COVID-19 and library social media use

Alexandros Koulouris (Department of Archival, Library and Information Studies, University of West Attica, Athens, Greece)
Eftichia Vraimaki (Department of Archival, Library and Information Studies, University of West Attica, Athens, Greece)
Maria Koloniari (Department of Archival, Library and Information Studies, University of West Attica, Athens, Greece)

Reference Services Review

ISSN: 0090-7324

Article publication date: 26 October 2020

Issue publication date: 6 May 2021

2762

Abstract

Purpose

The study aims to explore Greek libraries’ social media presence and library operation and social media use during the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) lockdown.

Design/methodology/approach

Primary data were collected via an online questionnaire that was distributed to the Greek libraries. The final sample comprised 189 libraries of all types with the exception of school libraries.

Findings

Results indicated that Facebook is the most widely used platform, while social media are mainly used for sharing announcements about library operations and for the promotion of events. During the COVID-19 lockdown, libraries responded quickly to the new circumstances by taking many of their services online. However, they did not fully use social media for service provision but rather used social media as a static communication channel. Only a few of the libraries grasped the opportunity to highlight their role in the promotion of public health by providing timely and reliable information.

Practical implications

Library leaders who are looking to harness the power of social media for service promotion and outreach should build a strategy that takes platform popularity, current social media trends, patron preferences and the specific promotional objectives of their library into consideration.

Originality/value

To the best of the authors’ knowledge, the current research is the first which attempts to explore the social media presence of Greek libraries of all types and changes made to library operations and social media use in response to the COVID-19 lockdown.

Keywords

Citation

Koulouris, A., Vraimaki, E. and Koloniari, M. (2021), "COVID-19 and library social media use", Reference Services Review, Vol. 49 No. 1, pp. 19-38. https://doi.org/10.1108/RSR-06-2020-0044

Publisher

:

Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2020, Emerald Publishing Limited


Introduction

The term “social media” entails both “the instinctual needs we humans have to connect with other humans” and the “media we use with which we make those connections with other humans” (Safko, 2012, p. 4). As such, social media is nothing more than a new set of technological tools which allow two-way communication. Statistics indicate that at the beginning of 2020, more than 3.8 billion people were using social media; it was expected that more than half of the world’s total population would use social media by the middle of the year (Kemp, 2020). Given the high rate of social media penetration worldwide (Statista, 2020), businesses have seen in social media platforms a first-class opportunity to build efficient relationships with customers (Chuang, 2020). It was not long after that libraries and other types of information organizations followed suit and leveraged social media to reach out to their patrons and promote their services.

Social media have also emerged as an effective tool for risk and crisis communication during disasters and emergencies (Eriksson, 2018), and individuals turn to social media to look for updated information on critical situations, as well as for getting emotional support (Valentini et al., 2017). Recent research indicates that people used social media to look for and share information during the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) outbreak in an unparalleled manner (Li et al., 2020). Countries such as China have reported success in limiting the spread of the new coronavirus, partially through the use of social media. These platforms were used for promoting prevention education, which can be critical in controlling pandemics, especially in the cases like this, for which no licensed vaccines or clinical therapies are yet available (Liu, 2020). However, misinformation regarding the new disease was also spreading rapidly (Kouzy et al., 2020), negatively influencing the behavior of individuals and thereby the efficacy of the countermeasures taken by governments (Cinelli et al., 2020).

In this unprecedented situation of quarantines and social distancing measures, travel restrictions and business shutdowns, the operation of libraries was also subjected to change, ranging from minimal restrictions to full closure. Thereafter, librarians were faced with the challenge of ensuring uninterrupted service delivery to their patrons. Also, libraries were offered a unique opportunity to fight against the coronavirus infodemic (Gao et al., 2020), showcasing their critical role in promoting public health awareness, using social media (Ali and Gatiti, 2020). In this context, the aims of the present study were twofold, as follows:

  1. to assess Greek libraries’ social media presence, in terms of media used, content uploads and challenges faced; and

  2. to assess library operations, service provision and social media use during the COVID-19 lockdown.

The remainder of this paper is organized into four main sections. The second section, “Literature Review,” comprises two sections; the first – “Social Media Use in Libraries” – presents research on the social media platforms libraries select and the type of content they usually post on social media. The second, “Libraries in the COVID-19 Era,” briefly discusses how Greek libraries of all types were affected by the measures taken by the government to contain the spread of the COVID-19. How libraries in Greece and around the world responded to the lockdown is also discussed. In the third section, “Methodology”, the research design and the approach with respect to sampling, data collection and analysis are outlined. In the fourth section, “Data Analysis and Discussion”, the results of the research are presented and discussed. Finally, the conclusions and implications of the study are discussed in the final section of the paper.

Literature review

Social media use in libraries

Research published in 2014 (Taylor and Francis Group, 2014) revealed that 70% of libraries globally had already been using social media. Promotion of library services, collections and events at a low cost, and reaching out to and gathering feedback from users to improve services have been recognized as the most important benefits for libraries. On the other hand, lack of staff, skills and expertise in social media marketing and lack of policy are of primary concern with respect to social media adoption by libraries (Abdullah et al., 2015; Chu and Du, 2013; Taylor and Francis Group, 2014).

Empirical studies on social media use in different countries found that Facebook is the most widely used social media platform by both public (Choi and Joo, 2018) and academic libraries (Alvanoudi and Vozana, 2019; Harrison et al., 2017), followed by Twitter. Other research on academic libraries indicated that while students prefer to use Facebook, YouTube and Snapchat for personal communication, when it comes to following the library on social media, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter are the three most popular platforms among this patron category (Howard et al., 2018; Polger and Sich, 2019). This finding clearly indicates that users select different social media tools for different purposes. Disparities are also depicted in the social media libraries that select to reach out to the various patron categories; Facebook is mainly used for communicating with students, whereas Twitter is used to connect with researchers and other institutions (Taylor and Francis Group, 2014).

Nevertheless, the measurement of social media effectiveness is not an easy task. User engagement – such as a number of followers, likes, views and comments – has been proposed as a tool for assessing social media impact in libraries (Taylor and Francis Group, 2014). In this context, many surveys have focused on the relationship between the content of posts and user engagement; Smeaton and Davis (2014) suggest that the type of posts is more crucial than the number of posts for attracting users’ attention. Posts containing pictures had high rates of interaction not only in public (Joo et al., 2018) but also in academic libraries’ Facebook pages (Al-Daihani and Abrahams, 2018). Joo and his colleagues’ (2018) research on USA public libraries’ Facebook posts also revealed that community news and fundraising and acknowledgement messages generated more user engagement, compared to general announcements (library open hours, etc.) and posts about collection (new arrivals) and events. By contrast, tweets of an academic and a public library in Australia – related to services, events and collection promotion – received more user engagement than the other types of tweets (Alsuhaibani, 2020). The aforementioned study also revealed that the content of tweets of the two libraries were different, customized to address different audiences. In general, content covering upcoming events (Alsuhaibani, 2020; Joo et al., 2018), library services (Mahmood and Richardson, 2011; Zhang et al., 2018) and library news (Mahmood and Richardson, 2011) is the most frequently generated by libraries.

Libraries in the coronavirus disease 2019 era

Undoubtedly, the COVID-19 has changed our daily life and work activities. The outbreak, which was characterized a pandemic by the World Health Organization (2020) on March 11, 2020, forced governments around the world to enact lockdowns. The Greek Government on February 25, 2020, issued the first Legislative Act regarding urgent coronavirus measures. Pursuant to the aforementioned Act, Joint Ministerial Decisions were issued imposing the closure of all educational institutions, libraries, museums, archeological sites, restaurants, cafe bars, cinemas, fitness centers and all retail businesses, as well as tourist lodging businesses. The Greek Government also imposed restrictions on movement and transit throughout Greece. Citizens were permitted to leave their homes only to go to work, if teleworking was not an option, shop for necessities, i.e. go to the doctor or the bank, attend a ceremony (such as funeral, marriage and baptism), care for a vulnerable person, walk the dog or take a pet to the vet and exercise outdoors.

In May 2020, the Greek Government proceeded to progressive relaxation of the restrictions. Specifically, public libraries and the National Library of Greece (NLG) began to gradually reopen in June. As for academic libraries, the general directive is to remain closed for the public until the end of the academic year; nonetheless, the majority offer limited services, such as book lending and returns by appointment. Finally, the operation of special libraries depends on their parent organization. It should be noted, however, that most special libraries also started resuming services gradually from June.

During the Greek lockdown, librarians rapidly responded to the pandemic by organizing and disseminating timely and accurate information about COVID-19. For example, the National Documentation Center (2020) launched a daily updated COVID-19 scientific information website, which accumulated coronavirus-related scientific papers (including abstracts in the Greek language), covering various research areas, such as medicine, business, psychology, education and tourism. The Library and Information Center of the University of Patras (2020) Greece also developed a webpage dedicated to this topic, whereas the Library of the Hellenic Parliament provided links to select free online resources about COVID-19, ranging from librarianship to health science and economy.

Public libraries all over the world were also quick to respond to the pandemic not only by adapting existing services but also by introducing new services to stay in touch with their communities. They made extensive use of their social media for communicating changes in their operation and as for the promotion of library services, which ranged from e-books and streaming media to virtual programming and from virtual storytelling to online knitting groups (Micaela, 2020; Perrine, 2020; Public Library Association, 2020). Other examples of innovative services offered by public libraries include language guides to help undocumented populations contact COVID-19 health-care centers (Perrine, 2020), pick-up and book delivery services for those who could not visit the library (Australian Library and Information Association, 2020) and printing of face shields using 3 D printers (Public Library Association, 2020).

In Greece, public libraries also provided innovative services in response to the closure of libraries during the COVID-19 lockdown. For example, the Veria Central Public Library – in cooperation with a private courier company – offered a free “Book Delivery” service (Veria Central Public Library, 2020). Many public libraries organized distance learning activities, online storytelling (e.g. Municipal Library of Chania), livestreamed puppet shows (e.g. Public Central Library of Kilkis) and various creative activities, such as math through painting activity for children (Municipality of Karditsa Children’s Library), writing and media labs for media, information and news literacy (Veria Central Public Library), teleconferences with authors and psychologists (Kalambaka Library), online consultation on job search and how to “Improve Your Curriculum Vitae!” (Public Central Library of Levadia), to name a few. It should also be noted that the Greek Libraries Network of the NLG every week suggests and instructs a creative home activity, which member libraries organize for their communities; the action will take place throughout the summer of 2020.

Methodology

Research objectives and design

As previously stated, the present research aimed to investigate to what extent and how Greek libraries use social media and how Greek libraries operated and how they used social media to stay in touch with their users during the COVID-19 lockdown. Fulfilling the aim of the study required the collection of primary data; a quantitative research design with the use of the survey method was selected. Data were collected via an online semi-structured questionnaire. This approach allowed for reaching a large number of participants that were geographically dispersed and generally difficult to meet face-to-face, especially given the circumstances under which the study was conducted, i.e. during the lockdown. In general, questionnaires enable the collection of considerably more data in less time, compared to other techniques, such as interviews. Also, responses are usually more candid when questionnaires are anonymous (Nayak and Narayan, 2019). Finally, to ensure that all opinions would be recorded, a free-text response option was added to the end of each of the questions. (The survey instrument appears in Appendix 1, whereas all answers to free-text response options are presented in Appendix 2).

Based on the research design, this study can be categorized as follows:

  • quantitative, as the research questions were examined by means of quantitative data, i.e. “data that can be expressed numerically or classified by some numerical values […] and can be statistically interpreted and/or analyzed” (Lancaster, 2005, p. 67/207);

  • descriptive as it aims to “[…] describe the existing phenomena as accurately as possible” (Atmowardoyo, 2018, p. 198);

  • survey research, because “primary data are collected through communication” with the research participants (Zikmund, 2003, p. 175); and

  • cross-sectional, as the data are collected at “a single point in time” (Zikmund, 2003, p. 187).

Sampling and data collection

The target population of the study consisted of all types of libraries operating in Greece. Library contact information was obtained via the NLG Greek Libraries Network; the Association of Greek Librarians and Information Scientists’ Libraries map; the Greek Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs; and Internet searches conducted by the authors. Overall, survey invitations were sent to 424 libraries in April 2020, during the COVID-19 lockdown. 196 questionnaires suitable for analysis were returned; of these, 7 responses from school libraries were discarded from the final sample, as they were too few to constitute a representative sample of that library type. The final sample consists of 189 libraries, for an effective response rate of 44.6%.

Overall, public libraries comprise more than half (51.9%) of the final sample, followed by academic libraries (19.6%), while special libraries of all types collectively account for 20.6% of the libraries participating in the study. As expected, the vast majority of the libraries in the sample belong to the public sector (74.1%), and most of them (52.9%) employ one to two people. Notably, three libraries operate exclusively with volunteers. With regard to respondents, the majority is female (83.6%), high-ranking employees – library directors account for almost 60% of the sample – and are in the over-38-year-old age group (92.1%). Full descriptive statistics of the libraries that participated in the study and the profile of respondents are presented in Tables 1 and 2, respectively.

Questionnaire construction and data analysis methodology

An online semi-structured questionnaire was developed using the LimeSurvey® tool for the collection of primary data. Aside from the general questions, the questionnaire comprised two main sections; Section A: libraries’ social media presence and Section B: questions about library operation and social media use during the COVID-19 lockdown. Sections A and B included seven and four closed-ended questions (plus one open-ended question), respectively. All closed-ended questions contained an additional free-text response option for the provisional supplementary information. Answers to the closed-ended questions were given in a five-point Likert-type scale, when applicable (see “Questionnaire Items” in Appendix Table A1, for more details). The final draft of the developed questionnaire was pre-tested to insure that “[…] that questions work as intended and are understood by those individuals who are likely to respond to them.” (Hilton, 2017, p. 21) Specifically, two academics and four librarians were asked to provide feedback on question clarity and comprehensibility.

Finally, the data collected were analyzed using descriptive statistics. Frequencies for describing variability, as well as median (MDN) and interquartile range (IQR) for describing the central tendency were used. The above-mentioned statistics are appropriate to analyze and interpret ordinal data (Boone and Boone, 2012; Siegel, 1956; Stevens, 1946).

Data analysis and discussion

Social media use in libraries

Initially, participants were asked if their libraries use social media. 55 (out of 189, i.e. 29.1%) of the respondents that gave a negative reply were asked to indicate the reasons for not participating in social media. Results (Table 3) revealed lack of staff and time (50.9%) as the most important reason, followed by lack of social media strategy (40%) and management support (32.7%). Moreover, a small percentage believes that social media do not support library goals (14.5%), while some (14.5%) are also concerned about copyright issues. Finally, two participants explained that their libraries are included in social media of their parent organization and one more explained that social media is not among the priorities of their library (Appendix Table A2).

Participants were also asked to mention if they intend to reexamine their library’s presence in social media. Not surprisingly, the majority of the respondents (61.8%) expressed the intention to join Facebook (Table 4), while 22 participants lean toward LinkedIn, a more professional platform. The latter suggests that librarians feel that different social media tools should be used to communicate with their users, depending on their interests. Instagram (32.7%) was third in popularity, followed by Twitter (25.5%) and YouTube (21.8%), whereas Flickr (9.1%) was the least popular response.

As regards libraries that use social media (70.9%), participants were asked to specify these channels. Results (Table 5) indicated that almost all of the social media-connected libraries have a Facebook account (96.3%); an expected finding considering Facebook’s popularity not only in public (Choi and Joo, 2018) but also in academic libraries (Harrison et al., 2017) all over the world. YouTube (25.4%) emerged as the second most popular platform used by Greek libraries, receiving, however, a much smaller percentage, although in 2019, it was the third among the Greek academic libraries (Alvanoudi and Vozana, 2019). The latter finding could be explained not only by the high percentage of public libraries that participated in the current study but also by the growing interest of libraries in visual platforms (Taylor and Francis Group, 2014). Instagram (17.2%) and Twitter (14.9%) follow with relatively low rates, whereas Flickr and LinkedIn were the least popular social media tools. Three respondents also stated that they have Blogs and one stated that they have a Pinterest account (Appendix Table A2).

Respondents were also asked to indicate the frequency of posting on social media. Results, presented in Table 6, show that libraries are quite active on their social media pages, as more than 35% and 30% report uploading post on a daily (or almost daily) basis on Facebook and Twitter, respectively. A significant number of libraries also try to maintain a weekly presence on the aforementioned social media. Moreover, the frequency of posts seems to decrease with social medium popularity. These findings suggest that libraries realize that the more active they are on social media the greater their chance to maintain user engagement, as also indicated by previous research (Bacon, 2017, p. 12). As Burkhardt (2010) argues “having a social media presence is a commitment. It is much like maintaining a friendship […] Constant communication in both directions is crucial to social media success.”

As the type of posts is more crucial than the number of posts for attracting users’ attention (Smeaton and Davis, 2014), participants were asked to demonstrate the content of their library’s posts. Results (Table 7) – in line with prior studies (Alsuhaibani, 2020; Bacon, 2017; Joo et al., 2018; Mahmood and Richardson, 2011; Taylor and Francis Group, 2014) – revealed that libraries mainly use social media for communicating general announcements regarding library operations (88.1%), information about library events (85.8%) and event photos or videos (82.1%), as well as for promoting their services (80.6%). Librarians are also concerned about their communities’ interests (58.2%), whereas news and/or information about Library and Information Science (25.4%) are shared to a smaller extent. Almost half of the libraries (44 %) also share information about their print collections and events held by other libraries or organizations. Finally, other posts focused on cultural events suggested books for reading and other trivia, such as “On this day in history” (Appendix Table A2).

Finally, participants were asked to indicate the challenges they are faced with in using social media. Results, presented in Table 8, revealed that libraries are having difficulties not only in growing but also in maintaining their social media audience (MDN = 4, IQR = 2). Fortunately, “lack of management support” and “managing trolling or tensions” are not among the problems libraries encounter (MDN = 2, IQR = 2). These findings are quite similar to a prior study conducted in the USA (Bacon, 2017). However, it is worth mentioning that few respondents described additional barriers to social media use, such as cyberbullying and lack of goals, technological equipment and users’ interest in reading and cultural events (Appendix Table A2).

Libraries in the coronavirus disease 2019 era

As Greek libraries closed their buildings to the public, participants were asked in which way they continued to work, if they did. As presented in Table 9, less than 10% of the libraries ceased operations completely, including one library that was closed because of renovation works, indicating that the majority of staff continued to provide services by adapting their traditional forms of work. In more detail, almost half of the participating libraries (46.6%) used a mix of teleworking and working onsite, whereas in the remaining cases, only one of these options was adopted, i.e. telework only, even though staff was on special-purpose leave (14.8%), onsite only (13.8%) and onsite working with rotating schedules (14.8%). It is worth mentioning that one library reported the staff was temporarily redeployed to other departments of the parent organization (Appendix Table A2), a practice also followed in other countries (IFLA, 2020).

Subsequently, participants were asked to indicate how their libraries responded to the COVID-19 pandemic, in terms of work challenges, obligations and opportunities. As it can be seen in Table 10, the majority of the respondents (69.3%) felt, at least to some extent, that they had to respond quickly and continue to serve their communities. This finding confirms that librarians recognize their crucial role in times of crisis. Interestingly, half of the respondents (MDN = 4.0, IQR = 2) saw the lockdown as an opportunity to carry out pending projects. With regard to sharing information about COVID-19, more than half of the respondents (58.8%) believe it was not their obligation to do so, a finding that is suggestive of the divergence in the objectives among the different library types and the interests of their respective communities. In an optional free-text response option, participants were asked to note additional opportunities that arose during this period. Responses from 10 participants (Appendix Table AII) included the introduction of new digital services, new collaborations with other libraries and organizations, electronic communication with their communities, even closer cooperation with the management of their parent organizations. Medical and public libraries, on the other hand, also indicated a significant increase in their workload so that staff could not take their parental leave. Last and most interestingly, the head of a public library concluded: “Citizens realized the key role that libraries play when they were closed and stopped offering their services. After all, we only appreciate things after losing them.”

Following the suspension of operations, because of the COVID-19 enforced lockdown, participants were asked to indicate which services they delivered to their communities; results are presented in Table 11. As expected, the majority of respondents (63 %) focused their efforts on the promotion of existing electronic resources, while some enriched their digital collections by making new agreements with publishers (14.8%). Libraries also offered a variety of remote and digital services, including teleconference (23.8%), tele-education and webinars (13.2%), as well as online (via e-mail, Viber, Messenger, etc.) and phone reference assistance and library instruction (12.7%), depending on the availability of technological tools and budgets. Some public libraries also developed new online activities for children, adolescents and adults, such as writing labs, storytimes and puppet shows performed in the library, that were either on demand or livestreamed. A limited number of public libraries also provided onsite services upon request, along with home book delivery. The latter confirms librarians’ efforts to serve their communities, especially those digitally disconnected. Other examples that stand out are the dissemination of printouts from web resources on COVID-19 by a prison library, as there is no internet connection in prison cells, and the partaking of the staff of a public library in the food delivery services offered by the municipality. Finally, medical libraries noted that no changes were made to their operation during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, they also expanded their services by providing users with regular updates on the latest medical research by sending electronic newsletters via e-mail; a rather expected finding, considering their communities (Appendix Table A2).

Further, participants were asked if they intend to suggest or make any changes to library functions and services after operations are resumed. The 71 respondents (37.6%) who gave an affirmative reply were asked to describe them. Results (Appendix Table A2) indicated that reopening issues, such as health and safety measures, were mainly discussed, as expected. The need to further use technology tools for providing either distance learning programs or remote access to information resources and electronic services was also stressed by participants. The latter finding reveals librarians’ focus on digital access to be able to adapt to these novel situations. Notably, the provision of services specially designed for digitally disconnected citizens did not seem to be of a primary concern, albeit the high rate of public libraries participation in the survey.

Finally, participants were asked to determine the degree to which libraries adjusted their social media presence to the new conditions. Responses (Table 12) indicate that libraries’ posting frequency was not significantly altered (increase MDN = 2, IQR = 2/decrease MDN = 1, IQR = 1) during the lockdown, with only around 25% of libraries reporting a notable increase and an even smaller percentage a significant decrease (<10%) in the number of posts they uploaded. Similarly, no noteworthy variation was reported in the content of social media posts (MDN = 3, IQR = 2), while at the same time more than 70% of the participating libraries chose to upload little to no content on COVID-19 developments. Finally, nearly half (43.3%) of the libraries did not offer new services to their patrons via social media.

As Ali and Gatiti (2020, p. 158) explain, the role of librarians amidst a pandemic is threefold:

1. to promote public health awareness by creating and disseminating information relating to preventive measures; 2. to support research team[s], researchers and faculty by providing information regarding the latest developments, research and literature; [and] 3. to meet the core needs of regular library users.

However, results suggest that, except for a few academic and special libraries – mainly medical –, Greek libraries have focused their efforts mostly on finding ways to provide their patrons with their regular services and satisfy their leisure needs. Although this finding may be partially explained by the number of public libraries in the study sample, Greek information professional seems to have missed the opportunity to promote one of the core library roles, that of providing timely and credible information to the public, especially in times of crisis. Naturally, without neglecting patron needs for both education and leisure, libraries of all types should have also prioritized the provision of credible sources about the pandemic to help the general public avoid fake news and misinformation that abound social media and the internet in general (Nagarkar, 2020).

Conclusion

Summary and implications

The current study aimed to explore the social media presence of Greek libraries, as well as the changes made to their social media use in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Specifically, social media preference, frequency of posts, type of post content and challenges faced with respect to social media use were examined. Library operations during the lockdown were also investigated.

The results indicated that Facebook is used by the vast majority of Greek libraries, while content is posted on social media sites on a daily or weekly basis, mainly for sharing general announcements about library operations, as well as for the promotion of events, including photos and videos of events held. Moreover, retaining current followers alongside increasing their follower base emerged as the biggest social media challenges facing libraries. During the coronavirus lockdown, no significant changes were observed in the frequency and content of social media posts, whereas almost half of the libraries did not offer new services via their social media platforms. As for libraries with no social media accounts, lack of time and staff was given as the main reason for their absence from social media. Facebook also emerged as the most popular platform among these libraries, in terms of intention to join.

Regarding library operations during the pandemic, the majority used onsite and tele-working or a combination of these to continue to serve their communities, indicative of the high sense of responsibility of librarians. Medical libraries, serving front-line employees during the health crisis, provided their patrons with the latest scientific information, whereas public libraries offered various online services for children and adults. Of course, all types of libraries focused their efforts on the promotion of their electronic resources, realizing the need to increase their investment in new technology tools and digital resources in the post-coronavirus era.

Overall, the results of the study suggest that Greek libraries were fairly quick to respond to these novel circumstances taking many of their services online to stay in touch with their communities. Despite the shift to digital services and their strong social media presence, libraries did not fully use social media platforms for service provision but rather used social media as a static communication channel. Τhis inability to take full advantage of the potential of social media can be partially attributed to staff and budget shortages that plague the majority of Greek libraries but also to a lack of a social media strategy. Library leaders that are looking to harness the power of social media for service promotion and outreach should build a strategy that takes platform popularity, current social media trends, patron preferences and the specific promotional objectives of their library into consideration. Library employees should also be actively involved in the planning and budgeting of the strategy and provided with training opportunities to improve their social media marketing skills (AlAwadhi and Al-Daihani, 2019). And as the social media landscape is constantly evolving and user online interaction patterns change, libraries’ social media strategies should be evaluated and readjusted on a regular basis (Brookbank, 2015), to ensure not only the retention but also the expansion of their user base. Moreover, the enforced social distancing further stressed the need for libraries to modernize their information technology infrastructure and reexamine their collection development budget to allocate more funds on electronic resources. At the same time, provisions should be made for the digitally disadvantaged users. Finally, the COVID-19 crisis presented libraries with a first-class opportunity to highlight their role in the promotion of public health by providing timely and reliable information, that sadly only a few of the libraries grasped. Libraries must not neglect their comparative advantage in assuring information quality and should actively engage in the management of such crises.

Limitations and further research

Some limitations of the current study should be noted. Initially, no information about social media use by school libraries was presented, as responses from that library type were excluded from the final sample because of their small number. Moreover, as differences in social media use per library type were not examined, future research should focus on such possible disparities. User studies could also shed light on patron expectations from library social media to inform the development of social media strategy. Future studies could also investigate user satisfaction with how libraries generally responded to the challenges of the lockdown. Finally, follow-up studies should be held to draw a better picture of the changes made to library operations and service provision in the post-coronavirus era.

Figures

Descriptive statistics of libraries (N = 189)

No. (%)
Library type Public 98 51.9
Academic 37 19.6
Special (Research) 14 7.4
Special (Government) 8 4.2
Special (Other) [includes medical, prison, professional associations’ libraries, etc.] 31 16.4
National 1 0.5
Sector Public 143 74.1
Private 18 11.1
Non-profit 28 14.8
No. of employees 1–2 100 52.9
3–5 46 24.3
6–10 23 12.2
11–20 9 4.8
21–30 3 1.6
31–40 3 1.6
41–90 0 0.0
>91 2 1.1
Volunteers only 3 1.6
Max 126

Respondents’ profile

No. (%)
Gender Male 31 16.4
Female 158 83.6
Age 18–27 2 1.1
28–37 13 6.9
38–47 81 42.9
>47 93 49.2
Position Employee 41 21.7
Head of Department 38 20.1
Director 189 58.2

What are the reasons for not joining social media?

Frequency (N = 55) (%)aa
Lack of staff and/or time 28 50.9
Lack of social media strategy 22 40.0
Lack of management support 18 32.7
Copyright issues 8 14.5
Do not support library goals 8 14.5
Other reasonb 3 5.5
Notes:

a

Response percentages exceed 100%, as multiple answers were allowed

b

Free-text response option

Are you planning of joining any of the following social media in the future?

Frequency (N = 55) (%)a
Facebook 34 61.8
LinkedIn 22 40.0
Instagram 18 32.7
Twitter 14 25.5
YouTube 12 21.8
Flickr 5 9.1
Otherb 0 0
Note:

a

Response percentages exceed 100%, as multiple answers were allowed.

b

Free-text response option

Which of the following social media does your library have an account in?

Frequency (N = 134) (%)a
Facebook 129 96.3
Twitter 20 14.9
Instagram 23 17.2
LinkedIn 11 8.2
YouTube 34 25.4
Flickr 12 9.0
Otherb 4 3.0
Notes:

a

Response percentages exceed 100%, as multiple answers were allowed.

b

Free-text response option.

How often do you post content on each of the following social media?

Daily or almost daily Weekly Monthly Every six months Never
Facebook 47 (36.4%) 55 (42.6%) 23 (17.8%) 4 (3.1%) 0 (0%)
Twitter 6 (30%) 7 (35%) 7 (35%) 0 (0%) 0 (0%)
Instagram 4 (17.4%) 12 (52.2%) 5 (21.7%) 2 (8.7%) 0 (0%)
LinkedIn 0 (0%) 5 (45.4%) 3 (27.3%) 1 (9.1%) 2 (18.2%)
YouTube 0 (0%) 8 (23.5%) 10 (29.4%) 13 (38.2%) 3 (8.8%)
Flickr 0 (0%) 2 (16.7%) 2 (16.7%) 7 (58.3%) 1 (8.3%)
Other 0 (0%) 1 (25%) 3 (75%) 0 (0%) 0 (0%)

What type of content do you usually post on your library’s social media account?

Frequency (N = 134) (%)a
General announcements/library operations 118 88.1
Information about library events (exhibitions, seminars, conferences, etc.) 115 85.8
Photographs and/or videos from library events 110 82.1
Library services 108 80.6
Various resources, based on community interests 78 58.2
Information about print collections 59 44.0
Information about events held by other libraries or organizations 59 44.0
Reference advice 48 35.8
Information about free online content 44 32.8
Promotion of special collections 44 32.8
Information about and/or photographs and/or videos from library operations (digitization, bookbinding, etc.) 42 31.3
Information and/or news about Library and Information Science 34 25.4
Information about subscription databases 29 21.6
General news 29 21.6
Live streaming of library events 19 14.2
Data collection instruments (questionnaires) 13 9.7
Otherb 4 3.0
Notes:

a

Response percentages exceed 100%, as multiple answers were allowed.

b

Free-text response option.

What are the major challenges you are faced with respect to social media use by your library?

Not at all (%) Only a little (%) To some extent (%) Rather much (%) Very much (%) MDN IQR
Growing your audience 1.5 7.5 30.6 34.3 26.1 4.0 2
Maintaining your audience 0.7 9.0 24.6 38.8 26.9 4.0 2
Lack staff and/or time 9.0 18.7 35.8 22.4 14.2 3.0 2
Managing multiple platforms 12.7 16.4 29.1 28.4 13.4 3.0 2
Lack of social media strategy 13.4 26.1 29.9 23.1 7.5 3.0 2
Content copyright issues 14.2 21.6 26.1 27.6 10.4 3.0 2
Difficulty in evaluating social media impact in the library 12.7 28.4 34.3 16.4 8.2 3.0 1
Managing trolling or tensions 26.1 25.4 25.4 201 3.0 2.0 2
Lack of management support 30.6 26.9 19.4 15.7 7.5 2.0 2
Note:

a

Response percentages exceed 100%, as multiple answers were allowed

Which of the following working patterns did your library adopt during the lockdown?

Frequency (N = 189) (%)
Onsite working 26 13.8
Teleworking 28 14.8
Rotation of onsite working 28 14.8
Combination of onsite and teleworking 88 46.6
Stopped working 18 9.5
Othera 1 0.5
Notes:

a

Free-text response option

The mandatory suspension of operations, because of the COVID-19 lockdown, was seen by your library as a(n)…

Not at all (%) Only a little (%) To some extent (%) Rather much (%) Very much (%) MDN IQR
Challenge to respond quickly ensuring uninterrupted services 12.7 18.0 31.7 18.0 19.6 3.0 2
Obligation for providing information about COVID-19 30.2 28.6 21.2 11.1 9.0 2.0 2
Opportunity to carry out pending projects or tasks 10.1 6.9 25.4 22.2 25.4 4.0 2

Which of the following did your library adopt during the lockdown to ensure the uninterrupted services provision to your patrons?

Frequency (N = 189) (%)a
Promotion of existing electronic information resources 119 63.0
Teleconference 45 23.8
New agreements for electronic resources 28 14.8
Online instruction 25 13.2
New services development 22 11.6
Otherb 24 12.7

Notes:

a

Response percentages exceed 100%, as multiple answers were allowed.

b

Free-text response option

During the COVID-19 lockdown, to what extend did each of the following occur with respect to your library’s social media presence?

Not at all (%) Only a little (%) To some extent (%) Rather much (%) Very much (%) MDN IQR
Number of posts increased 29.9 22.4 19.4 13.4 14.9 2.0 3
Number of posts decreased 52.2 26.1 12.7 3.7 5.2 1.0 1
Change in the content of posts 29.1 15.7 36.6 11.9 6.7 3.0 2
New services development through social media 43.3 20.9 16.4 12.7 6.7 2.0 2
Regular updates on COVID-19 issues 41.0 30.6 16.4 6.7 5.2 2.0 2

Questionnaire items

Section A
A1 Q: Does your library have one or more social media accounts?
A1.1 Yes [respondents who chose this answer were subsequently presented with question A4]
A1.2 No [respondents who chose this answer were subsequently presented with questions A2 and A3]
A2 Q: What are the reasons for not joining social media? (please select all that apply)
A2.1 Lack of staff and/or time
A2.2 Lack of social media strategy
A2.3 Lack of management support
A2.4 Copyright issues
A2.5 Do not support library goals
A2.6 Other reason (please specify)*
A3 Q: Are you planning of joining any of the following social media in the future? (please select all that apply)
A3.1 Facebook
A3.2 LinkedIn
A3.3 Instagram
A3.4 Twitter
A3.5 YouTube
A3.6 Flickr
A3.7 Other (please specify)*
A4 Q: Which of the following social media does your library have an account in? (please select all that apply)
A4.1 Facebook
A4.2 Twitter
A4.3 Instagram
A4.4 LinkedIn
A4.5 YouTube
A4.6 Flickr
A4.7 Other (please specify)*
A5 Q: How often do you post content on each of the following social media? (please select the appropriate response for each of the following items)
[Response scale: Daily or almost daily, weekly, monthly, every six months, never]
A5.1 Facebook
A5.2 Twitter
A5.3 Instagram
A5.4 LinkedIn
A5.5 YouTube
A5.6 Flickr
A5.7 Other (please specify)*
A6 Q: What type of content do you usually post on your library’s social media account? (please select all that apply)
A6.1 General announcements/ library operations
A6.2 Information about library events (exhibitions, seminars, conferences, etc.)
A6.3 Photographs and/or videos from library events
A6.4 Library services
A6.5 Various resources, based on community interests
A6.6 Information about print collections
A6.7 Information about events held by other libraries or organizations
A6.8 Reference advice
A6.9 Information about free online content
A6.10 Promotion of special collections
A6.11 Information about and/or photographs and/or videos from library operations (digitization, bookbinding, etc.)
A6.12 Information and/or news about Library and Information Science
A6.13 Information about subscription databases
A6.14 General news
A6.15 Live streaming of library events
A6.16 Data collection instruments (questionnaires)
A6.17 Other (please specify)*
A7 Q: What are the major challenges you are faced with respect to social media use by your library? (please select the appropriate response for each of the following items)
[Response scale: Not at all, only a little, to some extent, rather much, very much]
A7.1 Growing your audience
A7.2 Maintaining your audience
A7.3 Lack of staff and/or time
A7.4 Managing multiple platforms
A7.5 Lack of social media strategy
A7.6 Content copyright issues
A7.7 Difficulty in evaluating social media impact in the library
A7.8 Managing trolling or tensions
A7.9 Lack of management support
A8 Q: Please mention other challenges, if any**
Section B
B1 Q: Which of the following working patterns did your library adopt during the lockdown? (please select all that apply)
B1.1 Onsite working
B1.2 Teleworking
B1.3 Rotation of onsite working
B1.4 Combination of onsite and teleworking
B1.5 Stopped working
B1.6 Other (please specify)*
B2 Q: The mandatory suspension of operations, due to the COVID-19 lockdown, was seen by your library as a(n)… (please select the appropriate response for each of the following items)
[Response scale: Not at all, only a little, to some extent, rather much, very much]
B2.1 … challenge to respond quickly ensuring uninterrupted services
B2.2 … obligation for providing information about COVID-19
B2.3 … opportunity to carry out pending projects or tasks
B2.4 Other (please specify)*
B3 Q: Which of the following did your library adopt during the lockdown to ensure the uninterrupted services provision to your patrons? (please select all that apply)
B3.1 Promotion of existing electronic information resources
B3.2 Teleconference
B3.3 New agreements for electronic resources
B3.4 Online instruction
B3.5 New services development
B3.6 Other (please specify)*
B4 Following the reopening of your library to the public, are you planning to suggest or make changes to functions or services of the library?
Yes [respondents who chose this answer were asked to answer question B5]
No
B5 Following the reopening of your library to the public, what functions and/ or services are planning to adopt?*
B6 During the COVID-19 lockdown, to what extend did each of the following occur with respect to your library’s social media presence? (please select the appropriate response for each of the following items)
[Response scale: Not at all, only a little, to some extent, rather much, very much]
B6.1 Number of posts increased
B6.2 Number of posts decreased
B6.3 Change in the content of posts
B6.4 New services development through social media
B6.5 Regular updates on COVID-19 issues
Notes: *Free-text response option
**Open-ended question

Appendix 1

Table A1

Appendix 2. Free-text responses

Figure A1

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Acknowledgements

Funding: This research is co-financed by Greece and the European Union (European Social Fund- ESF) through the Operational Programme “Human Resources Development, Education and Lifelong Learning 2014-2020” in the context of the project “Leaving social media: factors affecting intentions to permanently and intermittently discontinue using social networking sites” (MIS 5050188).

Corresponding author

Eftichia Vraimaki can be contacted at: evraim@uniwa.gr

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