November 17, 2017

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I Tried, I ‘Liked,’ I Shared: How Travis Jonker handles social media

Illustrations by Tom Richmond

Above ilustration by Tom Richmond

If there’s one thing you can say about all school librarians: we’re cat people. The other is: we like trying things. And when it comes to social media, I’ve tried it all.

I’ve played with Pinterest. I’ve toyed with Tumblr. I’ve embraced, rejected, and made amends with Instagram. I have two Facebook profiles and a Twitter account or three.

You might think I’m crazy or… that you’re just like me. You try stuff, too. And since tryers are the best sharers, I want to share with you how I use social media to expand my professional learning and open up my school library to the world. Along the way, I’ve learned that trying to corral all the services into a cohesive approach can feel a bit like herding our favorite animal (hint: meow). But here’s the thing—the thing that might keep you sane—you don’t have to corral them all, you just have to find what works for you.

While I’ve always felt my library is very connected to students and teachers within my school and district, occasionally I’ve felt like an island in the larger school library world. Or maybe more like a boat, the “S.S. Books ‘n More,” floating in Lake Michigan. While state and national organizations provide opportunities (conferences, listservs) to connect with colleagues, social media is another, even more immediate, way to reach out and participate.

Before we go any further, can I lump everything into two groups? On one side we have single-purpose social media and on the other, multipurpose. Instagram, for example, is essentially single purpose: you mostly use it to share a picture. Vine, same, except for video. Tumblr, Twitter, and Facebook, on the other hand, are all multi-purpose: you can share a photo, link, video, or your opinion. To my mind, the source of a lot of frustration is this overlap in what each service provides. I mean, if I want to share a photo, I could choose from just about any one of these platforms. Here’s where trying some of them out will be a big help—you’ll begin to focus on the services that work best for your needs. My recommendation? Test the key multipurpose services—Twitter, Facebook—first and branch out from there if the need, or your curiosity, arises. Laura Given, a K–8 library media specialist for Roseville (MN) Area Schools, puts it nicely: “Yes, it can be overwhelming. But if you want to decrease the ‘whelm,’ treat it like any other technology tool in our profession: investigate how it might meet a need, set a small goal, and look to colleagues who can give you guidance.”

slj141001_FT_Trav_facebook-revIn the beginning, there was Facebook

For me, social media really began with Facebook. My account started with high school and college friends, then slowly changed as I began to make new, professional connections there. Eventually, I wanted to keep my professional friends together in one group, so I started a second account. I can ask questions there and get some thoughtful answers. Then again, those on Facebook must contend with the way Zuckerberg & Co. handle user privacy, an issue that I discuss with my students. But despite these concerns, lots of authors, illustrators, libraries, and professional organizations maintain Facebook pages, and there’s always something interesting or useful popping up. For instance, the American Library Association posted the most recent update of the ALSC (Association for Library Service to Children) core collection of graphic novels, which prompted me to order titles for our school.

Alright, here’s where I’m going to contradict myself a bit. Although I have two Facebook accounts, I’ve found that in general, having multiple accounts on the same service doesn’t work out that well. Last year, for example, I set up a Twitter account for my school library—it’s been dormant ever since. When I wanted to tweet something about my library, my personal account turned out to be the best place to do it. Managing personal and library social media accounts is largely a one-person task. But you can work with colleagues to pool your resources. Our district program director, for instance, launched a library/media Facebook page, which any of us in the department can publish to. We post news about our growing ebook collection, photos from author visits and reading events, and simple social media guidelines for students. This has been a great move. Many hands make a light load, and it’s been going swimmingly.

Goodreads, of course

Chances are many of you are already on Goodreads—the Facebook for readers. Goodreads is a great place to find out about new books and what friends think of them. It’s also a good place to keep track of what you’re reading personally. Goodreads also allows you to organize books on different shelves, which may help with your readers advisory. My virtual shelves are fairly basic. Then there are folks like youth services librarian Jenna Goodall (Goodreads profile).Goodall, who works at Deerfield (IL) Public Library. She’s created shelves for books to read aloud—“possible storytime,” “great new reads,” “best of 2014,” and genre-specific shelves.

Here come the tweeps

Next comes Twitter, which has become a great way to make professional connections. And, for example, last spring my students shared their favorite books for a display. It’s also a super place to glean ideas. In one great example, my teacher-librarian friend John Schumacher (@MrSchuReads), showed how his students at Brook Forest Elementary in Oak Brook, Illinois, share book recommendations with next year’s class. This year I tried it out myself, and students were excited to recommend books they loved. This is why I love Twitter. It’s also perfect for sharing new read-aloud picks and to see what others are reading. I’ve discovered that sharing online can lead to sharing in person. Through Twitter, I connected with Kurt Stroh, K–4 teacher librarian at East Oakview Elementary school in Grand Rapids, Michigan, who was piloting a library program in a nearby district. We arranged a time to meet and ended up exchanging a bunch of great ideas about student reading groups and communicating new books with staff.

Twitter has a video spin-off called Vine. It’s a smartphone app that allows you to record six-second videos, and it’s been pretty useful. I’ve used Vine to share snippets of author visits to our library; books on my holdshelf; and library decorating ideas. Mike Lewis (@145lewis), a fifth grade teacher at Deer Hill School in Cohasset, Massachusetts, is experimenting with Vine to record student book recommendations to share with the rest of the school. This sort of short, attention-grabbing review is sure to hook kids and is a perfect use of the service.

slj141001_FT_Trav_InstagramGetting the Instagram picture

When Instagram got big a couple years ago I started up an account; however, it quickly fell by the wayside. I was already sharing photos from my library on Twitter and didn’t see the use in posting them in another place. But I’ve since come back around on Instagram, largely because of its simplicity—you know that it’s a place for photos, short videos, and nothing else. I’ve also been using the IFTTT (If This Than That) app to automatically post my Instagram photos on Twitter, which has been an easy way to connect with more people. Without Instagram, I never would have seen the work of Sherry Gick, a librarian and instructional technology specialist at Rossville Middle/High School in Rossville, Indiana. Via the medium, Gick (Instagram handle: sngick) has devised a remarkable pixel Post-It art idea, which looks like a giant Pokemon video game character has come to the library. I want to try a modified version at my school.

If you’re herding cats, occasionally one or two are going to get loose, right? I keep trying, but I can’t seem to get into Pinterest. This isn’t to say you shouldn’t give it a go. There are a number of librarians and library assistants in my district who use Pinterest above all other social media, primarily to curate beautiful bulletin board and book display ideas. It’s the place for D.I.Y. projects, and I’ve used it to share things like book-spine poetry during National Poetry Month in April. Marge Loch-Wouters, youth services coordinator at the La Crosse (WI) Public Library, has a good handle on the service. On her page (www.pinterest.com/lochwouters), you’ll find program ideas, public/school library communication tips, and resources for ditching Dewey.

Taking a Tumbl

Another service that eludes me is Tumblr. Oh how you vex me, Tumblr. Of the services I’m mentioning here, it’s by far the coolest—which here means I don’t quite get it. It’s dominated by short posts and images, both of which I think are better suited to other services. If you serve teen patrons, however, this may be exactly the place for you, as it seems to be the preferred microblogging platform for that age group. While I keep looking for inroads, people like Kelly Jensen, former teen librarian turned editor at “Book Riot,” have found a home there. Jensen’s “28 Must Follow Tumblrs for Fans of YA” is an excellent resource to get started.

Just breathe

Now that we’ve covered the major social media services, I think there’s a little something we should talk about. It’s what I like to call “The Curse of Seeing It All.” Social media is great, but when everyone is sharing the awesome all the time, taking everything in can make you feel, well, less than awesome. Believe me, I know the feeling. In those moments I try to keep perspective and not get overwhelmed. There’s also a fine line between usefulness and distraction, and everyone will have a different threshold. While some see social media as a time suck, I see it as a wonderful tool when used in moderation. Think minutes instead of hours, and don’t be afraid to completely log out from time to time, or for good if a particular service just isn’t floating your boat. Margie Myers-Culver, a former school librarian at Charlevoix (MI) Elementary School, says it this way: “like anything else [social media] needs to be used in moderation. Set boundaries for yourself. Don’t spread yourself too thin. Pick which ones work best for you in a given situation; personal, professional, classroom, students. It’s all about connections for the good.”

Perhaps the most important thing to keep in mind is that social media is only as valuable as we make it. It’s up to us, the tryers, to share valuable information and insights. The more librarians and educators who are out there and sharing, the better it is for all of us. As Stacy Dillon, lower school librarian at Little Red Schoolhouse & Elisabeth Irwin High School in New York, says, “[Social media] is only overwhelming if you let it be. As a professional librarian you NEED to be a part of the larger conversation.”

But please, no dog photos.

App illustrations by Travis Jonker

This article was published in School Library Journal's October 2014 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

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Comments

  1. Sherry Gick says:

    Thanks Travis! Such a privilege to be mentioned! I love social media but our views on a couple of providers/services are quite similar :)

  2. I love to be wherever the people are who might be interested in a book. If book loving people are on Vine, I’m on Vine. If bookish people are on Socialcam, guess where I am. Rhyme unintentional.

  3. Sara Ralph says:

    Great post Travis! Social media makes me a better teacher librarian. Through Twitter (and Nerdy Book Club), I finally found people who love books as much as I do. My Twitter/Instagram accounts are public so students can follow me. I use FB for close friends and family. I also use Vine (always showing books of course). I feel the same about Pinterest and Tumblr.