31 Jul 2013

Packaging social media as a service

I have blogged before about how important I think it is for libraries to be playing a more active role in promoting the research of our institutions using new and emerging social technologies. A recent comment by Tim McCormick about a PeerJ preprint on The role of Twitter in the life cycle of a scientific publication raises an interesting idea about researchers and the potential efficiency of their engagement with social media:
"Strong, direct social-media engagement involves significant learning, time, risk, and particular skills. I'm not convinced we can, should, or need to expect a large portion of scientists to devote this effort, given all the other demands on them. In many cases, intermediaries may taken on parts of this -- just as they do the running of journal platforms, scholarly societies, conferences, etc." (more)
So instead of just telling our users about these tools and leaving them to then navigate their way by themselves (or not, as the case may be, given that only about one in forty scholars are active on Twitter), is it time for libraries, information centres, and knowledge managers to be taking on this role for our researchers instead?

As Tim rightly points out, marketing and promoting research is one of the traditional value-added services that journal and book publishers offer, promising to get your research seen by the right people on the strength of their brand, connections and network. But should libraries not be looking at doing this too? After all, connecting people and information is one of our most intrinsic values. This could mean compiling Twitter lists of researchers for others to subscribe to; generating automatic feeds of IR deposits and new publications to embed across various social media platforms; following and engaging with scholarly societies, media channels and funding agencies to promote research to its target audiences. We can even package and brand this service as an incentive to use our institutional repositories if desired.

Source: Wikimedia Commons (Sofiaperesoa)
However, the social media spectrum is potentially endless, so communications need to be designed in the most strategic, appropriate and efficient way for the specific discipline and audience in question. But our faculty and subject librarians have this knowledge already. Where do computer scientists and tech companies hang out online to find information? How do arts and humanities faculty discover new publications? In those cases where the primary audience may be somewhat removed from the online world, we need to think about how we can integrate these new channels and technologies into existing workflows and behaviours.

Or maybe this is not a space that libraries should be looking at? Should we leave this role to our institutions' research offices (where they exist that is, but in smaller organisations what is the alternative)? If we do, the danger is that we may miss an opportunity to leverage our existing strengths to increase the value of our services to our user communities.


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