Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Social Media Skills and Social Media Strategies Important for Libraries in Africa

Most librarians in Africa should acquire skills that would enable them make use of social media in their work. They also need to develop suitable social media strategies for their libraries. These are my views after listening to the presentations and discussions on Potential of Social Media and Library 2.0 in Provision of Information at the twentieth Standing Conference of Eastern, Central and South Africa of Library and Information Associations (SCECSAL) in Nairobi, Kenya, 4 – 8 June.

While several speakers at the session highlighted the major potential applications of Web 2.0 in libraries, and gave examples of libraries that are using social media, practical and concrete illustrations from libraries that using, the tools on the continent, except for one or two cases, were largely missing. This resulted in questions on: how social media could add value to library and information work in Africa; what social media tools are suitable for library and information work; and how social media could be used in the core functions (i.e. cataloguing, classifications, reference work, etc) of the library. Capacity development in the use of social media in library and information work could do the trick. Regional and national library and information associations should initiative and implement training programmes on social media in libraries for their members. Library and Information Schools in the region also have a role to play. There is need for targeted and focused short courses on social media in library and information work.

From the presentations and discussions, I also noted that most reported use of social media in libraries appeared to be more of personal initiatives by the individual librarians than institutional initiatives or strategies. No wonder there were cases mentioned of difficulties faced by some librarians in institutions where access to Facebook is blocked. Surely, if using Facebook in engaging with library users were part of the library’s overall strategy, the parent institutions would not block access to Facebook. A social media strategy for the library would also avoid situations whereby individual librarians are randomly and haphazardly adopting social media tools for official library work.  If the idea of developing a social media strategy sounds too complicated, answers to some of the following questions would do the trick (from: Getting Social Media Right: A Short Guide for Nonprofit Organizations):
  1. What is my organization's mission and can social media help me achieve it?
  2. What is the right role for social media in our overall communications efforts?
  3. What groups of people might we reach (or create) through social media?
  4. How can we help our communities? How do our constituents want to be engaged?
  5. What is the real cost of making social media work for us?
  6. How can we use social media to raise money for our cause?
  7. Who is our competition in the social media space, and how can we differentiate our organization?

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