This article by Librarian Lisa Waite Bunker was originally published in the Arizona Daily Star on Sep. 4, 2017.
The Arizona Daily Star Monthly Library Series offers an insider's view of Pima County Public Library and the ways in which we're transforming lives in our community. This month, we hear from Lisa Waite Bunker, Social Media Librarian.
Hi! I’m your Social Media Librarian. Well, one of them. If you have sent questions to the primary PCPL social media pages, liked, commented or shared on our posts, or reviewed us on Google, you have probably interacted with me. You have also helped us learn to be the Library in all its richness (and hopefully, warmth) online.
So, yes, it’s a real job. It is a fulltime job to find and make interesting things to post, respond to your comments, suggestions, complaints, and praise, and to monitor all the accounts that our other staff write. Currently, I, together with 52 other staff members, work in teams to keep up 39 various social media accounts, primarily on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. We’ve been on social media since the glittery days of MySpace, and I have overseen it all since 2009.
We’ve learned a lot.
The library world is changing fast. When I went to Library School my job didn’t exist, and there were only 8 years between graduation and my appointment to Social Media Librarian. I did take a class on how to plan ahead and make decisions for an uncertain future, and I remember thinking to myself “library websites only communicate in one direction. How can we make it more human, more like what happens in our buildings?” Now we know that social media is one of the answers.
The library has learned a lot about social media, so why not share? I also teach area nonprofits and businesses social media best practices and how to increase their impact, even without buying ads. It’s been an honor and a joy to teach new strategies to Tucson- and Ajo-area organizations. Recent attendees have been Barbea Williams Performing Company, Don Pedro’s Peruvian Cuisine, and Ben’s Bells. Over the years I’ve also helped language tutors, nonprofit cafés, health clinics, conference centers, animal shelters, electric car clubs, poetry book authors, restaurants, UFO news sites, wellness coaches, artists, and jewelry makers. I never know who will show up.
It’s kind of crazy how much libraries have changed. My first library job, back in 1977, was typing catalog cards for the UA Library Map Department. I can still type ‘U.S. Geological Survey’ in my sleep. Now cataloging is automated and catalog cards are a thing of the past.
That library job typing catalog cards was just a way to help my parents pay for college. I didn’t see it as a career until much later, when my goal of being an art museum curator clashed with the reality of being an Army wife. My husband and I moved eight times in our first 12 years of marriage, and libraries were a much, much better fit than art museums. A lot more fun too, I discovered. I loved each library job more than the last, and have never looked back.
Social media is captivating work. All of a sudden front-line staff have the power to tell the deeper story of our libraries and the neighborhoods we serve, and to share those stories in real time. We can share the small, funny things that happen that help you feel as if you’re there with us, like when a Russian bantam chicken walks into the Woods Library (this really happened).
Here’s a great example. Last month I filmed a short video of the Santa Cruz River in full flood. I walked down to the riverwalk, under a bridge, and caught on video how thrilling it is to see so much water in our normally dry river. So far it has been viewed over 36,000 times, shared by 861 people, and it has generated over 600 comments. Better than that was the conversation we had in the comments about floods, history, earthquakes, weird rivers that flow north, and monsoons in Tucson. The conversation reminded me of the best kinds of research conversations I’ve had working information desks at the kazillion different library jobs I’ve had over the years.
It is huge fun to watch something you’ve posted for the library go viral. Rachel at our Murphy-Wilmot Library currently holds our record! This March she posted a “Monday funny” that has been seen and enjoyed by over one million people.
Speaking of Wilmot, check out our neighborhood library pages too. If you connect with the Himmel Park, Sahuarita, Murphy-Wilmot, Eckstrom-Columbus, or Wheeler Taft Abbett, Sr. libraries, or the Seed Library on Facebook, you have met Mike, Tenecia, Lorie, Rachel, Mary, Lupita, and Justine. If you follow us on Twitter, you have met our fabulous Jessica. When I train staff I tell them “be yourself, tell the story of your library, and have fun.” Our goal is to be as interesting and helpful as some of the materials you borrow from the library. Note that every Pima County library has a Facebook page, but not all have active writing. Our smaller libraries often have difficulty assigning staff so some Facebook pages exist only for your check-ins, comments and questions.
I teach the same “be real, be interesting” approach in my business and nonprofit social media classes. The reality of Facebook is that it’s like a free puppy. “Liking” a business or nonprofit’s page is no guarantee that that person will actually see what you post. This is because Facebook tightly controls who sees what an organization page posts, based on a bunch of factors from how interesting it is (does it get an immediate response), to how interesting your page has been in the past, to what kind of words you use. Facebook has flat-out told page managers that “if you use ad-like language, you should be buying ads.” So, the software is free, but it definitely has a learning curve, and requires your time to offer a page that is consistently useful and engaging.
What started as a library experiment and a part-time job is now fulltime, has written policy, training manuals for staff and for the public, a worldwide support system for library staff, and for me, a job I adore doing. I present about library social media nationally, founded the largest library support group online, and contributed a large chapter to Using Social Media to Build Library Communities, published for the American Library Association. It comes out next month! In 2012 I had the extreme honor to be recognized as a Library Journal Mover and Shaker, an international award for people who help move libraries forward in the 21st-Century. I’m still pinching myself five years later.
I invite you to connect with us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. The Pima County Public Library wants to be your library online, too. If you have already connected with us on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, I hope we have surprised you, made you smile, sparked your interest in our world, and helped you find a good book to read. Thanks for being part of the conversation.
Lisa Waite Bunker was the founder and moderator of Catalyst Café, a program the library hopes to revive in the near future. In 2014, Lisa helped launch the Pima County Public Library Idea+Space, a place at the Joel D. Valdez Main Library for meetings and classes for job seekers, new business planning, and nonprofit assistance.