Author Archives: fionahan

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.

A Lamb Without a Flock: Problems of Context on Twitter

sheepIn my previous post, I describe how Jeet Heer has redefined the limits of Twitter by numbering his tweets to make up larger, structured “Twitter essays.” Here, I argue that these numbers don’t only serve to create a narrative, a progression, an ordered list of ideas.  They do something else that is also quite interesting.

Ordinal position aside, the numbers themselves also serve to mark an individual tweet to identify it as part of a larger structure, so that it cannot easily be taken out of context. Think of it as a brand or a daub of paint on a sheep’s coat: you come across a lost lamb with a blue mark on its coat, you just know it’s part of a larger flock.


Does an “unmarked” tweet (if I can use this term to talk about plain old regular non-Jeet-Heer tweets) stand alone, or must it be taken as part of a cluster of tweets, if one exists, on the same subject?

steven_saliataIn our class discussion forums a few weeks ago, I mentioned the case of Steven Salaita, a Palestinian-American professor who had his an offer of a tenured position withdrawn over concerns about the content of some of his tweets.  The trouble here hinges, I think, on whether context must be considered when it comes to interpreting his words. Taken in the context of a larger body of work, Salaita himself says that his “history of tweeting and general political commentary…indicates quite strongly and clearly that I’m deeply opposed to all forms of bigotry and racism including anti-Semitism.”

In isolation, though, we see a tweet like this:

Zionists: transforming “anti-semitism” from something horrible into something honorable since 1948.

…and perhaps it’s understandable that Salaita’s critics are upset.

If we were to quote a statement by Salaita from – say – an essay, we’d provide a reference to that piece. You, as the reader, could go to the essay itself for more context. The essay is a discrete unit stands alone to make an argument. And it is to that unit that we go to if we have questions about a quoted passage.

But when we quote a tweet, the reference is only to the tweet itself. (Here are APA guidelines for how to cite a tweet). How far forward or back in someone’s tweet corpus must we look to be satisfied we have enough context? What are our responsibilities as readers? What are the boundaries of a twitter storm? What is the flock that holds our unmarked sheep?

Jeet Heer has done something more than create a narrative when he numbers the tweets in his Twitter essays. He has found a way to mark an idea as being part of a larger structure, and — at the same time, in the larger essay — has also demarked the  contextual boundaries for the idea or argument (tweet1 to #theend).

This doesn’t help Salaita, and I for one will be extremely interested to see whether the present legal battles touch on this question of context. And I don’t think it really helps the rest of us who may be disinclined to created numbered series for everything we tweet as a matter of course! But it is another way in which Heer’s creative approach here brings additional richness to the medium.

“Bending the Medium to His Purposes”:  Jeet Heer and the Twitter Essay


  1. I became interested in the “Twitter essay” as a genre during the Jian Ghomeshi scandal. #ghomeshi #surewastrendingforawhilethere #schadenfreude
  2. During that time, Oct and Nov 2014,  Canadian journalist Jeet Heer @HeerJeet sent out a series of numbered tweets on the subject. #twitteressay #whoisthisguy
  3. They were captivating; some now collected on Storify.
  4. Turns out Heer has been numbering his Tweets long before Ghomeshi. #robford #aoscott #adulthood #plagarism
  5. Heer claims not to have invented the form, although he is credited with popularizing it.
  6. He says, “A Twitter essay isn’t really an argument; it’s the skeleton of an argument.”
  7. The essay is different from a Twitter storm (colourful example here) — which is merely a collection of tweets on the same subject. The essay has more form than this.
  8. The Twitter essay has strength!
  9. Followers can respond after the very first tweet, allowing the author to adjust direction and focus.
  10. Followers can retweet, generating interest and increasing the audience in real time.twitter logo
  11. Immediate conversations and collaboration on Twitter affords what Heer calls “digital intimacy” not seen in other media.
  12. Unlike other forms of (solitary) writing, Twitter essays are performances.
  13. Author can directly address individuals in tweets, engaging their attention for dialog or response (@HeerJeet).
  14. When the tweets in an essay are numbered, you can tell when a single one is plucked from its context. #contextmatters #staytuned #moreonthis
  15. Heer announces the end of a series so followers aren’t kept on edges of seats. #theend

In using Twitter in this way, Heer has managed to subvert the expectation that a tweet must stand alone. When we get advice to “make it tweetable,”  we are being asked to come up with an idea that can be communicated and understood by the intended audience in a 140 characters without any explanation or context. But Heer is, in the words of his colleague Michael Hingston, “bending the medium to his purposes,” and in so doing is arguably becoming one of Canada’s most interesting public intellectuals. Ta-Nehisi Coates of The Atlantic Monthly demanded “WHO ARE YOU????!!???” on first encountering Heer’s novel redefinition of the Twitter form, but there are now plenty of examples of others structuring their thoughts in this way.

There is more to say about Twitter and context. I explore this further in my next post.

For more on Jeet Heer, check out his (rather low-tech) website.jeet heer

Who am I, what do I know about social media?

Who Am I?

My name is Fiona Hanington and I am a part-time MLIS student at UBC in Vancouver. I expect to finish up this summer, if all goes well. My undergraduate degree is in Philosophy.

I am already in my chosen profession: I work full-time at Ericsson as an information architect in the customer documentation group. The MLIS program is already helping me make some important changes at work. For example, we’ve started to include usability analyses into our workflows to make sure we’re providing relevant, findable content.fiona

Otherwise, I am kept busy with three kids ranging in age from 3 to 14. (The youngest one is in the photo with me). I also have an interest in contemporary dance. Until recently, when I decided something had to drop, I was president of the Kidd Pivot Performing Arts Society.  I also like to draw, paint, and write (really quite poor) fiction, but rarely have time these days.

I don’t do yoga. I feel that is worth mentioning since I do live in Vancouver and all.

What Do I Know About Social Media?Kidd Pivot Frankfurt Rhein Main "New Work"

I started Kidd Pivot’s Facebook page and Twitter account (@kiddpivot) several years ago.  I share admin duties on both platforms with several other people affiliated with the company. We post information about upcoming shows, reviews (when they’re positive ;-), and fundraising campaigns. KP’s Facebook page has ~6400 followers; Twitter is less exciting (~1600) so I have lots to learn about engaging the audience!

I use LinkedIn (here’s me) and think it is essential for professional networking. It’s a sort of resume or extended business card. I also follow work-related discussions there through the groups I am in, such as the group for Information Architecture Institute members.

‘Course I love Facebook! (me). Other than what I do for Kidd Pivot, I use it mostly for fun to connect with friends and family, but I’ve also found it to be an excellent way to raise and build political awareness. Specifically, in 2014, I was encouraged to see on FB the discourse around feminism appear to shift in a positive way. I am in two parenting FB groups as well as one for the weird diet I am following.

I have started a few blogs over the years; none other than this is active at present. I read a few others regularly — my favorites are Language Log, Skepchick, and Posthegemony. So far, I don’t use an RSS feed or syndicator to view them in a central place. I should!

As far as libraries go, I subscribe to the Vancouver Public Library and the Burnaby Public Library’s Facebook pages.

Looking forward to the course.