I created this on Canva.com.

Authenticity has been on my mind lately. From all the recent issues with fake news, discussions about how perceived authenticity factored into our latest election, and the continued popularity of “reality” TV, I think the topic is having a moment right now. On a personal level, I recently saw the movie Ingrid Goes West and it got me thinking a lot about authenticity and social media. The movie follows a woman who becomes obsessed with another woman’s Instagram page. I won’t spoil the movie for you, but I thought it was fascinating and I’ve been thinking about it and social media authenticity ever since. When I checked our reading list for this assignment and saw Authenticity: What Consumers Really Want by James H. Gilmore and B. Joseph Pine II, I knew I wanted to read it immediately.

Authenticity focuses mainly on large companies, but it had some interesting ideas that I think can be applied to libraries. In particular, I liked a test they put forth for gauging authenticity – the Polonius Test. This test is based on the Polonius line from Hamlet, “This above all; to thine own self be true: And it must follow, as the Night the Day, Thou canst not then be false to any man [see image above].” Here is how the authors formulate the Polonius Test:

  1. Being true to your own self – Is the offering true to itself?
  2. Being who you say you are to others – Is the offering what it says it is?

Gilmore and Pine discuss this in terms of how companies talk to customers, describe themselves, and market their products. I think Instagram pages are good measures of whether libraries are passing the Polonius Test, at least in regards to their social media presence. Here are two examples of public libraries that I think pass with flying colors – one example from a large library and one from a small library:

  1. New York Public Library: https://www.instagram.com/nypl/?hl=en
    • This page has a very interesting mix of posts – from charming pictures of handwritten reference questions they have received over the years to a timely picture of Sloane Stephens, this year’s U.S. Open tennis champion, visiting a branch. Overall, the pictures are very high quality and look professionally done. Here’s an example of an ad for their 2018 calendar: https://www.instagram.com/p/BYir27KFeJt/?hl=en&taken-by=nypl
  2. Burlingame Public Library: https://www.instagram.com/burlingame_library/?hl=en
    • This is a small town library. It is part of a larger county consortium for borrowing purposes, but their Instagram page is produced by and reflects the individual, local branch. Their page has a great mix of videos and images. The videos really stand out to me and clearly take quite a bit of planning and technical skill to produce and edit. Here’s an example of a post advertising their new book delivery service: https://www.instagram.com/p/BWdWpCpArju/?hl=en&taken-by=burlingame_library
Digital image of page featuring “to thine owne selfe be true” quote from Shakespeare’s First Folio. I added a blue box in the lower left hand corner to highlight the quote. (Source: http://firstfolio.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/book.html)

Both of these social media accounts appear cohesive, as if created with a unified vision about who that library is and what message it wants to convey about itself. The high engagement and positive feedback their followers have provided indicate that this message is resonating well.  Polonius Test passed!

Most of the large companies discussed in Authenticity, like the Walt Disney Company, have a staff of people whose job it is to craft and convey their company’s image. It appears that the New York and Burlingame public libraries have either intentionally recruited staff who are skilled at social media or are lucky to have someone on staff who happens to be very good at it. Not all public libraries are so lucky. This could be because managers do not see the value in social media so they do not consider it when hiring, do not encourage training opportunities for staff tasked with maintaining the accounts, or do not allow sufficient work time to devote to creating high-quality content.

I think the techno-fears discussed in The Hyperlinked Library (Stephens, 2011) may play a role in libraries that do not embrace social media. In particular, I think techno-stress and techno-hesitation could be common culprits. Techno-stress is the feeling of being overwhelmed by new technologies. For people who are not tech-savvy, I think it is understandable to see the constant stream of new technology and feel paralyzed. Stephens (2011) explains that techno-hesitation arises when libraries decide not to implement new technologies, instead waiting to adopt the next thing that comes along. I have heard people say that they do not have the time or budget to jump on every new social media bandwagon.

Personally, I think libraries benefit from being involved in social media. A criticism I have repeatedly heard lodged at libraries is that they are not relevant anymore. I think not adopting technologies and not engaging in technology forums only adds to this perception. To succeed in a modern world, I think libraries need to adapt to user’s wants and needs.

To play Devil’s Advocate, I do think it’s valid to question whether maintaining social media accounts is worth the effort for some libraries. Do patrons pay attention? Libraries in some communities may and in other communities may not. Does it impact library usage or program attendance? Is there a negative impact if it is done poorly? Are there so many different and emerging social media forums that it is impossible to stay current and, therefore, not worth the investment of staff time? I don’t think there are any easy answers to these questions and if the aim is truly authenticity, then there won’t be a one-size-fits-all answer because every library is unique and has its own identity.

 

References

Burlingame Public Library [burlingame_library]. (2017, July 12). burlingame_library The Burlingame Public Library is excited to announce the launch of its new book delivery service, GET LITerature: Books hand-picked by #library staff and delivered to your home! Queue up now before the program* fills up. To find out more information and to register, you can visit the link in our bio! *For Burlingame and Hillsborough residents only
#librariestransform #librariesofinstagram #getliterature #libraries #books #animation #librarylife #bookdelivery #libraryprograms #community #outreach #🦄 #📚 #burlingame #burlingamelibrary [Instagram post]. Retrieved from https://www.instagram.com/p/BWdWpCpArju/?hl=en&taken-by=burlingame_library

Digital facsimile of the Bodleian First Folio of Shakespeare’s plays, Arch. G c.7. (September 12, 2017). Retrieved from http://firstfolio.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/book.html

Gilmore, J. & Pine II, B. (2007). Authenticity: What consumers really want. Boston, Massachusetts: Harvard Business School Press.

New York Public Library [nypl]. (2017, September 2). nypl Show your @nypl love year-round with our quote calendar, featuring architectural details from our Stephen A. Schwarzman Building and inspiring quotes about the magic of libraries and reading. Shop for this and a bunch of other literary calendars via the link in our bio. #ShoppingSaturday #librarylove 📆📚 Retrieved from https://www.instagram.com/p/BYir27KFeJt/?hl=en&taken-by=nypl

Stephens, M. (2011). The Hyperlinked Library. Adapted from a presentation given at the 4th Leipziger Kongress für Information und Bibliothek in Leipzig, Germany in March 2010. Retrieved from http://287.hyperlib.sjsu.edu/module-3-the-hyperlinked-library-model/

 

 

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