Ashley Smith-Hammond

After looking into Orkney Library's phenomenal performance on Twitter we wanted to know more. We reached out to the library's Tweeter-In-Chief Stewart Bain to understand the library's motivation as well as learn more about what Twitter success means for the library.

After looking into Orkney Library‘s phenomenal performance on Twitter we wanted to know more. We reached out to the library’s Tweeter-In-Chief, Senior Library Assistant Stewart Bain to understand the library’s motivation as well as learn more about what Twitter success means for the library.

Q: What do you think the impact of the Twitter account has been for the library?

The @OrkneyLibrary account has really raised our profile in the community, particularly with the older teenage/young adult age groups. We do very well with younger children but despite our best efforts library use tends to decline when people hit their teens. Having an online presence and using social media means we can now reach the younger generation, highlight our wide range of services, and hopefully encourage them to step through our doors. Twitter and Facebook are the tools that everyone uses in their daily lives, so using them has become an essential part of what we do.

As we serve a community spread across a group of islands social media is a perfect way to keep in touch with our members. Whether it is to promote events, make people aware of changes to the mobile library route, or laugh at a dodgy book cover from the stacks, we can now interact directly with our users in a way that was impossible before. We really see the impact of this when we have a visiting author or special event. Before we started using social media we might get an audience of 20 for an event, now we can fill the room to capacity.

One of the unexpected bonuses of using Twitter has been the contacts we have made at other libraries, publishers, literary organisations etc. Living in Orkney the cost of attending events or conferences for people in our line of work is often prohibitive, but now we can keep up to date with what is happening across the UK and beyond. There is always a library somewhere doing a great display or new promotion, that might inspire us to do something in our own library.

Twitter has also enabled us to chat directly with the authors whose books fill our shelves. Some of our events have happened following an initial approach through the @OrkneyLibrary account asking an author if they would consider coming to visit us in Orkney. Others have pretty much been organised solely through Twitter.

Q: The Buzzfeed article reports that your motivation was broadly around changing people’s assumptions about libraries – that they’re worthy and boring (in my [Ashley’s] words) – you wanted to show them that they could be fun and accessible. Does this cover it? Is there any more to your motivation?

When we started using Twitter it definitely allowed us to show a different side to the library. There is a stereotypical image of libraries that exists, and there are still plenty of people that think libraries aren’t for them. We wanted our online presence to reflect what we are like in reality; a fun, friendly, inclusive library service that has something for everyone. Our library is a real community hub, and as well as the core services, our facilities are used by other groups and organisations, so there is much more going on than you might imagine. Social media is an excellent way of highlighting this.

I felt that people wouldn’t respond well to a dry, corporate, Twitter feed that churned out lists of the most borrowed books and library opening hours. There is a place for that sort of thing, but to gain followers, and hold on to them, you need to give something more as well. There is definitely a strong humorous slant to the @OrkneyLibrary account, which seems to have proved popular, and I believe that has resulted in us being followed by people who would never normally dream of following a library account. I know we are followed by people in Orkney who haven’t set foot in the library for years, or have maybe never been in. If our Twitter feed is entertaining enough for them to want to follow it, there just might be that one tweet about a service we provide or something we are doing, that makes them decide to visit.

Q: Did you have any restrictions or were there any concerns raised from library management or the City Council? Has this changed since you’ve become an internet celebrity?

We were probably the first part of the council to use Twitter to any great extent, which gave us a certain freedom when we started in 2009. It took a while to find the right tone for the account, but I think we now have the right balance of information, promotion and entertainment. We are lucky in Orkney to have a council that really values its library service, and while on occasion there may have been one or two raised eyebrows, we have proven that what we are doing works for us. The library management are always open to new ideas or ways to improve the service, so we haven’t faced the sort of restrictions that perhaps staff at other libraries may encounter.

Q: Is it only you that tweets or do other people on the library staff help out? Same for the Facebook account.

Although the physical posting is mainly me, everyone on the staff has contributed in some way as to what goes on our social media accounts. Whether it’s recounting an amusing incident or finding a book that deserves a wider audience, we are all now thinking about things that could be used for Facebook or Twitter.

Q: You seem to be really responsive really quickly. How much time do you spend on social media?

I tend to have Twitter & Facebook open in the background while I work, whether that is on the issue desk or through in the staff area. The amount of time spent actually using social media can vary greatly. It may be a couple of minutes in the day, or if we have an event happening it could be a lot more. Having the Twitter app on my phone means I end up checking the account from home too, so it isn’t unusual for someone to get a reply from @OrkneyLibrary at midnight.

Because of what a library is, there is very little that can’t in some way be tied in to books or another aspect of what we do. I will often tweet in response to something I have seen on the TV, heard on the radio, or read online. I think it is very important to respond to people who contact you on social media. As our follower numbers have increased this gets more difficult but I will always try to reply to any questions or queries we are asked.

Q: Would you say that Twitter is your most important social media channel or is it just one part of the mix? It is certainly getting the most attention.

Our Twitter account has really taken off, beyond anything we could have expected. We are now almost at 16,000 followers, which is incredible. I would say Twitter is very important from a networking point of view; contact with authors, publishers, libraries etc. A global audience now follows @OrkneyLibrary and the amount of publicity, and opportunities, this has resulted in is fantastic.

Just over 3,500 people Like our Facebook page, a large percentage of whom live in Orkney. We are much more likely to be asked questions about the service, or get a message from someone with a query, on Facebook. Our activities for children always get a good response on Facebook, people love to see photos of their kids at a Bookbug session or an author event.

We are a combined Library and Archive service, and the archive department has a blog  which has been very successful. It gets an average of 3,300 page views per month and has been a great way of opening up the rich history of Orkney to a wider audience. The blog has even had stories covered on the national news, with The Mystery of the Blue Jacket Boy creating interest across the UK.

Q: Anything else that you want people to know about the library or how you use social media?

We are delighted that our social media presence has become so popular. Every year we have people who are in Orkney on holiday coming into the library to say hello because they follow us on Twitter from whichever part of the world they live in. We love to meet our followers, especially if they bring biscuits. If you are interested in what we do but can’t get to Orkney, pop in to your local library, they will probably have something you will be interested in too.

Obviously we would also encourage everyone to follow @OrkneyLibrary, like our Facebook page, or visit the archive blog.