Up to this point I have been favorably impressed by the usage of Web 2.0 tools by academic libraries. I would like to say upfront that while the fact that I attended all three schools so far discussed in some capacity, my bias in their favor did not, I think, blind me to their flaws. The library that is the subject of this post, however, left me repeatedly saying “Really?” The University of Edinburgh states clearly on its homepage that it is one of the top twenty universities in the world. In terms of scholarship it may be – I am not here to judge that. In terms of its library web presence and Web 2.0 presence, it is NOT on the top list. I am decidedly under-whelmed.
When I look at a library homepage, I have a pattern. First I look at the clarity and usability of the website, and then I look for clear links to social media options – blog, Facebook, Twitter. Though the homepage for the University of Edinburgh library has a last-updated timestamp of September 22, 2011, the website looks dated. It is full of the useful practical information found on every university’s library homepage – how to search the catalogue, how to use databases, quick links to library accounts or the catalogue, and lists of journals. One oddity that immediately strikes the user is that the library webpage is buried several levels deep under the university homepage. The breadcrumb trail at the top of the screen shows the path: University Homepage > Schools & Departments > Information Services > Library Essentials. The Information Services page is equally practical.
What is missing is any reference to Web 2.0. There seems to be no blog. There is “contact us” information, involving phone numbers and email addresses, but there is no information about virtual reference. There is no mention of social networks like Facebook or microblogging like Twitter. A persistent user who goes into the A-Z list of services provided by Information Services (the snarky part of my brain points out that saying “IS Services” on the page is redundant) still cannot find any reference to Web 2.0 tools. The closest one comes is the link to how to create podcasts and a link to a U@Ed Mobile Campus app, which seems to be equivalent to the iStanford app.
I was unable to find a blog, as I said, and the process of looking for Library 2.0 sent me in repeating circles around the university’s webpages. The closest there seems to be is the IS News postings, though it’s less a blog and more a written version of the announcements that might have been broadcasted over a PA system in previous decades. I had somewhat better luck with Twitter and Facebook, but only marginally so.
No matter what your opinion of social media and microblogging, the fact remains that they are popular with the university-age population. Therefore the library needs these tools to be memorable and visible. With that in mind, I’d like to say that under no circumstances should I have to resort to a site search to figure out whether a university has a presence on Facebook or Twitter. I had to do both for the University of Edinburgh. I came up with this result for the former – a blurb from a year ago saying that the Main Library is now on Twitter. So the Twitter presence fails to meet basic visibility standards. And with the Twitter name “EdinUniMainLib,” they fail spectacularly on the memorability standard. Furthermore, with the first posting to Twitter dated 22 November 2010, they have made all of 15 tweets over course of 12 months. This is not impressive Web 2.0 presence. I hoped that Facebook might be better, so I tried for that next.
The site search that I had to do to figure out if there was any reference to the library Facebook page (I work from the assumption that there IS one and I just need to find it) was inconclusive. Serious points against the visibility scale. I then turned to Facebook itself to search for the University of Edinburgh library. Among the list of groups for alumni there were two pages for the library. The first has 0 likes, 1 visitor (me, apparently), and describes the library as a “local business.” The page is little more than a map pulled from Google Maps, not even providing an address. The second option has four likes, 197 visitors, and is described as a library and a hospital. However it too is a map and little else.
For an old university with an old library, the results of my searching are disappointing. I have no idea whether the people involved fail to see the usefulness of Web 2.0 tools, don’t have the skills, or simply don’t care. To be honest, I’m shocked by these findings. I do not know what the student body thinks of their library services, but the library presence on the internet gives the impression of either being stuck in services that were cutting-edge and sufficient ten years ago, or stubbornly refusing to try new things. Keep in mind, I say this as someone who constantly preaches caution about adopting new technologies too quickly, fearing the potential chaos that may result from jumping blindly on every bandwagon that goes past. The lack of even so much as a whiff of virtual reference is truly confusing. I simply do not understand why the University of Edinburgh library is stuck offering technological services that are minimal at best and years out of date at worst.
Next time we’ll hop back across the Atlantic to hit up some of the universities on the East Coast of the US, starting with Brandeis University in Boston, Massachusetts.