Monthly Archives: March 2015

Libraries, social media, and SWOT

In reading Deonato (2014)  as well as Gerolimos & Konsta (2011), it’s clear that social media applications are not always as well taken up by patrons as librarians might like.  The latter conclude:

It appears that the new library services, although they were launched as a direct or indirect result of the web, do not always contribute to some of its primary supposed contributions, namely participation and content creation/contribution. On the contrary, it would appear that library patrons continue to use those services in a very old-fashioned way, relying on some core functions that libraries perform, namely information discovery and retrieval.

swotWhen this happens, time and money are wasted, and — worse — patrons may disengage. How can librarians ensure that they are investing in the right social media tools in the best way, while anticipating and avoiding pitfalls? One possibility is to take an approach common in the business world, namely to do what is called a SWOT analysis.  This approach to decision making, argues Joe Fernandez, “encourages librarians to take stock of their usage of social media, to guard against inappropriate applications, and to offer effective implementations.”

SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. In his 2009 paper, “A SWOT Analysis for Social Media in Libraries,” Fernandez makes a number of excellent points for each of these aspects. Below, I provide one example for each: read his full article for more.

  • Strength: “Social media sites are usually freely available.” When considering how to reach and engage the public, budget is always a factor.
  • Weakness: “Libraries may be exposing themselves to criticism.” When you allow patrons to talk to you publicly, there is a risk. For some real (non-library) examples, have a look at these (amusing) social media fails that happened when organizations didn’t properly anticipate weaknesses in their campaigns.
  • Opportunity: “[Social] media enable libraries to reach a wide range of their users and to attract new users.” As more and more of the library clientèle and potential clientèle are digitally savvy, this seems likely to be true (although the non-digital public must not be overlooked).
  • Threat: “Social media may be open to unsavoury elements that can sabotage social websites in many ways.”  Indeed. As I wrote in my previous post, one of the threats apparent when libraries welcome user-generated content is the possibility of hate speech.

When done well, social media campaigns may contribute positively to user engagement with a library. A SWOT analysis is one useful tool to ensure that they are indeed done well in a given setting. I would argue that anyone considering this approach take what Fernandez has done as a starting point and then refine it for the particular library.


Deodato, Joseph. “The patron as producer: libraries, web 2.0, and participatory culture.” Journal of Documentation 70.5 (2014): 734-758.

Fernandez, Joe. “A SWOT analysis for social media in libraries.” Online 33.5 (2009): 35-37.

Gerolimos, M. and Konsta, R. (2011), “Services for academic libraries in the new era”, D-Lib Magazine, Vol. 17, No. 7.

A problem with 2.0


Joseph Deodato

In “The Patron as Producer: Libraries, Web 2.0, and Participatory Culture,” Joseph Deodato of Rutgers University argues that Web 2.0 technologies and values are just what is needed to upend the top-down hegemonic model of information organization in libraries, which has historically privileged certain views over others. Christian, William, and I analysed this piece for one of our recent group assignments, and concluded by identifying a potential issue with the patron-as-producer utopia that Deodato imagines.  Namely, when the user produces and interacts with content (tagging, commenting, linking, etc.) in a library collection, what happens when problematic views are aired? These could range from pseudo-scientific arguments made by anti-vaxxers or evolution deniers, to commercial content aimed at selling products or services, to out-and-out hate speech directed at identifiable groups.

The first examples are very difficult to handle.  After all, yesterday’s nonsense may very well be tomorrow’s truth. And are librarians to arbitrate what is nonsense and what is not in the participatory space of Library 2.0? I won’t attempt to answer this question here, although I am most interested in your comments.  As for the second (soliciting business) and the third (hate speech), however, it seems clear that these can be prohibited by policy.


Jeffrey Beall

Policy is one matter. Prevention is quite another. Margaret Brown-Sica and Jeffrey Beall (famous for his Scholarly Open Access blog and accompanying annual list of predatory publishers) wrote a relevant piece in 2008 called “Library 2.0 and the Problem of Hate Speech.”  In it, they acknowledge that Library 2.0 technologies and values “benefit library users by providing rich, peer-generated content that adds value to online library databases and systems.” However, they argue that these very technologies and values are also conductive to spreading hate speech.  (Not covered in their paper is commercial content, but similar approaches apply.) The onus falls on the librarian, they state, to deal with hate speech, which is illegal in the US and Canada.

The authors make a number of practical suggestions on how to deal with such content, ranging from moderating all user-generated content, to allowing other users to report offensive material, to requiring the community of users to create accounts and log in before posting anything.  All of their suggestions have pros and cons; they conclude by recommending that libraries develop and implement policies on the matter.


Hate speech definition, United States:

“…usually thought to include communications of animosity or disparagement of an individual or a group on account of a group characteristic such as race, color, national origin, sex, disability, religion, or sexual orientation”
Source: John T. Nockleby, “Hate Speech,” in Encyclopedia of the American Constitution. Ed. Leonard W. Levy and Kenneth L. Karst. Vol. 3. 2nd ed. Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA, 2000. p. 1277-1279.

Hate speech definitions, Canada:

Canada Human Rights Act prohibits descrimiation based on “race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, family status, disability and conviction for which a pardon has been granted.”

Canadian Criminal Code prohibits “any writing, sign or visible representation that advocates or promotes genocide”


Brown-Sica, Margaret, and Jeffrey Beall. “Library 2.0 and the problem of hate speech.” Electronic Journal of Academic and Special Librarianship 9.2 (2008).

Deodato, Joseph. “The patron as producer: libraries, web 2.0, and participatory culture.” Journal of Documentation 70.5 (2014): 734-758.