It’s an odd experience writing about Tumblr when your office internet is out again for the 4th time this week. Between the outages and a full-day library instruction session, I haven’t logged onto Tumblr in about a week. Yet new content has been posted on the SLC Music Library Tumblr once a day, thanks to one of Tumblr’s most useful features, the queue. Even if I’m not around to make a post, I always have a week’s worth of posts in my queue, ready to go.
I’m certainly not the first librarian to use Tumblr as a means of promoting my library and interacting with patrons, but (as far as I could tell) I did create the first music library-specific Tumblr. Sarah Lawrence College had no official Tumblr presence at all back in late 2011, yet many of our students and alums were interacting on Tumblr. I have the added complication of running a branch library. Since we are physically separate from the Main Library, many of the non-music students can graduate without even knowing that a Music Library exists on campus, despite our outreach.
Tumblr is not an ideal blog format for a librarian. We pride ourselves on organization, making information easily accessible and discoverable. Yet Tumblr has an abysmal search function; the tagging could be better; and it’s very difficult to find properly sourced content to reblog (Tumblr tends to strip away the sourcing, or not post it at all to begin with). Tumblr is still relatively new in social media – it’s expanded very quickly, but it’s still finding its place among other blogging sites.
Where Tumblr excels is in showcasing media content. I can post a clip of a song from a new CD we’ve bought for the library, have the album information and art included, link to the library catalog, and it’s all streaming-only. I’ll post a review/summary of a new book or piece of sheet music under an eye-grabbing picture of the cover. The integration of animated gifs helps bring unusual collection items to life.
Over the past few years, my library has benefited from its promotion on Tumblr. I reach a greater audience than I would otherwise (I average a few hundred views a month, added to over 200 Tumblr followers); I can interact and share ideas with other libraries and publishers; new acquisitions featured on the Tumblr received a tremendous surge in circulation; the queue and reblog functions help me spend less time managing the Tumblr; and it has an “Ask” feature where patrons can contact me directly.
However, there are some caveats for a library using Tumblr. There are still copyright questions as to whether the use of music could really fall under Fair-Use. While I can see how many Tumblr users follow my posts, I can’t tell if they’ve actually seen them when they’re using Tumblr’s Dashboard feature – I have to use Google Analytics to fill in the gaps about additional usage from outside Tumblr. Tumblr’s main audience tends to be in the 13 to 30 age range, which needs to be considered when making posts. Informality, pop culture references, and humor are key.
Tumblr, like all social media, is a continually evolving medium. There are a lot of great university and library Tumblrs out there, both official and unofficial ones. I recommend looking at the ever-growing lists on higheredsocialmedia.tumblr.com and the Lifeguard Librarian’s “Tumblarian” list. Tumblr isn’t the only social resource libraries will use, but it presents a unique way to reach out to patrons.