v32#2 Optimizing Library Services — Using Social Media to Engage with Library Patrons

by | May 11, 2020 | 0 comments

by Prof. Danielle De Jager-Loftus  (University Libraries, University of South Dakota, USA) 

Column Editors:  Ms. Nikki Borgel  (Editorial Assistant, IGI Global) 

and Ms. Lindsay Wertman  (Managing Director, IGI Global)    www.igi-global.com

Column Editors’ Note:  This column features IGI Global author, Prof. Danielle De Jager-Loftus, librarian and professor at the University of South Dakota, USA, and a contributor to the chapter, “‘Everything to Gain’: K-12 and College Partnerships=Academic Success,” in the publication Innovative Solutions for Building Community in Academic Libraries, edited by Prof. Sheila Bonnand and Prof. Mary Anne Hansen, from Montana State University, USA. — NB & LW


Last spring, I taught an online library media and technology class.  The class was assigned to write four technology reviews addressing how a specific technology could be used as an educator and as a librarian.  The question prompt for the assignment was:  “Ask yourself, how could this technology be applied in the library/education environment, and why would that audience care to use this technology?”  While most of the submissions were written about educational applications that can be used in the classroom, like Mindomo (mindomo.com), or Storybird (storybird.com), one fourth of the submissions were written about social media applications. 

A student in my class noted that we live in a society that revolves around social media and online communication.  A social presence is not only the norm for most people today, but it is quickly becoming an expectation of users and customers around the world.  This article explores the use of social media in libraries as well as in the classroom.  Should libraries and educators engage with their users and students on social media, and how might they suggest that their students use social media both effectively and ethically?  


More than thirty years ago, Chickering and Gamson published a study where they discussed seven principles of effective undergraduate education.  Their first principle encouraged “contact between students and faculty” (1987).  Studies show that student rapport and student access to educators are positively related to academic success (Buskist & Groccia, 2011).  Many of today’s college students prefer communicating with educators through electronic media.  This form of communication may be appealing to students who aren’t confident enough to meet with their educators in person.  Additionally, if educators are responsive to students’ initial electronic messages, students might be more comfortable about engaging face-to-face in the future.

To support and communicate effectively with patrons, librarians know that they must engage and interact with library users utilizing a variety of approaches.  For many libraries, an important aspect of communication is using social media to build a community of users. 

The various social networks are generally set up to connect with others in the virtual environment in slightly different ways.  Facebook, for example, forms an online platform for people to connect and share various types of files with family, friends, and online groups who have the same interests.  Twitter allows people to quickly share their ideas via short message posts.  Pinterest aids users in discovering and bookmarking creative items and ideas.

Use of Social Media in the Classroom and in the Library

Libraries and educators must recognize that students today network with each other using technology as much as, if not more than, in-person communication.  Libraries and educators must also learn to use the variety of electronic media available in positive ways.  These two propositions are the background of the assignment that I gave to my library media and technology class. 


There were four students in my class that wrote about Facebook.  All four students concluded that Facebook is currently the most popular social media platform.  Each student suggested that both libraries and educators can use Facebook to promote services, connect with and keep community members informed, provide basic information about themselves, and answer questions in a quick and efficient manner.  One student noted the value of Facebook’s messaging feature, which allows private conversations between libraries and patrons.


Seven students chose Pinterest as the technology application to write about for their technology review.  All seven students reported that Pinterest can be used to share useful information and how-to projects, and to “follow” others, gaining insight and ideas.  Students mentioned that they personally use Pinterest to find ideas for programming, lesson planning, and organizational methods.

In an earlier publication, I noted that social media sites like Pinterest offer useful ways for academic libraries to engage with their patrons and to create social value within library information services.  Academic libraries are using Pinterest to educate users about visual literacy and information literacy, to promote their digital special collections, to advertise acquisitions and reading lists, and to utilize for class projects where students curate boards on an assigned topic (De Jager-Loftus & Moore, 2013). 


The one student that wrote about Flickr stated that it is a good social media platform for libraries since it makes it very easy to share albums promoting events and happenings in the library.  The student also noted that Flickr can help libraries form a community and share ideas between distant locations.  However, the student observed that Flickr is no longer a popular social media platform and that most social media users prefer to stay with Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.  Therefore, the student recommended that libraries might want to consider using Flickr alongside other, more popular platforms.


Two students in my class wrote about Tumblr.  As with other social media applications, one student suggested that Tumblr can be a good platform for educators and librarians to express themselves and share ideas, topics, and news within their fields.  Tumblr allows users to both share and tag multimedia content to short-form blogs, and to follow other tagged content which lets users repost content of interest.

Another student noted that librarians may find the use of Tumblr an issue because of its smaller user base.  A small local library will probably have a difficult time finding a significant number of followers in their area.  Some larger libraries have gained a good following by providing short book reviews and recommendations, as well as promoting materials for certain yearly events such as Banned Books Week or Women’s History Month.  Both students noted that Tumblr offers the advantage of flexibility and privacy setting controls that other social media platforms do not match.

Problems with Social Media

A student in my class suggested that while social media has many positive attributes and the potential for uses is unlimited, the ability for anyone to share any sort of information can be of concern, especially to libraries and educators of minors and young children.  Students in my class were concerned not only about privacy, but also copyright.  Additional problems can include policies, resourcing, and measuring impact.  

Privacy Concerns

Almost all the students in the class noted social media’s privacy weakness.  One student pointed out that the policing of content on Facebook is “shaky” at best and there is a lot of questionable content that is allowed to be posted to that platform.  Another student noted that Facebook recently has had freedom of speech accusations, and that the algorithm Facebook uses to promote items and political parties to its users has also been the topic of heated debate. 

Our students and library patrons often need assistance in navigating what is otherwise the uneven playing field of social media.  We can be advocates of privacy policies that could protect real people — who are naïve, uncertain, and vulnerable (Acquisti, Brandimarte & Loewenstein, 2015).


Copyright’s basic tenet is that the creator or owner of a work has the right to control copying, distribution, and the creation of new versions of the work (Gard & Whetstone, 2012).  Social media platforms confuse this situation by posting the same content over and over and in different ways.  Normally this would not be permitted, but times are changing. 

As with privacy policies, librarians and educators have a role in assisting their students and users with copyright issues, helping them to be aware of possible legal implications when they create an account, post a photo, or “like” and relink (Bauer, 2015).

Value of Social Media

Students state that one of the most valuable things about the library, other than the building acting as a space for learning, is social media postings about operations updates.  As students in my library media and technology class pointed out, the posting of library hours, utility updates such as power or water outages in the building, information about study support services, and events and exhibits are what students find valuable (Stvilia & Gibradze, 2017; Philips, 2011).


Libraries and educators are using social media to present themselves as approachable, and this develops a rapport with students.  It seems clear that educators and libraries should consider utilizing social media to improve student engagement.  “The relationships that faculty and students develop outside of the classroom may well be the part of teaching which has the greatest impact on students” (Wilson et al., 1975).  This quote is from a study conducted several decades ago, but it is still relevant.  It should be noted that social media use does not replace traditional learning environments, but it can supplement them.  Additionally, academia should consider identifying what is acceptable and what is not when engaging with students via social media. 

The immediacy, informality, and interactivity of social media offers libraries and educators a chance to influence how they are perceived, and to demonstrate their support of students.  Being a “follower” or “friend” of a library social media account is not the same as a personal friendship, yet libraries may still establish relationships through social media which encourage students to take greater advantage of academic services and, in the end, promote student success.

Works Cited

Acquisti, A., Brandimarte, L., and Loewenstein, G.  (2015).  Privacy and human behavior in the age of information.  Science, 347(6221), 509-514.

Bauer, I.  (2015).  When copyright and social media meet: Zooming in on current issues and cases.  Florida Atlantic Undergraduate Law Journal, 2(12): 12-24. 

Buskist, W., and Groccia, J. E.  (2011).  Evidence-based teaching: Now and in the future.  New Directions for Teaching & Learning, 2011(128), 105-111.  doi:10.1002.tl.473

Chickering, A. W., and Gamson. Z. F.  (1987).  Seven principles for good practice in undergraduate education.  AAHE Bulletin 30(7), 3-7.

De Jager-Loftus, D. P., and Moore, A.  (2013).  #gathercreateshare: How research libraries use Pinterest.  Internet Reference Services Quarterly, 18(3–4), 265–279.  https://doi.org/10.1080/10875301.2013.840714

Gard, E., and Whetstone, B.  (2012).  Copyright and social media: Preliminary case study of Pinterest.  Mississippi College Law Review, 31(2), 249-280.

Phillips, N. K.  (2011).  Academic library use of Facebook: Building relationships with students.  The Journal of Academic Librarianship, 37(6), 512-522.  https://doi.org/10.1016/j.acalib.2011.07.008

Stvilia, B. and Gibradze, L.  (2017).  Examining undergraduate students’ priorities for academic library services and social media communication.  The Journal of Academic Librarianship, 4(3), 257-262.  https://doi.org/10.1016/j.acalib.2017.02.013

Wilson, R. C., Gaff, J. G., Dienst, E. R., Wood, L., and Bavry, J. L.  (1975).  College professors and their impact on students.  New York, NY: John Wiley & Sons.

Recommended Readings

Aymerich-Franch, L., and Fedele, M.  (2018).  Students’ Privacy Concerns on the Use of Social Media in Higher Education.  In I. Management Association (Ed.), Social Media in Education: Breakthroughs in Research and Practice (pp. 128-151).  Hershey, PA: IGI Global.  doi:10.4018/978-1-5225-5652-7.ch008

Balakina, J., and Frolova, N.  (2020).  Education via Social Net Sites: Challenges and Perspectives.  In M. Desjarlais (Ed.), The Psychology and Dynamics Behind Social Media Interactions (pp. 343-367).  Hershey, PA: IGI Global.  doi:10.4018/978-1-5225-9412-3.ch014

Butler, A., Fuentes-Bautista, M., and Scharrer, E.  (2018).  Building Media Literacy in Higher Education: Department Approaches, Undergraduate Certificate, and Engaged Scholarship.  In J. Cubbage (Ed.), Handbook of Research on Media Literacy in Higher Education Environments (pp. 153-171).  Hershey, PA: IGI Global.  doi:10.4018/978-1-5225-4059-5.ch009

Casey, N., and Brayton, S.  (2018).  Media and Information Literacy in a Higher Education Environment: An Overview and Case Study.  In J. Cubbage (Ed.), Handbook of Research on Media Literacy in Higher Education Environments (pp. 60-76).  Hershey, PA: IGI Global.  doi:10.4018/978-1-5225-4059-5.ch004

Fredlund, K.  (2018).  Social Media and the Rhetorical Situation: Finding Common Ground Between Students’ Lives and Writing Courses.  In I. Management Association (Ed.), Social Media in Education: Breakthroughs in Research and Practice (pp. 363-382).  Hershey, PA: IGI Global.  doi:10.4018/978-1-5225-5652-7.ch019

Simpson, A. M.  (2018).  Future Directions: Emergent Social Media Technologies and the Potential for Higher Education.  In I. Piven, R. Gandell, M. Lee, and A. Simpson (Eds.), Global Perspectives on Social Media in Tertiary Learning and Teaching: Emerging Research and Opportunities (pp. 118-135).  Hershey, PA: IGI Global.  doi:10.4018/978-1-5225-5826-2.ch006

Wohleb, E., Skinner, L. B., and Witte, M. M.  (2018).  Examining the Benefits of Integrating Social Media Into the Classroom.  In I. Management Association (Ed.), Social Media in Education: Breakthroughs in Research and Practice (pp. 1-11).  Hershey, PA: IGI Global.  doi:10.4018/978-1-5225-5652-7.ch001

Column Editor’s End Note:  As technology advances and more students enter secondary and higher education as digital natives, it is imperative that educators and librarians understand the latest technologies, including social media, and the benefits and challenges of bringing them into the classroom and libraries.  IGI Global actively publishes the latest information in library and information science and education in order to better serve libraries, educators, and scholars on the latest technologies and progressive educational uses for them.  Learn more about the research surrounding the topics in this article by checking out IGI Global’s InfoSci-Education Knowledge Solutions-Books (https://bit.ly/3cVR75j) and InfoSci-Education Knowledge Solutions-Journals (https://bit.ly/33fTlYI), IGI Global’s new electronic databases covering the latest, peer-reviewed research on library science, information studies, and education.

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