In the midst of great environmental, political, economic, and social disruption, academic libraries make difficult social media curation decisions that can range anywhere on the spectrum between: (1) acting as change agents in local and global communities; (2) remaining neutral and present all points of view; and (3) ignoring external voices and acting as oblivious bystanders.
Through academic library social media expressions, librarians can act as gatekeepers, ultimately supporting hegemonic structures of regulation and control. Lack of pragmatic knowledge impedes librarians’ abilities to use social media as a tool for radical democracy, and can ultimately silence patrons instead of sharing power and transforming communities. This study/presentation, which examines social media practices through a Critical Theory lens, fills a gap in library science upon which scholarship and praxis can be built to better serve populations for democratic empowerment.
Grounded in a Radical Democracy framework (Leckie, Given, & Buschman, 2010), we used a mixed-methods applied linguistics approach to examine public and private academic libraries’ social media practices in Twitter. We independently examined fourteen Big Ten Academic Alliance (BTAA) libraries’ tweets posted from January 1, 2018 - May 20, 2018. For over 4,000 posts, we qualitatively identified the voices represented and silenced in the content, and developed the following analytical categories: 1-Library-centered; 2-Student-centered; 3- College/School/University-centered; 4-External content (i.e. news, corporations, etc); and (4) Other. Afterwards, we analyzed how each of the posts served as a vehicle for radical democracy, and independently we assigned numerical value between 0 and 3 to qualitatively rank the post: 0-absent entirely; 1-neutral; 2-implicit support of radical democracy; 3-overt support of radical democracy.
The researchers compared coding for interrater reliability, and through feminist exchanges (Bloom, 1998), we reached consensus on divergent cases. Quantitatively, we calculated frequencies per institution for each of the the analytical categories, as well as comprehensively for the BTAA as a whole. In addition, we calculated each institution’s radical democracy value, as well as scoring the BTAA comprehensively.
Findings: Our ongoing analysis reveals preliminary findings. Based on our analytical categories, the majority of content tweeted is inward facing: library-centered content. External content, and the opportunity to connect students to communities outside of their home institution, falls short. This reveals a disconnect between BTAA libraries commitment to social justice practices and their social media presence on their Twitter accounts. In addition, preliminary data identifies very few institutions that used their Twitter content as a tool for radical democracy. They have the largest followings and the most interactions, in spite of representing ideological and political content. Most surprisingly, despite libraries serving as the keystone of student creativity and achievement, very little student-centered content is tweeted.
Significance: This study/presentation is a starting place for social media managers in academic libraries to examine their tweeting practices and explore strategies to engage in radical democracy practices.
Ashley Hosbach – Education and Social Science Research Librarian, University of Virginia
Julie Marie Frye – Head, School of Education Library, Indiana University Bloomington
Bloom, L. Rebecca. (1998). Under the sign of hope: Feminist methodology and narrative interpretation. Albany, N.Y.: State University of New York Press.
Leckie, G. J, Given, L. M, & Buschman, J. (2010). Critical theory for library and information science : Exploring the social from across the disciplines. Santa Barbara, Calif.: Libraries Unlimited.
ALA Unit/Subunit: ACRL
Meeting Type: Program
Cost: Included with full conference registration.