Higher education is increasingly putting more emphasis on evidence and assessment. Libraries everywhere, whether public, special, school, or academic, are feeling more pressure to demonstrate their value to administrators, boards, politicians, and their constituents. Megan Oakleaf, a professor at the iSchool at Syracuse University, wrote an excellent report entirely on this topic called The Value of Academic Libraries.
One strategy she emphasizes is gathering evidence. But evidence doesn’t just have to be surveys or numbers. It can also be anecdotes and stories. One thing that she said in a workshop I participated in this summer was that “a story is just a story until you write it down.” Once it’s recorded it becomes evidence and you can use it to demonstrate value to a variety of stakeholders.
It occurred to me that there is already data available to libraries that we may not recognize as such. Tweets, Facebook posts, and online reviews can be great tools in demonstrating value.
One of the great strengths of social media is that it is by nature recorded. It’s not a spoken conversation that disappears into the ether. It is a record of something that happened and can be used as evidence.
The above tweet is just one example. Not only did this tweet demonstrate the value of the library to this person’s followers and any other people who saw it (not to mention was the best kind of free marketing you can get). It can also be used to demonstrate to administrators or professors that the library contributes to academic success.
I’m guessing just one tweet or Facebook post won’t make a difference, but if your library is using social media I am guessing posts like these happen more than once. The key is to watch for them and intentionally collect them. You might have a “Praise” of “Kudos” folder in your email or on your hard drive. When someone says something great you or your library did you save it. The same should be true with social media posts. Don’t just smile at a positive post and then let it pass by. Create a system to save these posts whether it’s favoriting them, bookmarking them or capturing a screenshot. Then you’ll have them collected when it comes time to make your case.
You can then use them in a variety of places: interspersed through your annual report, in presentations to the board or faculty senate, in promotional ads or materials. But in order to do that you first need to recognize that social media posts are evidence and then have a system set up to capture them.