Tuesday 26 July 2011

The Social Media Presence of Australian Public Libraries

For a project at a public library, I have been researching the social media presence of public libraries in Australia and internationally.

And, overall, I have to say that I am quite disappointed.

Obviously, I could not go through every single public library website in Australia, so I focused on the State and Territory Capitals and the largest Local Government Areas. Interestingly, Brisbane City is the largest LGA in Australia, while the City of Sydney and City of Melbourne are relatively small (ranked 19th and 79th).

I also looked at mostly English speaking Global Cities (New York, Amsterdam, London, Hong Kong) and a handful of “Sydney-sized” American, Kiwi and British cities.

What did I find?

1) Overwhelmingly, Australian public libraries don’t have their own websites—they live on a subpage of their council. Yes, I’m sure there are politics involved, but how can you have a modern public library webpage (engaging, dynamic, modular, and interactive) when it’s tacked onto a council’s webpage that is basically read-only?

2) 8 out of 16 didn’t have a Facebook Page while 9 out of 16 lacked a Twitter page. This means that half of the Australian public libraries I surveyed don’t have their own social media presence (and these included the Big Boys—City of Sydney, Brisbane City and City of Perth). To be fair, they often piggyback on their council’s Facebook and Twitter accounts, so they do have some information flowing through those channels.

3) Those public libraries that do have some social media presence are not using them successfully. The top social media movers-and-shakers are Moreton Bay Region Libraries with 624 likes on Facebook, and Sunshine Coast Libraries, with 581 likes on Facebook. Not terrible, but not great given that they are two of the Top 5 largest LGAs in Australia.

How does Australia compare with other international cities?

Well, the New York Public Library is not only the largest public library in the world—it is also the largest public library in social media. They have a whopping 37,610 likes on Facebook and 133,841 followers on Twitter. That’s almost the population of the City of Sydney LGA! You may be thinking, “Yeah, well, with 3.5 million people in their library district and almost 19 million in the Metro NYC area, that’s easy.” But NYPL worked for it! They purposefully built their community, jumping from 4,000 Twitter followers in January 2010 to 109,000 followers in March 2011.

The San Francisco Public Library—with a much larger LGA than Sydney (805,235 people vs. Sydney’s 177,920) but with an equivalent Metro area (around 4.5 million)—has 6,027 Facebook likes and 1,183 Twitter followers. The Boston Public Library (5,259 likes and 3,932 Twitter followers) and the Seattle Public Library (11,551 likes and 1,114 Twitter followers) have similar stats—along with larger LGAs but smaller Metro areas compared to City of Sydney.

Yeah, fine, big American cities with large populations and huge LGAs have the resources and lack the politics to do what they want with social media in their public libraries. Have you heard of Salt Lake City, Utah? The Salt Lake City Libraries (with an equivalent-sized LGA and smaller Metro area compared to Sydney) has 1,300 Facebook likes and 4,945 Twitter followers. Not too shabby! Their website and presence online is a wonder—and it goes to show that you don’t have to be rich or big to be interactive with your community online.

So what about non-American cities? Looking at the Inner London Burroughs of City of London, City of Westminster and the Royal Burough of Kensington and Chelsea as well as Portsmouth City, I wasn’t impressed. While they had Facebook and Twitter accounts, the City of Westminster had the only somewhat-impressive number of 843 Twitter followers. Wellington, NZ, however, had a nice number of 1,364 Twitter followers.

Why does it matter?

You may think that social media presence for public libraries isn’t such a big deal.
Oh, but it is!

Think of the marketing potential. With Australians topping the world charts for the number of hours spent online, that means you have the ability of getting across your library’s message—your collections, your info and your events and programming details—to a somewhat captivated audience of information and entertainment seekers.

Think of your library’s relevance. Where are people going for information these days? Unfortunately, it’s not your musty reference section. It’s The Google. Or Wikipedia. Or Yahoo Answers. Shouldn’t your library be right there in their Twittersphere or as their Facebook friend in order to provide the information they need, when they need it?

Think of your library’s web interactivity. Gone are the days of static web pages. Library users want to compliment, complain, comment. They want to be able to get library locations and times without leaving the comfort of their Facebook. They want to be able to RSVP for a library event and have it sent to their iCal (ok, that’s what I want). Librarians and library staff are the faces of the library behind the desk—shouldn’t we also be the avatars behind the HTML5?

Do you know of an Australian public library that is doing some awesome things online?

Even though I focused on public libraries, do you know of an Australian library (state, academic, special) that is doing social media right?

Jeff Cruz
User Education Librarian
ALIA Sydney Committee Member
All those opinions are solely my own and not a reflection of ALIA, ALIA Sydney or my employer.


  1. Intriguing post Jeff. I wrote something similar about New Zealand public libraries. You can read more about it here: http://findingheroes.co.nz/2011/06/27/new-zealand-public-libraries-social-media-supporters/

  2. You should have a look at Manchester City Library (almost 4000 Twitter followers, blog and other SM channels), Dublin City Libraries (using Netvibes as a portal, also podcasts, bookmarks etc), Edinburgh (2,400 Twitter followers, blogs, literary maps etc). Not on the scale of NYC obviously but interesting all the same.

  3. It's quite a thought provoking post. How do you measure the success of a social media campaign- by the number of comments on a post, virtual check-ins, visits to a website, or an increase in physical visits and circulation statistics or in rates in satisfaction? Do library users, who are non-librarians, want to follow a library on Facebook or Twitter? (As I said it is quite thought provoking)

    A lot of public libraries in Victoria have developed blogs targeting areas such as book reviews, local history in order to cater to particular niche user groups. This is used to overcome any constraints that the council may impose upon their web presence. It's not just politics- there are issues such as security, technical expertise and funding.

    You may be interested in an article from D-Lib entitled Services for Academic Libraries in the New Era at www.dlib.org/dlib/july11/gerolimos/07gerolimos.html which documents the integration of Web 2.0 services on academic libraries websites, and which finds the uptake by their users to be quite low.

  4. Thanks for your comments!

    @Sally: Thanks for your link! I completely agree with your verdict that public libraries are not going into social media with a plan or monitoring process. This is VERY important and is fairly well documented in the corporate world.

    @Anne: Thanks for the library suggestions. My research mostly focused on "Sydney-sized" cities (both in terms of size and visibility) so I definitely overlooked some places without meaning to. Manchester, Dublin City and Edinburgh have some great stats. It's important to point out that there are many smaller library systems that are doing some amazing things with social media. I would suspect that a combination of having a plan and monitoring process in place, an active community and some dedicated library staff are part of their overall strategy!

    @bookgrrl: Thanks for the article link. My quick survey, unfortunately, isn't comprehensive and I relied on the number of likes and followers as to success of social media. There are many different metrics that could be taken into consideration--it would definitely make for an interesting article in its own right! Similarly, there are definite barriers to effective implementation to social media--the ones you mentioned are some good examples.

  5. Social Media is indeed changing the landscape of how we do things everyday. I just heard the news that the tourism industry is utilising social media to attract more people to visit Australia and now, it's the Australian Public Libraries that are using social media in providing services. SEO Adelaide

  6. I think now a days social media always trying to help our country peoples in all fields of life.It is working for Tourism industry to attract tourist towards Australia from different countries of world.But now public libraries are take help media and apply strategies like Tourism industry. Sunshine Coast Seo Company