Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Marketing as Conversation: How to Interact with Your Community Through Your Website

What I liked best about this meeting at the Public Library Association Conference in Portland was seeing Gina Millsap with whom I worked at Daniel Boone Regional Library in Columbia, Missouri years ago. The program was good, too!

The Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library is a leader among libraries in innovative adoption of social networking tools to advance its mission. TSCPL has ten people working for "the digital branch," which includes its website and social websites, such as Facebook, Twitter, and Flickr. The Lester Public Library in Two Rivers, Wisconsin is a small library in town on Lake Michigan north of Milwaukee. All of the library's social networking and web development falls on the library director. The difference in size between the two libraries is vast, but both are creating digital identities and connecting with their communities.

Jeff Dawson is the Director of the Lester Public Library in Two Rivers. (He said there are two other libraries by the same name in other parts of the state.) He said that he had never even had a computer of his own before he became the director about three years ago. Knowing he needed to do something easy to get his library into social networking, he got a camera and an account on the photography website Flickr. He began posting pictures with some library information and then broadened his efforts posting pictures about sites and events in his community. Soon people began to say that he covered the community better than the local newspapers. He then started a blog to serve as the library website; he write posts there but usually posts photos from Flickr that feed automatically onto the blog. He has now also set up Facebook and Twitter accounts; again most of the content comes via Flickr. Dawson said that he takes fifteen minutes each day as he arrives at work to load a new picture on Flickr, which then goes to the other three websites. The result has been that the visibility of the library is up as is its use, and Dawson has become a recognized person in a community that strongly values being native-born.

David Lee King is a well-known figure in the online library community. As Digital Services Manager at the Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library, he leads a team that builds an elaborate website, manages the library use of social networking tools, and even produces podcasts and YouTube videos for user education and promotion of the library. Even with a large staff, King repeats that reusing content and feeding it to different websites is important. One of his department's jobs is constant watching for and responding to comments from the community harvested from the library's blogs and all of its social networking sites. King showed examples that resulted in the purchasing of library materials, answering of informational queries, solving service problems, and improving library services.

Gina Millsap, the director of the Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library, spoke about how important her library's digital efforts have been. She said that her library has mastered the art of conversation, increasing community involvement and the demand for library services. Though not a primary mission, getting community involvement has led to political strength when the library has been threatened with reduced funding. When asked how a library gets reluctant staff to participate in providing digital services, Millsap said that she wouldn't let staff refuse to use the telephone; digital services are now basic and everybody's duty. "Serving our patrons wherever they might be is not optional."

The slides for the presentation may be found at http://www.slideshare.net/davidleeking.

No comments: