Web 2.Nautical

At the LIANZA conference in Christchurch in October, we presented a session entitled Web 2.OhMyGod to Web 2.OhNo. We used the metaphor of colonial exploration to tell a story about the National Library's experience voyaging into the deep dark world of Web 2.0.

During the presentation, we talked about our experiences in social networking and hoped that by sharing these reflections, the audience would take away something they could apply to their own Web 2.0 adventures.

I don't know for sure what people took away from the session, but I do know they took away with them lasting memories of seeing two grown adults dressed like ship captains and pirates.

The National Library has spent the last few years exploring the Web 2.0 world. We've been getting our feet wet in places like MySpace, Flickr and Twitter. We'll highlight five of our voyages, tell you why we went there and what we were trying to achieve. We'll analyse whether it was a successful voyage, and give you some insight on what went well and what didn't go so well.


In May 2007, we set sail to MySpace. A number of our governors were despatched to trade with musicians to encourage them to deposit their CDs with the National Library as part of the legal deposit process. We were having trouble communicating the legal requirement to musicians because most musicians don't open formal envelopes that look like they're from the bank.

When we looked back and analysed our experience, we put ourselves in our customers' shoes and asked:

  • What were we offering?Preservation of NZ music
  • Who was it for?NZ musicians
  • Did we stay?Not really. We didn't have time to converse and Chelsea's moved to a new job

There were two things we did well in our journey to MySpace:

  • We made sure the message was crystal clear: Give us your CDs. It's the law.
  • By going into MySpace we were not duplicating effort at the National Library. The only method for contacting musicians prior to MySpace was formal letters sent through the post, MySpace created one more channel for communicating to musicians.

But there were some things we didn't do so well:

  • We didn't actively engage with the community of musicians on MySpace. We didn't leave comments or try to "get to know" them.
  • We were overly cautious and did not have a good idea of where ourboundaries were as a government department.
  • We also didn't have a transition strategy. Chelsea started and managed the Be Heard. Forever MySpace profile. But then she left and moved to another role within the Library.

The blogs

In June 2007 the Library boldly entered the land of blogging. This time we were better prepared for the trip. We thought about the kinds of things we could blog about, and who might be interested in them.

We settled on three ideas:

  1. Create Readers – book reviews and news and ideas about literacy initiatives.
  2. LibraryTechNZ – news about digital products and opinions from our digital teams.
  3. Collections blog – news from our curators about National Library collections.

The Collections blog never happened. This was the first, and biggest, piece of bad news on this trip. When we talked to our collections staff, we realised that for them to feel happy blogging, each post could take several hours of research. We felt this wasn't a fair thing to ask of a small group, so this idea didn't go ahead (although it hasn't gone away).

Once we set up the blogs, we sorted out a bunch of guidelines, we had training for staff in how to use the tool if they didn't already, and we briefed our Senior Leadership Team on what we wanted to do, and how we wanted to do it.

Again, we asked ourselves:

  • What are we offering?
    • Create ReadersChildren's book reviews
    • LibraryTechNZTechnical knowledge
    • CollectionsCuratorial knowledge
  • Who was it for?
    • Create ReadersSchool teachers and school librarians
    • LibraryTechNZPeople with an interest library technology
    • CollectionsCultural heritage enthusiasts
  • Did we stay?
    • Create ReadersYes – we have a group of staff running the blog so the distributed effort increases sustainability
    • LibraryTechNZYes – The Source is a regular entry on the blog and is part of someone's job
    • CollectionsNo – not part of role

Some things went well with the blogs:

  • They're still there, and staff are still writing new pieces!
  • We have steady readership numbers, and a surprising and pleasing amount of interaction via comments and follow-up offline
  • Both blogs have stayed true to the intended topics, and became rich sources of information
  • The writers did not have to get managerial or communications team sign-off. Instead, all blog posts are reviewed by colleagues. This makes posting faster, and gives staff ownership over the blogs
  • We've done some good things with them, like using the CreateReaders blog to promote the NZ Post Children's Book Awards competition, and using the LibraryTechNZ blog instead of the corporate website to talk to disgruntled web citizens during the 2008 Web Harvest.

Some things didn't go so well:

    Blogging is still an extra thing for staff to do, not part of their jobs. We also rely heavily on a small number of staff for the bulk of the content produced.
  • We haven't managed to get support from our comms team for the Create Readers blog because the team lacked resourcing and experience in social media, even though we think that with some extra promotion we could reach more people.
  • We think the blogs would be missed if they weren't there, but we're not sure at the moment exactly how to make them truly permanent.


We went to Flickr because we believe in the idea that its good to take your content to the market, instead of waiting for people to find your far-flung location. Our first visit to Flickr was a general tiki-tour, beginning in mid 2007.

Like many other GLAMs organisations around the world, we loaded up photographs from our collections to test the social waters. Our first visit to Flickr gave us a chance to learn what's involved in being in a really active community space. We got some practice in reviewing contact requests, in responding to comments, and found out what kind of content people were interested in seeing.

More troubling for us was the rights issues. When we loaded photos up to Flickr, we had to use the All Rights Reserved option. We couldn't apply a Creative Commons licence, either because the work was out of copyright, or because the copyright was held by the creator, not us. As a make-shift measure we put a note on all our photos, encouraging people to use them in certain ways.

Then we joined Flickr Commons, which lets us use a No Known Copyright Restrictions licence. This means that we have to be super-careful when picking the photos we put up there, but lets us experiment with what happens when you set your content totally free.

Once again we asked ourselves:

  • What were we offering?Heritage photographs
  • Who was it for?Cultural heritage enthusiasts
  • Did we stay?Passively – there's low effort to add photos occasionally and respond to comments, no active involvement (eg. discussions, joining groups)

Our trip to Flickr was generally a success:

  • We learned how to take risks
  • We took our digitised photo collections out to people where they were, we didn't force them to come to our site
  • We were clear with people about how they could use the images
  • By joining the Commons, we established relationships with other heritage institutions

But we lacked the resourcing to make it really awesome. Like the blogs, managing and growing our Flickr presence isn't a major part of someone's job.

Web Harvest

In October 2008, we ran a web harvest of all websites in the .nz domain as part of our legislative mandate. We were attacked by pirates – webmasters annoyed with how we did it. They took to the web to voice their anger in blogs and on Twitter.

What went well:

  • We were in the social media space so were alerted to the growing frustration
  • We responded very quickly. We luckily already had available social networks, such as blogs, twitter and list-servs, to engage with webmasters


Twitter is our latest venture – it works because we actually applied learnings from earlier ventures. The design of the presence is deliberately quite low effort because we had low resourcing, but we were quick to identify opportunity to promote content.

Twitter seems to satisfy two strong human needs: gossip and voyeurism.

Twitter lends itself so well to a short comment and a hyperlink that it became obvious really fast that posting links to items in digital collections such as Papers Past and Manuscripts & Pictorial was a natural use for the @nlnz account.

To make it easier for ourselves, we made up some rules:

  • We post twice a day (that's why they're called #tbreaktweets: we try to time our posts with the Library's traditional morning and afternoon tea times)
  • We restrict the tweeting to the #tbreaktweets; we don't do events or systems outages or media releases. Hopefully this means we're predictable, in a good way
  • We try to make sure we're at our desks for 30 minutes after the tweet goes out, in case anyone writes back. If we're not open to conversation, what's the point of being there?

We don't measure the success of our Twitter stream by the number of followers. Instead, we use a URL shortening tool called bit.ly, which records how many clicks the links get, and we aim for conversations with our followers.

You know what's next! The three big questions:

  • What were we offering?Heritage curiosities
  • Who was it for?Bored Twitterers/Cultural heritage enthusiasts/Weirdos
  • Did we stay?Yes – low effort once a day

What went well:

  • We applied what we learned from previous adventures in social networking
  • We knew exactly what we were offering, who we were offering to, and how much effort it would take to sustain it
  • It was really important to us that we put our names on the account. Institutional accounts without any real names attached are a big no-no in our books
  • We increased our audience. We knew there were cultural enthusiasts on Twitter that might enjoy our tweets, but we were surprised at the range of people we attracted. Our followers include cultural institutions, friends and acquaintances, art lovers, history lovers, library lovers, information lovers, New Zealand lovers, humour lovers, John Key lovers. It's an eclectic mix

What didn't go well:

  • Nothing....yet

We think Twitter works because we have something good to offer, because there's a group of people who are interested in hearing from us, and because it's mercifully lightweight and doesn't interfere much with our working days.

Fleeting visits

We should mention we've made other journeys to places like Wikipedia, Delicious, Slideshare and Youtube, but these were fleeting visits. We dabbled in these platforms in the early days but haven't really found a good fit between these platforms and what we have to offer. To be honest, if we had known back then what we know now, we might never have set up a presence on those sites.

Each of these voyages failed because they failed to meet at least one of the criteria for a successful social media presence: what's on offer, who's the audience, and how will it be sustained.

Places we didn't explore

There are two major players in the social networking world that we have deliberately avoided: Facebook and Bebo. You can't argue that these two sites are massive and very popular, but we didn't want to make clowns out of ourselves.

In Facebook, we don't have any content to offer. Facebook is great platform for creating discussion among a particular group around a particular topic (like the group, "It's Kiwifruit not Kiwi" for all those people that understand the difference between kiwifruit and kiwi.). It's also great for posting events. We haven't yet identified anything from National Library that would fit in those categories.

In Bebo, we don't have anything for the audience. Bebo is used primarily by teens, and right now, we don't have a lot to offer this audience. No-one in our Services to Young New Zealanders team has indicated an interest in having a presence here.

Overall lessons learned

When Web 2.0 began 4 years ago, it was all about "go out and give it a whirl", but Web 2.0 has grown up fast and people expect us to behave in a certain way. You have to know the game before you start playing it. Know the platform before you represent your organisation – try it out on your personal account first. You also have to truly engage. There's a big difference between moderation, which may take 2 minutes, and engagement, which can take much longer.

We also learned that a key ingredient to success is making sure the people that run the thing really enjoy what they're doing.

But the three most important lessons we learned are: Know thyself. Know thy audience. Know thy limits. You have to have all three ingredients: content, audience and resource for it to work.

We hope you've enjoyed our journey into Web 2.0 and although it hasn't always been smooth sailing, we've learned a lot and hope you have too.

By Chelsea Hughes

Chelsea had many hats here at the Library, and probably still wears them if they're funny enough.

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