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Social Media and MLAG

by on May 31, 2013

Right now MLAG has never been so important. Budgets are tight, Library & Archives staff are stretched and time is at a premium. But we still all have the same needs; to promote our collections, to connect people with them, to care for them and to learn about what we have. We still have skilled staff who havea need to develop and learn. Our organisations are on the whole just as busy as ever and on many occasions even busier.

I firmly believe that at this time, more than ever MLAG is a fundamental tool for helping Librarians and Archivists in the Museum sector communicate, learn from eachother, network, gain confidence and gain inspiration from others. We always have the opportunity to spark each other off, from within our own organisations but also externally.

I met a Museum Librarian recently who would love to attend MLAG meetings but because of staffing cuts and the extra pressures on her already busy world, she could not take part. But she also knew all about MLAG and appreciated how it could be useful to her. 

A week ago I went along to a London Museum’s Group (LMG) event exploring how Museum Professionals can use social media to engage with the public, develop interactive participation and evaluate them. It was a free event so I was hopeful the boss would allow me to go! As well as the afternoon being extremely practical, full of information and lots of tips and enthusiasm, it struck me how much MLAG was similar to what I was learning about London Museum’s Group. I came out thinking could MLAG not learn from them?

To give a little background when I worked at the NMM my then boss Jill Terrell was a co-founder of MLAG and Chair. I then joined the NHM where my boss Chris Mills was also co-founder and then Chair. So MLAG has been part of my professional life in one way or another!

I would hate to see such a useful group such as MLAG become stagnant, but I am also very aware that keeping a voluntary group going is not an easy thing to do, more than ever.

But the LMG event really got me thinking. Social Media could be a really important way for MLAG to help connect and engage those in our sector. Don’t get me wrong I am no expert in the IT world, but I have encouraged myself and been encouraged to have a go and as a result I can now see how it can help all of us big and small to learn, connect and engage. MLAG members current and potential are dotted far and wide, and social media can help us to bridge those divides. Of course it is only one way that MLAG can help, but it is quite a large way.

I was thinking about how in all our Libraries and Archives and our parent organisations, we have staff will skills and knowledge which lend themselves to being disseminated via social media to help others to learn and discuss. So instead of just relying on having a big enough theme or topic to have a ½ day seminar on, MLAG could use tools such as Twitter or blogs etc to have online conversations and discussions. We already do it a little but not enough of us have taken it up.

If you take my job I benefit from being in a large organisation, I work with volunteers, students, colleagues doing their professional qualification alongside their job, those dealing with Intellectual Property Rights, or the social media Museum accounts, to name but a few. All these people are far too busy to attend a seminar to talk but could I encourage them to write something on a blog as part of the wider MLAG community and then from that could others learn, be inspired or raise discussions? I don’t know because I have never tried or considered it.

I propose that MLAG form a Twitter account with a small group running it.  This could helpraise the profile of MLAG members and bring people together by simply following, retweeting, promoting and commenting.  I have learnt from using Twitter myself that there are a lot of new professionals who would be interested in MLAG who aren’t ‘main stream’ members. Students, those retired, those in the wider Library, Archive or Museum worlds, those in other sectors with connected with our areas and the list goes on. Twitter can be a quicker, more open way to gain interest, comment and input, than say email. It alongside other tools such as Facebook is one big marketing route.  Also with twitter you can have prearranged online professional discussions, using common hash tags and put all the comments into a blogafterwards  to sum up what was discussed or said. I haven’t taken part in one yet myself, but just another way of making MLAG relevant and useful.#UKLibchat is an example. Also I know that there are twitter group accounts as well.  Once you explore and talk to people you find that Librarians, Archivists and Museum staff are very keen Twitter users, MLAG needs to tap into this.  At the LMG seminar one of the speakers was the editor of Guardian Culture Professionals Network, she talked about how big the social media world was in the field of Museums.

All that I have learnt I have done so by having a go and talking to other people, including the person incharge of the NHM twitter. I have pushed myself to learn about it and get over those things I’m normally scared about!

From what I learnt in one afternoon the London Museum’s Group uses that website to blog itself but also to spot light and link to other blogs written by other members. They have someone signing volunteers up in advance to commit to writing a blog, nothing massive but something from theirjob that they know very well so it shouldn’t be a massive burden on their time. They offer support to that volunteer to post up the blog for people who would happily write something but are put off by the IT. Surely within the current MLAG membership there could be enough to do this sort of thing? I know you have a blog, but I also realise it is difficult to get people to take part.

The same old problems are always there with any voluntary group, time, effort, finding people with the right skills to help etc. But I know that having talked with Hannah, that when 2 people in the same organisation can get enthusiastic about MLAG and feel they could plug into their colleagues, then MLAG could prosper if each member organisation did the same.

I know that there are lots of discussion topics which need to have the input of those in higher management roles, but MLAG needs to be about all those involved being able to take part, give their comments and experiences, rather than only those go can attend a meeting.

I consider myself not to be very good at ‘blue sky’ thinking, but just thinking about examples of topics small and large that could lend themselves to sharing experiences and tips between us all using twitter or blogs in addition to more formal talks and get togethers:

  • Working with exhibitions staff (in-house & external) – couriering procedures, formal document templates, the practicalities of travel, conservation techniques, writing labels etc
  • Do you run internal staff training courses that could be turned into external training for which you could charge for, whilst the rest of us learn from you eg. NHM runs a book handling course
  • Relationship between objects/specimens and Library/Archives material – any good examples of promoting this connection, rather than L&A collections just being seen as ‘support’ material.
  • How do we collect and regain staff subject knowledge
  • Apps – examples of app’s that have been designed by Museums, Archives or Libraries. The good and bad
  • Ipad’s/tablets – useful tools for Library/Archive staff?
  • Upgrading your Library management system – tips and guidance of how to go about it.
  • Managing e-collections – the practical issues of keeping up to date with faulty/broken links, getting staff to use them etc
  • Marketing your service and collections within your own organisation
  • Getting your collection published – good examples of books that have featured Library/Archive collections partially or entirely – eg. ‘Treasures of the NHM – there is a Library section, NHM L&A staff write a book each year to tie in with the Images of Nature Gallery. Tips from staff about how you go about narrowing down what you want to include, working with in-house/external publishing teams
  • Books scanners – practical uses and tales of caution. Good for access, bad for collections?
  • How can you keep learning new things if there is no budget for travel and conferences? Practical examples of how staff training eachother and learn from one another, can the MLAG community benefit?
  • What free online tools do people use in in their work that are worth sharing? eg Dropbox

Sometimes it is hard enough communicating knowledge, ideas and enthusiasm within your own team, let alone in the wider MLAG community.

I’ve clearly ‘just been on a course’ and am all enthusiastic, but it has reminded me that the idea behind MLAG is a very important one. This still involves energy and time and a committed central MLAG group to steer things but if this isn’t MLAG’s moment then I don’t know what is!!

What do others think?

Is anyone else willing to discuss ideas or use their twitter/blog skills to get things moving?

 Hellen Sharman

Natural History Museum Library

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2 Comments
  1. I think it’s a great idea Hellen. I use Twitter most days and contribute to Facebook occasionally. Very willing to help establish something for MLAG

  2. Kristine Chapman permalink

    Hi Hellen, sounds like a really good idea, and I would also be willing to help out with setting up a Twitter account for MLAG

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