Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Thing 64. Face-to-Face Social Networking for Libraries: Let’s Get Back to Basics

The Web 2.0 initiative for libraries is a good and positive thing. I’m no Luddite and I’m glad my library required staff to participate in creating blogs, using Facebook, Shelfari, Twitter, et al.  I don’t need to reiterate the reasons for the need of libraries to keep abreast of the multitude of technological changes showering (should I say weighing us?) down and using these apps to market and keep the library relevant. But, (you knew this was coming, right?) I think it’s time to get back to basics and refresh our face-to-face techniques in dealing with our users and promoting the use of the library.  In marketing, there is nothing more powerful than mouth-to-mouth promotion and in social interaction, nothing beats face-to-face.

Be responsive to user’s requests.
There is nothing more disenchanting to a patron than to make a request and be met with a blank or uncaring stare.  As they approach you, smile and greet them, by name if you possibly can. Get to know people’s names and use them. On your To Do list: find out and memorize five regular users of your library and the next time you see them greet them by name.  Wait for their smile. People love being remembered. 

Even if you can’t immediately help a person, show them you are listening to (and hearing) their request, and give them some sort of response, even if it is “I’m working with another patron, but I’ll be with you in just a moment.”  And then, most importantly, FOLLOW THROUGH.  Handle their request or pass it off to someone who can as quickly as possible.  Never underestimate the benefits of building a relationship of trust in your social interactions.

Be an ambassador for your library.
Just as the tech tools covered in previous issues help you to reach beyond your library's walls, your good, old-fashioned social networking techniques do, too.  Be involved in your community.  Let people know what is happening at the library, even when you’re not “on the job.”  Conversely, find out what people’s wants and needs are elsewhere, and brainstorm ways for your library to help meet those needs.  If possible, develop relationships with your local legislators – they are people, too, and they appreciate a smile and an offer of help as much as any one of your patrons!

Don’t forget the tools that got us here.
Tech toys and databases can be fun, useful and educational. They offer new twists on old methods, not to mention some entirely new methods and resources. There are still many, many tools of librarianship that brought us into the 21st century, and they aren’t obsolete yet. Learn your traditional resources. Don’t be afraid to leave your terminal or put down your handset and make your way over to the stacks. We constantly bemoan the fact that people are relying too much on Google or Wikipedia, but then we fall into similar, if not the same, traps ourselves. 

This is a brief essay with a brief, but important, message; we need to put the ‘social’ back into social networking.  Move out from behind your screen. Put away your tech toys until you need them. Make eye contact with your patrons and treat them as humans, not avatars. Use all of the tools at your disposal to give them the best service possible in each and every instance. Then you can step back and watch your library thrive.

Gena K. Zelenka, Blue Earth County Public Library
Dayle K. Zelenka, Traverse des Sioux Regional Library System/SMILE

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