Thursday, March 31, 2011

New York Public Library - the most successful use of social media by a library in the world?

I'm really in awe with the way the New York Public Library (NYPL) uses social media.

Their "flagship" twitter account @nypl must be one of the most followed library twitter accounts in the world with over 100k followers. They are not quite the most followed Library Twitter account, I believe this honour belongs to the Library of congress Twitter account (thanks to all the librarians following them?) but according to my own informal analysis using Klout NYPL is probably the most "influential" Library on Twitter

The case study here mentions they use hootsuite to handle over 100 twitter accounts and between 2009 to 2010 increased the number of visiting to their website from twitter by 353.98% and in the process picked up the PR News 2010 Nonprofit PR Award.

I have not done a through analysis of Library Facebook pages, Flickr accounts, iTunes or YouTube channels but I would be surprised if the ones by NYPL aren't among the most active (see their list of Social Media channels). 

For example they have 30,000 likes on their facebook page1,500 subscribers to their YouTube channel etc. Again they are beat out only by the Library of Congress facebook account which has close to 40,000 likes. 

But besides that, the closest library I could find with a quick search was Seattle Public Library with 10,000+ likes and even that is unusually high even for the biggest public library systems

In 12 good library videos that spoofs movies or tv , I covered their viral movie hit, spoofing Ghostbusters which has close to 4 million views.

Recently they added yet another feather to their cap, they became the first public library in the world to have their own Foursquare badge! 

I'm looking at their main FourSquare venue and there are over 16,000 check-ins! To put things into perspective, Library of Congress has 2,000+ (strangely enough my own library has 2,800+). Is there any library venue that comes close to NYPL? Again, I didn't do a systemic search but I looked at some of the biggest public libraries in the US/Canada but the closest I found was in fact 6,700+ check-ins from the national library in Singapore (guess Singapore is quite a bit ahead of the US when it comes to mobile usage).

Do you know of any library venue on Foursquare that is comparable to these figures?

Regardless, it's clear that NYPL is *the* "Social Media Library" to watch. Granted, they have the size, the name & reputation to begin with, but comparable public library systems of similar size have not I feel come close to their success in using Social Media.

It's clear to me that part of the reason for their success is that they have a top class professional public relations and marketing team, they even reached out to me informing me about their success with FourSquare which incidentally made me feel like some A-list tech blogger. :)

Should all libraries try to be like them? What about academic libraries? Is there a rock star social media academic library version of NYPL?

Friday, March 25, 2011

One search box to rule them all? Web Scale Discovery tools ?

Last year, my institution launched both LibAnswers (a Faq system) and LibGuides (a content management system that is wildly popular for libraries). One interesting thing I noticed is that a number of queries (about 5-10%) were treating the search for LibAnswers or LibGuides like a library catalogue search box. People were searching for keywords of very narrow subjects. Not only that but I also saw searches for ISBN/ISSNs or even Librarian names in both Libanswers and Libguide searches.

This is of course a well known effect where users do not care to understand coverage of a search box, most often seen when users either enter article titles into the library catalogue which does not have article level data, or search for articles titles when the search box covers database names.

It's such a strong effect that I remember reading a study mentioning that when researchers studying subject guides put a feedback box on their guides and instead of receiving feedback, found that users were treating it like a search box instead.

Clearly many users will blindly put in search queries when they see a search box, they don't care what the search covers, they just want a google style search box that searches *everything*. But what is this *everything* ?

Of course, right now many academic libraries are scrambling to implement one stop shop search tools often dubbed "Web Scale Discovery tools" These include Summon, Ebsco Discovery Service, Primo Central, WorldCat Local.

These tools unify the silos that traditional separate library owned or licensed content including

  • Library catalogue
  • Content from databases bought/rented from vendors
  • Institutional repositories and other local archives

As libraries began to lose ground to Google and Google Scholar due to the failure of federated search approach , these tools seem to be custom made to solve this problem.

However, such systems in general don't cover the following class of content that are also provided by the library
  • Faqs (Libanswers, Kbpublisher, Rightnow etc)
  • Subject guides (LibGuides, wikis, SubjectPlus, Library à la Carte etc)
  • Help pages on various services
  • Librarian profiles
  • Events and programmes
These are not articles you use to do research per se, but people do search for such things.

Typically Google Search Appliance (GSA) or similar is what people use to search across these resources.

But how about searching across both classes of content? 

There is already some attempt to pull in non-traditional content into library catalogues.

I just saw a request for a possible enhancement that will allow indexing library website pages into a Next-Gen catalogue. Innovative Interfaces also allows users to surface library events when searching the library catalogue.   

Realistically speaking, getting content from different publishers, aggregators into one index is a lot harder than getting content from what the library owns locally, so one way of searching across both types of content would be to rely heavily on Web Scale discovery tools which are designed to handle this problem and add local content to it.

Adding LibGuides to Summon

For now, the most common content added to such tools that's I'm aware of are libraries adding LibGuides to Summon.

Among others doing so are University of Sydney's implemention of Summon at as well as Arizona State University Libraries implementation at

Below is an example, where a search of the librarian name at ASU,  brings up libguides created by the librarian.

As you can see above, Summon brings up libguides created by the librarian, with a nice profile to boot.

Unfortunately, in most cases I found it very difficult to surface the libguides as a hit, as most of the time the libguides were buried by thousands of other results. For sure general searches even those that match the text in Libguides usually failed to surface the libguides because they were too general with too many other results.

The LibGuides are classified as a "Research Guide" under the content facet (seems like results from ERIC are research guides as well), so unless a user limited by that they wouldn't probably miss it. One idea would be to look at the most popular searches and create guides catered for that, but I'm not sure if even that might be successful in pulling them out.

What about searching from the "other end"?

On the opposite end, what about searching in systems like FAQs, LibGuides , Website searches? Can you do the reverse and pull in results from Summon etc into the FAQ search or the website search box results?

As mentioned above, this can be a good idea as some people searching the FAQ system here   would be better served sometimes if it could produce for them results for articles, books results as well, etc.

The good thing about Summon and its competitors is that they generally provide an API that you can use to plugin in results from there (Summon's API).

One could imagine a FAQ search from say LibAnswers that would give priority to its results, but would add on results drawn from the Summon API. So while 95% of users would correctly use the Library FAQ search to search for FAQ like questions, the remaining 5% who treated it like library catalogue and put in ISBNs would not be left high and dry.

Examples of hybrid systems that pull in content from these two class of products

As I have blogged before in the past, MLibrary is probably one of the most advanced implementations of this.

"When you do a search on the University of Michigan Library's web site, you get not only results from the catalog, web site, online journal and database collections, and more, you also get a librarian who is a subject specialist related to your search term. While the matching is not perfect, it provides a human face on search results. So, for example, if you search for "Kant," in addition to books and databases, you also get the subject specialist librarians for humanities and philosophy. "Putting a Librarian's Face on Search"

You can do the search here . They don't seem to be pulling in article titles via their implementaion of Summon though they have pretty much everything else from Database names, catalogue results, website results, institutional repository results, guides, website results etc.

Display of results

Mlibrary's implemention does not privilege any particular class of content and presents different class of results separately. But should it?

The other approach is just to merge everything, but as we have seen with LibGuides in Summon , it can lead to content that is more numerous drowning out the rest.

Take the example of a SpringShare Libanswers box again. Say I populate it mostly with FAQs about loan procedures. 90% of users are searching correctly for such information, while 10% treat it like a library catalogue box . And you supplement the FAQ system with additional results drawn using Summon API.

For sure if the user entered a ISBN, it's pretty straight forward, the faq system would come up empty probably and Summon would pull in the right results.

But what happens if someone searches "loan entitlement" ? As the amount of content from Summon dwarves that of the FAQ system, you would probably a lot more library science articles then the FAQ on loan rules which is usually what is wanted? 

Lots of ways around this, from prioritizing results from the FAQ first and give a penalty to anything else, showing only the FAQ results followed by a link that says "do this search in Summon" etc

Some cases are not so clear-cut. Say you have a FAQ or guide on how to search for business/economics statistics, and the user searches for "gdp of Singapore", should the search present the FAQ/Guide above other results (say reports where the search terms are in the article/report title)?

Still thinking about it, though it occurs to me none of this is really new of course. The same discussion/debate was done during the time of Federated Search systems.

Recently, I pulled everything I have read on the topic on Web Scale Discovery tools (e.g Summon, Ebsco Discovery Service or EDS, Worldcat local and Primo Central) together into a bibliography and posted it on the following Google Site on discovery tools  started by Andy Ekins (Christ Church University, UK) and Lukas Koster (Library of the University of Amsterdam, NL).

It has about 50 different links to various topics on discovery tools from evaluation reports from different university evaluation teams and taskforces, debates between competitors, presentations by vendors and took me about 4-6 hours after work to create. Please point out any other relevant resources I have missed out, so I can continue to improve it!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

I'm a Library Journal Mover & Shaker 2011!

I suppose by now many of you have heard, I was named as a Library Journal Mover & Shaker 2011!

I woke up to my phone beeping like crazy from congratulatory messages on Twitter and Facebook, went to the link and it was almost surreal to see my profile alongside names such as Bobbi Newman, Buffy Hamilton and Ned Potter etc.

Feelings turned from being shell shocked (me? really?), followed by euphoria (omg!), and as more kind messages from amazing librarians, many of whom I admire poured in, I started to feel slightly embarrassed (me a "tech leader" ?) . There are so many amazing international and American librarians who deserve this honour as well, you will be sure I'm going to pay it forward (thanks Toby  for nomination) and nominate some of them for 2012!

Besides thanks due to close friends , colleagues and family members who provide me with emotional support (you know who you are!) and librarians who inspire me, one thing I cannot stress enough is how grateful I feel towards my employers, who trust me enough to let me try my ideas despite my relative inexperience. This freedom to experiment and innovate is something I often take for granted and of course I really shouldn't.

I'm truly humbled and honoured but hopefully this will not change in any way my love for the profession, and I hope to be able to continue serving and contributing to the library profession and members of our library community to the best of my abilities.

Thank you all for the many, many warm congratulations that have being pouring in all day via email, Twitter and Facebook. To readers of my blog, people who I follow or follow me on Twitter, Facebook, you are all amazing, and I learn a lot from you all the time.

Yes, I'm in a reflective mood today, but don't worry it won't last, I have a blog post on discovery tools all lined up next that I'm very excited about! :)

Yours in Librarianship

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Facebook sharing and liking of library webpages.

I've being recently thinking of how disparate in general typical library systems are. My institution which I guess is typical is a patch work of self-hosted and "in the cloud services", including
  • Library Catalogues (New generation, "classic", discovery platforms, databases)
  • Institutional repository
  • Content Management Systems (LibGuides, LibAnswers)
  • and the main portal itself
While each of these platforms and servers have their own statistics (e.g. built-in stats for Libguides, IIS server logs)  and in some cases might even make more sense to have specialised statistics (e.g. COUNTER statistics for databases), comparison may not be possible across systems.

So what libraries have started to do is to start embed Google analytics into their systems which is general enough yet powerful enough that you could use on practically anything. See for example Library Analytics with Char Booth and Paul Signorelli for a overview on how to exploit this.

But are such statistics enough? How about capturing "social signals"? A page view might mean nothing, but a tweet, a social bookmarklet , a facebook "like" of the same page is much stronger signal that the page is useful.

While there are many full blown systems like Postrank that capture all sorts of social signals such as bookmarks on delicious, tweets etc, in today's world, there is only one social network that has the mass to be worth tracking on a large scale and of course this means Facebook!

I have being doing this in an ad hoc way has described here , but recently I began playing with Facebook Insights. My institution just launched a Facebook page and I was looking at Facebook Insights statistics for the page, and I noticed there is Facebook Insights for domain.

I followed the instructions (pretty simple even for me), and it allows you to have a look at how often pages on the domain that you claim are liked or shared on Facebook.

I only played with it on a subdomain (LibGuides and LibAnswers) and the results aren't particularly impressive. Not many likes or shares despite the fact that all LibGuides and LibAnswers pages have a "Add this"/"Share this"  button which makes it fairly easy to share on Facebook.

There are also statistics for age/gender of people who liked or shared the page, which can be exported into excel.

Why is there a relatively low "like" rate? One possibility is simply that the content isn't interesting. It's also possible that most members of academic libraries generally don't "like" academic content. Another reason is that the "add this" buttons on the libguides might not be that user friendly.

Can we improve on this by replacing it with just a  Facebook "Like buttons" ?

I've being toying with the idea of embedding facebook like buttons  , system wide on the library webpages. Why?

We know that Like buttons (and maybe dislike buttons) are far more likely to be used then voting or rating buttons even Youtube changed there 5 star voting system to this because they discovered most people were rating at extremes end of the scale anyway (human nature to vote only if you are very happy or very unhappy). Also the like button is a click action more transparent action, much easier than the add this widget.

You get a much better indication which pages are popular but also I discovered something else...

Why is this very powerful? 

One of the main reasons why libraries are starting facebook pages is because statistics have shown that not only is Facebook the number 1 most visited site beating google in the US, but more importantly users remain on facebook far longer than anything else!

Personally this doesn't surprise me,  in Singapore Facebook is anything even more dominant, I just have to look at all the screens on the computers in my library or during library sessions and I can see everyone is logged into facebook.

On the other hand, news posted on the main library portal is I suspect hardly read (worse if it's placed in a less visible area) since most users only surf to the library page when they need to, and when they do they usually have a specific task in mind such as searching or checking loan records and are not in a frame of mind to look at news posted. 

You could of course put such news very prominently on your website but that wouldn't be very user friendly since most users would be frustrated as they typically want to search (see this debate on this very topic on what to highlight, resources or news). 

Having a facebook page solves this problem, firstly it's opt-in. Secondly, users are already in a mood to consume news when they view their facebook account. I guess all this is obvious to almost everyone, and I knew it intellectually but only recently having launched our own library facebook page I began to really appreciate it when I saw how quickly it grew and how people seem to have actually reacted to even the most mundane news posted.

The problem here of course is that say you get a very successful library page, any status or news you post is not very targeted it goes to everyone who liked the facebook page. While you can send by language or country that isn't very useful usually for most libraries.

But what if  you could push news based on what they liked on your library page?

Not sure how doable this is. But what instead of pushing news to all the people who liked your facebook page, you could send it selectively? So if they liked your library pages on patents, you could send them news about a new patent database just subscribed into their facebook stream rather then to all the thousands of people who liked your library facebook page.

Still exploring this. Any one of you tried this? Are your library pages being liked or shared on Facebook? Would you consider embedding Facebook like buttons or are the privacy implications too great to embed facebook like buttons?

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