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Five Ways Libraries Can Offer Readers' Advisory on Tumblr

by Molly Wetta

*This article originally appeared in the August 2014 issue of RA News.*

Libraries are interacting with patrons in digital spaces. Virtually all libraries have a Facebook page, and over half are on Twitter, but as the social media landscape continues to evolve, so must libraries' digital presence. This doesn't mean abandoning existing social media channels; it means using each platform as effectively as possible without overextending already overworked librarians. Tumblr can augment your library's existing social media presence rather than replacing your current efforts.

Over the past two years, Tumblr has become more than just a fad. It has become a space where libraries can connect with their local community as well as a global network of people and institutions interested in literature, technology, and culture.

If you're still not sure about how Tumblr works, or you've tested the waters but aren't sure that you're getting the most out of the platform, never fear. A quick overview of Tumblr and five tips for offering readers' advisory services through the site will have you tumblin' in no time.

What is Tumblr and how does it work?

Tumblr is a microblogging site, which blends traditional blogging with elements of other social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest.  Facebook is typically where people interact with “real life” friends and family. Twitter is often a source for news and comedy, but it may also be where people keep up with celebrities or interact with other professionals. People users are drawn to Tumblr so they can find other people who have similar interests that the people they know outside the Internet don't necessarily share.  It doesn't replace other social media platforms, but is another outlet for users to express themselves and communicate.

"Tumblr is where conversations -- especially conversations about books -- are happening."

Tumblr offers everything from funny cat gifs -- those short, looping video images that are so popular, Twitter now supports them -- to insightful social commentary and beautiful works of art. Tumblr has 184 million blogs, and is home to authors and publishers as well as members of your local community -- especially teens and those in their twenties.

Tumblr is where conversations -- especially conversations about books -- are happening.

Contributing to these conversations isn't hard. It's easy to figure out how the site works, particularly if you're already familiar with other social media platforms.  Far simpler than Facebook, Tumblr also has had few changes to the look or function over the years. Skeptics may find they enjoy using the site more than other platforms.

There are two ways users can find content: by scrolling through the posts on their "dashboard" -- which is a stream of content from all the blogs a user follows or by searching hashtags.  Hashtags are like metadata for non-librarians: a way to classify information and aid discovery. By tracking relevant local hashtags or Tumblr moderated ones like #lit or #tech, libraries can find content worth sharing with their own followers, in addition to any original posts they produce.

Why should libraries start Tumblin'?

Tumblr has a vibrant and healthy book-ish community. Tumblr even employs someone just to keep the lit world on Tumblr thriving. Rachel Fershleiser is passionate about connecting books with readers through the Internet, and you should definitely check out her Tedx Talk on why she loves the "bookternet." Tumblr's unique characteristics make it an ideal tool for extending your library's readers' advisory services into a digital space.

There are plenty of librarians and libraries to follow on Tumblr as well as tumblrs with a literary theme, such as The Millions' roundup of literary Tumblrs and Buzzfeed's list of bookish Tumblrs. There are also entire tumblrs dedicated to Readers' Advisory, like Go Book Yourself. Find your favorite YA authors on Tumblr (there are plenty of adult authors, too).

For those who want more background on Tumblr and want to know how libraries and librarians  have used it effectively, check out "Tumblarian 101" by Kate Tkacik and "Everyday I'm Tumbling" by Toby Greenwalt. In “The Library is Open: A Look at Librarians and Tumblr,” Molly McArdle offers additional insight.

5 Ways Libraries can offer Readers' Advisory on Tumblr

There are many directions that libraries can take a Tumblr blog. Some libraries focus on sharing their archives or special collections or highlight local history. Some have a singular focus and others curate an eclectic mix of content. There's no right or wrong way to approach the platform. But I think Tumblr is a great place to take your readers' advisory services into the digital realm.

While following these Tumblrs is a great way to find interesting content to share, from reviews and book news to beautiful fan art of quotes from favorite books, it's also important to contribute to the community and be an active participant. Here are some ideas to get you started offering RA content on Tumblr.

1. Review books -- in gifs.

Gifs -- those infinitely looping images, often with captions -- have become a unique way of communicating online. Incorporating them into a book review is a fun and fresh way to not only communicate what the book is about, but share a personal reaction to the story or highlight the appeal factors of the writing style.

They can be time consuming to do, and I think certain types of books lend themselves well to review in gifs, but they are a big hit with patrons. For some examples, see this review of The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson or this review of Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan. Finding a few gifs that can explain the plot and a couple that communicate the style and tone of the book can be much more effective than a verbose review, and a lot more entertaining!

2. Curate unique, offbeat booklists.

Tumblr is the place for the offbeat unexpected. Instead of doing a straight romance list for Valentine's Day, a post peppered with gifs recommending "spicy" and "sweet" romances, but also "doomed" loved stories, and nonfiction book about romance novels and the chemistry of attraction breaks away from the ordinary and catches people's attention. The gifs tell why each book might be a fun Valentine’s Day read.

While it's fun to take the time to put together a fun post for special occasions, not every list has to be that complicated. It's very easy to throw up a set of book covers (up to ten images a post) with some favorite titles in a particular genre, like this post on "urban fantasy for literary snobs."

3. Share RA graphics and flowcharts.

More and more libraries are producing their own readers' advisory graphics, and Tumblr makes them very easy to share. These can be easy to make using free online tool, such as PicMonkey and Canva or simple programs like Microsoft Publisher, and readers love sharing them (tens of thousands of times). There's no need to write a post that is too long to read when you can sum up a read-alike in one or two sentences per title. I've previously shared tips for making your own readers' advisory flowcharts and other graphics.  Really, if I can do it, you can, too.

There's no right or wrong format or style to take when making flowcharts or graphics for readers' advisory, and no limit to what can serve as inspiration. Everything goes, from this flowchart to help you choose a book based on your favorite Love, Actually subplot to Pickerington Public Library's charts to help readers pick out which new releases they'd like to read in 2014.

While read-alikes for popular titles and genre guides will always be useful, Tumblr allows for more irreverent booklists or those that cover hot trends. 

4. Offer personalized recommendations through the ask box.

Tumblr has a unique feature that separates it from other social media platforms. You can enable one of tumblr's unique features— the "ask" box; this can be a great tool for readers' advisory. Not only can individual users ask the library questions, librarians can share their responses on their dashboard. Users can ask anonymously, which isn't an option on Facebook or Twitter.

If someone asks for recommendations based on a particular title or author, a librarian can not only respond, he or she can reach a wider audience by making the information available to everyone who might also be looking for not another copycat sci-fi or fantasy title or a book for a teen who loves action movies but isn't a big reader. This is a little less formal than a more robust "Your Next 5 Books" program and a great service for patrons who might not ever come into the library to ask in person. Unlike a one-on-one readers' advisory interview, you can share the suggestions with a wider audience, too.

5. Bring book clubs online.

Last fall, Tumblr started #reblogbookclub, which encouraged Tumblr users to read Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell and discuss it, make fan art about it, and create a community reading experience. It was tons of fun, and libraries can easily grab a hashtag and create their own book clubs on Tumblr or host a one community, one book event on the platform. Since users don't all have to be present in the same place and time in order to discuss the book and can contribute in a variety of formats, Tumblr is an ideal place host book discussions.

Social media allows libraries a platform to foster discussion and create a sense of community. It provides an interactive space where librarians can get out from behind the reference desk and connect with patrons in new, exciting, and unconventional ways. Tumblr allows libraries to capitalize on the existing literary community and reach a new segment of our service population. 

(Psst, NoveList is on Tumblr, too). 

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Molly Wetta is the YA and Media Selector at Lawrence Public Library in Lawrence, KS, where she wrangles a teen book club and manages the library's Tumblr. She also contributes to YALSA's young adult literature blog, The Hub