Libraries log on to Facebook, Twitter, in effort to stay current

Published: 10/5/2009 12:07 AM

Social networking Web sites are all the rage these days, exploding beyond the teen and 20-something crowd to include Baby Boomers.

So is it any surprise that even a growing number of libraries - the old standbys offering encyclopedias and other reference materials - are jumping on board Twitter and Facebook?

Growing lines of thought position the Internet as instrumental to libraries' services, hinting they can evolve along with the Web into an updated "Library 2.0."

More libraries seem to be using the Internet, rather than losing to it. Officials at several local facilities said they started social networking within the last six months.

"The best libraries will offer multiple venues for discussion," said Michael Stephens, assistant professor of library and information science at Dominican University in River Forest. "You'll have multiple channels to find your way to no longer a Web site but a Web presence."

Libraries in Lake Zurich, Barrington, Schaumburg, Wheaton, Roselle, Geneva and Elgin are among those using at least one social networking site. Some use several and maintain multiple blogs.

"The library needs to keep its perception and its service current or we're going to lose folks," said Amy Alessio, teen coordinator for the Schaumburg Township District Library.

Alessio, like many librarians using social networks, uses Twitter to get the word out about programs and services offered. She said she has found more people following the library's Twitter page are adults and authors, not the younger crowd usually associated with the Web.

"I put something up on Twitter for a program that only has a few spaces left and I almost always get a call from a parent," she said.

Stephens, who teaches a class called "Library 2.0 and Social Networking Technologies," said the number one group of people moving to social networks are ages 30 and up.

He tells his students to remember that while these social networks are a technology, their prime value is allowing humans to connect with each other. Libraries using these networks to connect in an open discussion with their patrons could benefit.

"(They are helpful) especially if libraries use the tools well and find a tool that works with their community," Stephens said.

Social networks also provide a way for libraries to keep tabs on each other. Sarah Strahl, teen services librarian at Ela Area Public Library in Lake Zurich, said she thinks communicating with other libraries is a more effective use of social networks.

The North Suburban Library System uses Twitter and Facebook to communicate with its member libraries and professionals in the industry.

Judy Hoffman, marketing communications specialist for NSLS, said they used Facebook to reach out to libraries with information about NSLS budget cuts.

"We think it's the way of the future, and we're going to be integrating it more and more into our service," said Peggy Carlson, assistant director of the Geneva Public Library.

With her books, papers and laptop spread out on a table at the Lake Villa District Library, Tanya Johnson, 53, says the library still plays an important role in her life. The Round Lake Beach woman is pursuing a master's degree in school counseling.

"I could do a lot of my research and homework on my computer at home but choose to come here instead," she said. "It's not only a quiet place where I can focus, the reference librarians are a huge help. And there's something about having your hands on books instead of just punching up articles on the Web."