The fact we are quite well-known know also helps when approaching authors about events with us. It is fantastic to see a younger age group starting to come back to the library and use our facilities, whether it is to borrow books or use the free w-fi.

The low point is having to answer loads of questions from all kinds of people about our social media use…. ;-) 

Which tweets have been the most successful?

The most successful tweets we have done tend to be in some way humorous and involve a picture, probably a book cover. It is impossible to tell which ones are really going to take off. Sometimes things that I think are genius get completely ignored, while others tweets that I didn’t think much about suddenly get hundreds of retweets.

Why should libraries tweet?

Libraries should tweet because this is the 21st century and social media is something people are using every day. Libraries shouldn’t be stagnant, they have to evolve, and adapt, and meet the needs of the communities they exist to serve. Social media has become an essential part of what we do, and we have become a much more forward-looking, open, inclusive service in the five years that we have been using it. It is also a great way of finding out what happens at other libraries and getting ideas to try out in your own library.

Can you give other libraries advice on using Twitter and social media? What are your top tips?

Keep it fun, show that your library is the sort of place that people would want to visit. Also, don’t use your Twitter feed or Facebook page to give your patrons a telling off, nobody wants to read that, it doesn’t come across at all well.

Remember that social media is a two-way thing; it isn’t just about the people/organisations that are following you, but also the people/organisations that you follow. You will get so much back from using Twitter if you use it well.

If all else fails tweet a picture of a cat.

About the interview 

Stewart Bain (Librarian at Orkney Library) was interviewed by Dawn Finch (Vice President CILIP, Children’s author and library consultant).

Follow @orkneylibrary



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