Usability of Facebook Tool (SPL)

The usability of Seattle Public Library’s Facebook site for a new user is quite good. Patrons don’t have to wait long to become active participants in the site as Facebook’s Wall feature encourages them to “write something.” If the user was completely unfamiliar with social networking, he/she could always post a question or ask for help.

At the time of my visit, many of the library’s postings encouraged user interaction. One of them asked, “Psssst! Watcha reading?” The friendly, conspiratorial tone of the question garnered 78 comments. It may be the case that many of these commentators are first-time users. How is that possible?

In his blog, Derek Wenmoth shares his Four Cs diagram to explain a person’s participation online. The user begins as a consumer, moves to commentor, contributor and eventually, commentator. The first phase, consumer, is when a participant “simply read[s] and explore[s] the posts of others.” At the next level, commentor, the user “make[s] comments on others posts (either on blogs, or in discussion forums), often seeking clarification, agreeing with a statement, or offering a suggestion or link to something similar.” First-time users of the Seattle Public Library’s site may start by just exploring but once they make a post, for example sharing their latest read, they have moved up to the next level. In a subtle way, they are “offering a suggestion” to their fellow users.


Usability of Facebook Tool (MCL)

Usability-wise, Multnomah County Library’s Facebook site is friendly to a new user. The presence of familiar services such as YouTube and Twitter ease the transition to this environment. Of course, the new user can quickly become active on the site. He or she is encouraged to write something by the active participation of those around her/him.

In his blog, Derek Wenmoth shares his Four Cs diagram to explain a person’s participation online. The user begins as a consumer, moves to commentor, contributor and eventually, commentator. The first phase, consumer, is when a participant “simply read[s] and explore[s] the posts of others.” At the next level, commentor, the user “make[s] comments on others posts (either on blogs, or in discussion forums), often seeking clarification, agreeing with a statement, or offering a suggestion or link to something similar.”

First-time users of the Multnomah County Library’s site may explore at first but due to the inviting environment, they will quickly become commentors and even contributors, “those who have started their own blogs or who initiate new threads on discussion forums.”

Facebook Suggestions (SPL)

My first suggestion for Seattle Public Library involves the promotion of their Facebook page. Moving the icon to a more prominent place on the website layout would help tremendously. It would make users aware of the service. The icon is small enough that it could occupy the empty space next to the date on the heading of every web page.

Regarding the Facebook site, I want to share two social networking recommendations from Sarah Houghton’s blog, Librarian in Black . The first involves the library’s profile picture. Sarah Houghton counsels against using a picture of the building. In her view, it sends a message that the library is “about bricks & mortar!” Not lively or “with it.” To make it more “social,” a picture of a person or an avatar would be best. The library’s logo is also a good choice.

My final suggestion, also from Sarah Houghton, involves what she terms, “suss it up.” Vancouver Public Library’s Facebook page is in need of jazziness. More pictures, video, music would liven it up. Posting fun, slightly wacky questions would also help. I noticed two posts that, at their core, basically asked what users were reading (Did you get any good books yesterday? Psssst! Whatcha reading?) Suss it up and they will come.

Facebook Suggestions (MCL)

Multnomah County Library is an overall-savvy user of Facebook. The staff posts often and keeps the discussion open and engaging. It is the kind of optimal interaction that Educause Learning Initiative describes in 7 Things you should know about Facebook II: when a group with a shared interest “can come together, define standards for interaction, and collaboratively cre- ate an environment that suits the needs of the members.”

One thing to remember is to interact even with unsatisfied users. I noticed a comment by a user that asked, “Why are there so many lazy people working at the Library :(“ The user was never engaged. It is easy to think that because this person is not physically present, one can ignore or postpone answering but a valuable learning opportunity, for both parties, was lost.


My Opinion on MCL’s Facebook

If I were a patron of the Multnomah County library, I would visit the Facebook page often. There seems to be so much interesting material to explore. Their built-in YouTube channel fascinated me. I am not a patron but I watched a few of the videos on the inner workings of the library.

I think they are on to something here. They are not pushing library services at the user and paradoxically, that may encourage the patron to seek them out. The first visit is so welcoming and fun that you want more. “Oh, you offer books too? Swell!” Reluctant users let down their guard and those who thought the library was only about books are surprised by the embarrassment of technological riches present; links galore, Twitter feeds, a blog with book recommendations.

Interaction is light and informal. Many of the postings are by patrons and local businesses. Multnomah County Library does not dominate the conversation. This is important. If other users see that they are only supposed to interact as commentors, they may never move to be contributors. I see that this is not the case at this site.

My Opinion on SPL’s Facebook

If I were a patron of Seattle Public Llibrary, I would use its Facebook page but only sporadically. Recall that a link to this service is hard to locate on the home page. If I had overcome that impediment and made it to the site, I would be expecting something wonderful. After all, I worked hard to find it. I want my reward.

But I won’t get it. The services offered on the Facebook site are not much different from those offered on the library’s website. I could find most of them by looking around. My feeling is that the main selling point of maintaining the Facebook site is the convenience it affords to users. I am already on Facebook connecting with friends. If I have an information need, I don’t have to look far for help since my local library is available.

However, my main point of contact with the library would be as a commentor and contributor as mentioned in Derek Wenmoth’s Four C’s Diagram. I would mainly comment on other’s posts and contribute some insights of my own. It would be more of a social activity with like-minded, information-seeking individuals. Josh Boyer and Joseph Ryan’s Considering Facebook in the Library essay supports this position. They concluded that “focusing on helping people connect with each other, rather than on providing another entry point to library resources, may be a more successful outreach strategy for libraries in Facebook.”

Locating Facebook (SPL)

Even if the Seattle Public Library is really keen on engaging with their users on Facebook, their website does not support this goal. At first glance, and with the color-coding scheme taken into account, the most prominent services offered are the library catalog and the library locator.

To find the Facebook link, I had to scroll all the way down to the bottom of the page. If I were a busier patron, I would have completely missed it.

The icon is small and buried in the footer amongst all sorts of other information. It gives one the feeling that it was an afterthought or an obligation. Address, phone number, Twitter, Facebook…can’t have one without the others. The color of the footer does not help either. Facebook’s trademark blue icon blends into the blue background.

According to Helen Murphy’s Facebook for libraries: hints ‘n’ tips Prezi, a library who wants to enter the social media environment has to actively promote their Facebook page. “Are you doing everything you can?” she asks. The icon may be present in every page of Seattle Public Library’s website but it is not being advertised like it could be. In the suggestions section of this blog, I will offer some tips on how to improve this promotion.

Locating Facebook (MCL)

Locating Facebook on the Multnomah County Library’s homepage is super easy. I couldn’t miss it. The button link, along with its Twitter partner, is on the lower right-hand corner of every page. I dare say that this library really, really wants users to visit their Facebook site. The link is given more prominence than their library logo.


Andy Burkhardt, in his Information Tyrannosaur Blog, writes that to grow their social media presence, libraries should “link everywhere [they] can.” Multnomah County Library goes beyond his recommendation to include a social media link on their library homepage and makes it available to users in every area of their website. In a few of the pages, particularly the longer ones, the icon is not readily visible. However, when I scrolled down, it was always in the same place.

With so much exposure, natural curiosity takes over the user. I clicked on the Facebook link when I was actually supposed to be evaluating the website’s design. It just begs to be explored. I think that users who are Facebook users, like myself, will immediately gravitate to the familiar icon as we do when we visit other sites. The possibility that we will friend Multnomah library increases. And if users are not already members of Facebook, seeing the icon so often will pique their interest and may lead them to join. If their local library is present, Facebook can’t be that bad.

Facebook’s Fit with Other Services (SPL)

Seattle Public Library has exceeded the adage espoused by Andy Burkhardt’s Information Tyrannosaur Blog: Links are good. Use them generously. The Facebook site contains not just links but embedded content of many of the library’s other services.

When a user glances at the navigation list on the left-hand side of the site, he/she encounters links to online social services like Twitter, an RSS Feed and the library’s blog.

Clicking on the links does not open a separate window. Rather, the content appears within the Facebook page. The services are meshed together and communicate with each other enabling “one-stop shopping” for the user.

If the patron prefers immediate assistance from a librarian, links are provided to IM and chat services as well as a handy e-mail form. For all of these, new windows redirect the user to the appropriate page of the library’s website. It maybe that the technology does not allow it yet but I think it would be great if these services could added to the Facebook set-up.

Facebook’s Fit with Other Services (MCL)

Interestingly, Multnomah County Library does not try to provide access to traditional library services through their Facebook page. There are no links to e-mail forms, IM or chat services that redirect the user to their website. At first, this decision seems odd and self-defeating. Don’t they want to connect users with library resources?

In his blog, The Other Librarian, Ryan Deschamps emphasizes the importance of building rapport in Facebook by reconciling the aspects of this social tool that clash with library culture. “Facebook wants the World Wide Web to be ‘outside’ Facebook; libraries want to try and bring such resources ‘in.’” The goal is to be on “the same wavelength as Facebook” and yet not sacrifice what makes “libraries unique and important.”

Multnomah County Library has chosen to play by Facebook’s rules and kept resources out in the World Wide Web, in its website. It chose instead to share information appropriate to this social tool such as YouTube videos, links and an abundance of photos. All of these are not merely frivolous and relate back to the library. In other words, they showcase what makes it “unique and important.”