Applications of Mobile Social MediaWeChat Among Academic Libraries in China

The Journal of Academic Librarianship 41 (2015) 21–30

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The Journal of Academic Librarianship

Applications of Mobile Social Media: WeChat Among Academic Libraries in China
Jianhua Xu a,1, Qi Kang a,?, Zhiqiang Song b,2, Christopher Peter Clarke c,3
a b c

Business School of NanKai University, Tianjin, Zip Code: 300071, China Library of Liaocheng University, Liaocheng, Zip Code: 252000, China Honors College, Tianjin Foreign Studies University, Tianjin, Zip Code: 300204, China

a r t i c l e

i n f o

a b s t r a c t
This paper describes the application of the social media platform WeChat. It explores the use of this emerging mobile app using the of?cial WeChat accounts of the top 39 academic libraries in China. The ?ndings indicate that approximately one third of the libraries use WeChat as a marketing tool to promote collections and services for users. Most of the 39 libraries, however, are still using the most basic functions. Advanced functions urgently need to be adopted. The main uses of WeChat are general social networking services (SNSs) and automatic answering and interaction features, which include seeking and sharing information, user self-service, and keyword-identi?ed reference auto-responders. The study uses six aspects of quality to evaluate the interaction and content delivered by WeChat. These include the volume of information, information content quality, concordance rate, frequency, self-service, and basic features. The experience of Chinese university libraries is used to provide recommendations for other libraries. ? 2014 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Article history: Received 22 May 2014 Accepted 30 October 2014 Available online 20 November 2014 Keywords: WeChat Social media Mobile phone application Academic libraries China

INTRODUCTION The advancement of mobile network speed and wireless network coverage has increased the popularity of smartphones, tablets, and other mobile intelligent terminals among Chinese academic library users. The dominant application (App) in China is the mobile social medium WeChat (or Weixin in Chinese— for more details see In China, the App boasts 271.9 million active monthly users, an increase of 15.3% QoQ or 124.3% YoY (Tencent, 2013). Launched in January 2011 by Tencent ?— whose products include of?cial WeChat accounts, PC desktop instant messaging client-QQ, Q-zone, Twitter-like microblogging platform Weibo, and mail services—WeChat offers a free instant messaging application service for smartphones and enables voice, text, pictures, videos, and location information exchange via mobile phone. It is also a platform to transmit real-time voice intercom, video calls, group chat, and post pictures on the WeChat activity timeline (Moments), which, like Facebook, allows users to share photos and updates with

their contacts, publish status updates with illustrations, or other content such as comments and retweets or forwarding. Since its launch, WeChat has rapidly become an integral part of everyday life (Skuse, A. for CNN, 2014). This study examines WeChat of?cial accounts, a new functional module for WeChat. Libraries, universities, governments, and companies can freely apply to establish of?cial WeChat accounts. Previous studies primarily focused on the application of Web2.0 technologies and social media websites in libraries. This study investigates emerging social media tools, speci?cally WeChat, and their application in the top 39 university libraries in China and identi?es the functions applied in these libraries, their interaction with users on WeChat, content classi?cation, self-service features, and quality appraisal when using the App. This study presents the prospect of applying WeChat in libraries, and promotes its use in library services to facilitate the use of library resources.

? Corresponding author at: Business School of Nankai University, No. 94 Weijin Road, Nankai District, Tianjin 300071, China. Tel.: +86 139 4721 4877. E-mail addresses: (J. Xu), (Q. Kang), (Z. Song), (C.P. Clarke). 1 Tel.: +86 135 0210 6442. 2 Tel.: +86 136 0635 4716. 3 Tel.: +86 135 1617 8957.

This study identi?es how WeChat is applied in the top 39 Chinese academic libraries, to examine the level of application, to describe the characteristics of application, and to provide practical advice and detailed examples. The authors consider this process important in the ?nal formulation of guidelines for libraries and librarians in building and managing a WeChat presence. 0099-1333/? 2014 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


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To achieve these objectives, the study answers the following questions: ? Which libraries have applied for an of?cial WeChat account? ? How do academic libraries apply WeChat, and what potential issues have emerged from the practice? ? Is the quality of WeChat's application in libraries of a suf?cient standard? BACKGROUND WeChat, the popular instant-messaging App created by China's largest Internet Company, Tencent, provides a new way to connect with friends across platforms. Its features include chatting with friends in live chat sessions, group chat, video calls, voice chat, Moments (a timeline where users can “like” or “comment”), look around, and games (WeChat, 2013). Users can receive different services and information by following of?cial WeChat accounts for reading, replying, storage, sharing, and re-tweeting. WeChat of?cial accounts are categorized as service accounts that send a text message or illustrated information monthly and subscription accounts that can push a group or single information with illustrations daily. General information on WeChat of?cial accounts includes WeChat of?cial account names, WeChat ID, logo, introduction, veri?ed accounts, view history, receive messages, message, and an “unfollow” button. Some of these elements are important in attracting users' attention, and are highlighted when libraries or other users apply for of?cial WeChat accounts. “Introduction” brie?y describes functions to users so that they can understand the App's general features and services before following the account. “Veri?ed Accounts” are those authenticated by Tencent. To apply for certi?cation, an account must have at least 500 followers. After subscribing, the user can access all push information in “view history”— from the ?rst message published, not just from when the user started following the account. The “receive messages” button enables users to block messages they do not want to receive. This function no longer sends reminders, but can be located in “view history.” All records, including reference information, one-to-many information, and all system auto-response messages can be retrieved. WeChat is an ef?cient tool in libraries. Generally, libraries publish notices on their websites regarding established services to inform users of features, services, tips, and following methods (scanning a QR code, searching by name or ID). A welcome, recommendations, and contact information (e.g., telephone number) are also included to promote and facilitate better use of WeChat. When following the library of?cial account, users automatically receive a custom message and the equivalent ?rst push information—“welcome message” or “automatic greeting”—by subscription. The ?rst one-to-many message also includes information on the platform's capabilities, such as greetings, functions, contact information, and navigation services. Here, the “navigation service” describes the scope of self-inquiry information and self-services functions, and the keywords, letters, or numbers to be entered to obtain information, as illustrated in Fig. 1. LITERATURE REVIEW Mobile social media enables users to maintain and foster social connections with members of a social network. Moreover, they can conduct real-time communication anytime, anywhere via a portable mobile device enabling the inexpensive exchange of text, video calls, and voice chats. Social media are also easily accessible and immediate because the user always has the mobile device. Essentially, mobile social media services provide an “always-on” environment for information exchange among members of social networks. This concept draws on Counts and Fisher's (2010) de?nition of mobile social networks. In recent decades, technological developments have led to a global social media revolution, which has led to the advancement of many social networking

Fig. 1. Pro?le of WeChat of?cial account.

services (SNSs). WeChat is an instant messaging (IM) and SNS platform, enabling interactive exchange through mobile devices, so-called mobile social media. Today, the use of social media in libraries is widespread (Jahan & Ahmed, 2012; Kim & Abbas, 2010; Linh, 2008; Si, Shi, & Chen, 2011). Studies demonstrate that some university library digital resources and services are fully utilized and developed through social media tools (Harinarayana & Raju, 2010; Liu, 2008). Numerous studies indicate the bene?ts of social media in reference services and promoting library resources and services, and that librarians view the new technology positively. Social media is also reported to aid library staff in keeping up-to-date with resources and activities in their profession (Chu & Du, 2013). Some researchers have noted that challenges and obstacles in the process of using social media tools (Arif & Mahmood, 2012; Chu & Du, 2013), while other studies investigate the use of social media websites in libraries (Ayu & Abrizah, 2011; Chua & Goh, 2010; Mansor & Idris, 2010). Bhatti and Amjad (2013) identi?ed the frequency and purposes of using social media websites—Twitter, Wikis, Blogs, Flicker, MySpace, Tags, Instant messenger, LinkedIn, Delicious, and Stumbleupon— among library and information studies (LIS) students at the Islamia University of Bahawalpur. Hughes (2013) predicted the growth of social media tools in academia. Tay, Glass, and Chew (2013) implemented the use of Foursquare, a location based services (LBS) App that can engage users and promote library activities and events (Tay et al., 2013). Librarians at Boise State University and Oregon State University formulated treks and challenges using SCVNGR4 for library orientation and
4 SCVNGR is a game-based geolocation application where users can earn points or gain rewards by completing challenges and treks. Builders design questions that involve text based answers (open ended or multiple choices), QR codes, or photo challenges.

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instruction. They contend that SCVNGR is a better environment than Foursquare for these purposes (Vecchione & Mellinger, 2011). Numerous studies address dominant Chinese social media. Saw, Abbott, Donaghey, and McDonald (2013) determined that approximately half of Chinese students use Renren (a Chinese equivalent of Facebook) as much as Facebook to ?nd information. Language barriers mean that students from China are the only international group to exhibit a noticeable difference in their use of Renren and Q-zone. As such, Saw et al. recommend that for institutions with a large cohort of students from China, use of Renren and possibly Q-zone should be monitored for their potential as engagement sites. Similarly, Chu and Du (2013) designed survey questionnaires for respondents from libraries using social networking tools. They noted that participants would be interested in using Renren to promote library resources, services, updates, gather feedback, and communicate with students. Many Chinese contributors examined appropriately deployed localized social media websites—Renren, Sina Weibo, or Tencent Weibo—in libraries (Ding, 2010; Huang, 2012; C. Li, 2012; J.B. Li, 2012; Liu, 2012; Xie, 2013; Yang & Li, 2012; Yu, Asur, & Huberman, 2011; Zhang, Lian, & Dai, 2013). These studies outlined the importance of promoting library services, and addressed potential barriers and solutions. To our knowledge, these social media provide sites and desktop application services. In addition, they have also developed mobile applications compatible with most operating systems. Most literature relates to social media websites. However, while mobile social media applications are often used in mobile smart terminals, this is rarely reported in scholarly journals. This research gap motivated us to investigate the application of WeChat in Chinese academic libraries. The authors retrieved three major full-text Chinese language databases, namely China National Knowledge Infrastructure (CNKI), VIP Chinese Scienti?c Journals Database, and WanFang Digital Periodicals, the Chinese equivalents of ScienceDirect, Emerald, or SpringerLink. Twenty-eight articles were retrieved in the LIS ?eld (conducted on November 1, 2013 with updated searches in April 2014), primarily on the application exploration, introduction, and strategy (Du, Guo, Li, et al., 2014; Hao, 2013; Huang, 2013; Jiang & Qin, 2013; Kong, Liao, Zi, et al., 2013, 2014; Wang & Hong, 2013; Wei, 2013; Xiao & Huang, 2013; Xu & Wei, 2013; Zhang & Bian, 2013). Indeed, these articles are important in understanding the role of WeChat in the library and substantiating the recommendations presented here. METHODOLOGY RESEARCH METHOD This study uses content analysis to analyze texts, documents, webpages, and one-to-many message content. Data was analyzed in three stages. First, website content and hyperlinks were identi?ed. Second, one-to-many message content was classi?ed by purpose and features. Barriers and solutions were further summarized. The third step of the analysis evaluated the content using the quality evaluation framework developed in the subsection “Quality Appraisal”. RESEARCH SAMPLE There are 2138 regular universities in China (Ministry of Education of the People's Republic of China, 2012), which makes it dif?cult to analyze every university library completely. In China, local libraries face challenges when adopting WeChat tools, namely inadequate technical skills (unwillingness of librarians to accept new innovations or technology); inadequate awareness of the bene?ts; inadequate supportive policies, strategies, and plans; and inadequate ?nancial resources (Aharony, 2012; Baro, Ebiagbe, & Godfrey, 2013). It is inferred that some of these university libraries could face human resource or ?nancial restrictions, which may prevent them from engaging WeChat technology in their

library services. However, a few local university libraries recently made signi?cant strides in this ?eld (Kong et al., 2013, 2014). There are 39 top Chinese universities directly under the administration of the Ministry of Education in China that are designated for the national key construction of the “985 Project,” an important strategic development project for higher education institutions (HEIs) in China. These universities are encouraged by extravagant investment from the central government to become internationally renowned research universities; thus, they represent the highest level of higher education in China (Han & Liu, 2010). The sample for this study comprises these 39 academic libraries. Their librarians demonstrate a high level of information literacy and ability to implement new technology. The results of this study can serve as a model, providing rigorous recommendations or best practices for other libraries.

DATA COLLECTION To determine the use of WeChat of?cial account and obtain accurate data, the following steps were implemented: ? Step 1. Scanned 39 libraries' webpages manually, including the homepage, sub-pages (e.g., news, patrons service) to search for WeChat icons, QR codes, and opening announcements. The authors independently found WeChat applications with links from home pages or sub-columns. If no WeChat information was found, the authors proceeded to the next step. ? Step 2. Searched websites for words or phrases containing “Weixin” or “WeChat.” When the library website did not have a “search” function, “Google search” was used to search within the libraries' websites. An example is the WeChat site: In so doing, the of?cial WeChat accounts of Jilin University and Beijing Normal University Libraries were found. ? Step 3. Searched hosted libraries' WeChat accounts through the WeChat App using the keyword “library”—for the sake of recall, because some accounts used the abbreviated form of the name. By doing so, Renmin University of China and Central South University Libraries were found. ? Step 4. Consulted with librarians through virtual reference, e-mail or IM (if identi?ed as having applied for a WeChat account, they were no longer consulted). Data collection comprised two phases. The ?rst phase was from November 18, 2013 to November 20, 2013 during which overall pro?les were collected through the processes described above. The second phase followed all established platforms simultaneously, and was initially conducted on November 21, 2013. After collecting a month's worth of data content from the WeChat platforms of all libraries, the investigation ended on December 20, 2013. Meanwhile, the authors interacted with platforms to experience all service features, which were then extracted for coding.

FINDINGS THE STATUS OF OVERALL APPLICATIONS The survey found that 11 libraries had applied for a WeChat of?cial account, and about one third of academic libraries (11/39) used WeChat to promote library resources and services and to provide self-services such as catalogue searches, to check loans, renewals, recalls, browse history messages, or inquire about talks or available seats. Ten libraries had subscription accounts, while one had a service account (Shanghai JiaoTong University). Table 1 presents the data and summarizes the survey ?ndings and key characteristics of the 11 libraries.

24 Table 1 Summary of characteristics. U Functions WeChat ID Thu Pku Xmu Nju Sjtu Sdu Ruc Jlu Buaa Bnu Csu Thu-lib pkulib_1902 xmulib Njulibarary Sjtulib Sdu-lib Rmdxtsg Jlulib Buaalibrary Bnulibrary – I ? ? ? ? ? ? x x ? x x Intro ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? x ? ?

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Advanced functions V x ? x ? x x ? x ? x x O ? ? x ? x ? x ? ? x x T Apr. 8, 2013 Jun. 6, 2013 Oct. 17, 2013 May 27, 2013 Jun. 17, 2013 Sep. 9, 2013 Jun. 4, 2013 Aug. 26, 2013 Nov. 6, 2012 Nov. 6, 2012 un W ? ? ? ? x ? ? ? x ? ? P x x x x x x x x x ? x S un 2h 30 min un un un 24 h 24 h un un un B 37 11 28 12 0 0 7 19 0 30 0 N ? x ? ? ? ? x ? x x x SII ? x ? ? ? ? x ? x x x SEF ? x x ? ? x x x x x x K ? x ? x ? ? x x ? x ?

For ease of presentation, all categories of primary characteristics are extracted and coded in Table 1 as “?”for item reported or “x” for item not reported.5 A template code-sheet was developed based on the 14 key elements for the data collected in this study (Table 1). Characteristics were classi?ed into two broad categories, namely basic features/functions and advanced functions. Table 1 allows a general understanding of the pro?les of academic libraries using WeChat of?cial accounts. More detail is provided below. THE USAGE OF WECHAT IN LIBRARIES BASIC FEATURES AND FUNCTIONS Most library websites (64%, 7/11) conspicuously display a WeChat icon on the right or upper right in a ?xed position or a ?oating picture frame. The remaining four libraries do not place the icon on the homepage. Six libraries issued a notice about establishing WeChat of?cial accounts on their webpages. Five libraries display WeChat icons on their homepages and published news to inform users of this service. One interesting ?nding is that a menu of WeChat publication information campaigns has been added under the navigation bar for the service at Sdu Library, which indicates they attach great importance to the WeChat application. The of?cial accounts of all the libraries in this study, excepting Csu Library, have IDs. Regarding account logos, nine are the library badge or emblem, while the remaining two are custom logos. Ten libraries have added introduction items, which describe summaries, or promote resources and reference services. Tencent has only authenticated 36.4% (4/11) of the libraries' of?cial accounts. The WeChat of?cial accounts were established at Buaa and Bnu Libraries on November 6, 2012. Eight libraries developed of?cial accounts in 2013. It cannot be established when Csu Library opened its account because there was no opening announcement, message history, or response from reference staff to questions asked through their WeChat of?cial account. When applying for the account, 82% (9/11) include a welcome message when applying for account procedures, and 18% did not. An example of message content is “Welcome follower…library WeChat Of?cial Account, we will provide you with the latest various news and….” Only the Bnu Library WeChat of?cial account asks about the patron in the welcome information, which has been written to obtain data

needed for push group information targeted at different user types (undergraduates, graduates, international students, staff, and external users). Responding is optional. The results of this study also indicate that no libraries used private communication through the of?cial account to understand user data such as type, research orientation, and other public information of the patron. Thus, it is dif?cult to provide personalized service. The researchers' interaction with the services reveals that Xmu Library is the fastest—the librarian responded within 30 min— followed by Pku Library—response received within 2 h—and Jlu and Ruc Libraries—responses received the next day (within 24 h). The remaining seven libraries did not respond promptly to users' messages. This highlights a potential issue, in that librarians were still pushing information for resources and services during the no-response period, indicating that while they were logged into the of?cial account management system and could see users' messages, they did not reply. The number of push information messages is one to six item(s) at a time, one showing “view all,” and more than one referring to group messages (see subsection “Quality appraisal” for more detail). The minimum number of push information messages is 0 and the maximum is 37. Four libraries had no push information during the period their accounts were followed during the second phase of the data collection procedure. This section provided basic information, features, and basic functions of WeChat, which are relatively easy to implement, but very important. The following section summarizes and analyzes the advanced functions.

ADVANCED FEATURES AND FUNCTIONS NAVIGATION FEATURES In the absence of human intervention, the system automatically responds to information input by users. If the navigation service is not provided, the user does not know what words, letters, or numbers to enter to get information, and could be unsure of how to proceed, especially when using the system for the ?rst time. This means that automatic greetings by subscriptions saying, “We welcome you to use or follow the library Of?cial Account,” are meaningless, because no instruction is provided. Six libraries provide navigation services. Table 2 provides more detail.

5 Abbreviations: U, university library located; I, icon in library homepage; V, veri?ed account; O, opening announcement; T, time to provide service; W, welcome message; P, patrons type; S, reply to users' advisory speed; B, the volume of broadcast push information; N, navigation service; SII, self-inquiry information; SEF, self-service functions; K, keywordidenti?ed reference auto-responders; Un, unknown University; Thu, Tsinghua University; Pku, Peking University; Xmu, Xiamen University; Nju, Nanjing University; Sjtu, Shanghai Jiao Tong University; Sdu, Shandong University; Ruc, Renmin University of China; Jlu, Jilin University; Buaa, Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics; Bnu, Beijing Normal University; Csu, Central South University.

SELF-INQUIRY INFORMATION Users enter text, letters, or numbers in the dialogue box according to navigation instructions for notices, talks, and seat information inquiries. The WeChat of?cial account management system automatically replies according to set modules, such as “announcement,” “lecture,” or “seats” when followers input the words or letters in the chat window. If the system does not match the information input by a user, librarians can send a one-to-one communication. Six libraries add self-inquiry information capabilities for users to conveniently access the latest news and events or common aspects of the library through the WeChat App.

J. Xu et al. / The Journal of Academic Librarianship 41 (2015) 21–30 Table 2 A custom message received when following the library of?cial account and navigation service. Library Sdu Library Welcome message upon following the account Welcome follower…! Dear users, need to know something? Give me a hint/tip on opening hours or circulation. Please enter what content you want to know more about, or reply “daohang” (note: Navigation Pinyin) to understand more about all the functions. Hello, welcome…If you have any questions on using the library, an inquiry service is available through the QQ group, reference desk, or homepage (author added: lists the three patterns). Enter “help” to know more. Numbers 1–6 are instructions. Navigation features (instruction)


Jlu Library

Thu Library

Welcome…What can I do for you? Regularly publish newspapers Library services interactive Service navigation Enter numbers 1–5 for more details.

Xmu Library

Nju Library

Welcome information, services offered, suggestions and comments, and send a message to the mailbox. This is important for collecting feedback through the library WeChat of?cial account. Enter “h” or “help” to view more details. Welcome information Features Navigation

Sjtu Library

No automatic greeting

Circulation: borrowing service Visit: Understanding learning spaces Mobile: Learn more about the mobile library Notice: Learn the latest noti?cation Activities: Learn more about the library's latest events 1. About the library 2. Opening hours 3. Number and length of loans 4. Search catalogue and check my loans by signing in “My Account” 5. Collection location 6. Interlibrary loan service Note: Numbers 1, 2, 3, 5, and 6 introduce you to using the library. Numbers 2 and 3 are for the number and length of loans for different users. Number 4 is the URL from which to download and install bibliographic search software, not the OPAC system integrated into the WeChat platform. Enter the following for help: 1: Common information, enter Chinese words or phonetic abbreviation: hours, collections layout, news, electronic resources, seminars, training, teaching, lecture hall, donations, and other general information inquiries; 2: Frequently asked questions about borrowing, keywords including recall, renewals, due for return reminder, all circulation descriptions. 3: Search catalogue and check my loans through university ID card. Enter appropriate instruction format such as keywords, title, or author to inquire about books. Other formats are not recognized. 4: Query popular journals. Enter 2, 3, or 4 to learn more about set keywords. You do not need to enter these numbers, but can also obtain self-inquiry information by settled keywords or self-service function, like renewal, recall. To display the functions list and information inquiry keywords, enter “h.” Announcements, seminars, training, seats, and collection inquiries. Keywordidenti?ed reference auto-responders were added on December 8, 2013. Command code is ZX + space + consulting content. Users can automatically receive reference responses. 00: Recent seminars 11: Latest online bibliographic databases TSG: university ID card account for binding; only for ?rst time log in/use. CX: Check my loans XJ: Renewals CS: Catalogue search Custom menus: my loan information, my appointment lectures, my assistant librarian, purchasing suggestions, my appointment space (use these functions. First link to your identity information through OPAC hyperlinks for identi?cation); Siyuan explore: resources retrieval, journals navigation, and FAQs. These are hyperlinks to the corresponding section of the library website pages. Wikipedia quiz uses an auto-response feature and keywords, similar to an intelligent robot service. News: news announcements, training seminars, weekend theater, and borrow ranking.

SELF-SERVICE FUNCTION Here, users self-check loans, search the catalogue, recall, renew loans, report losses, change passwords, and other services. These functions can be attributed to self-managed functions, because they pertain to OPAC capabilities and are integrated into the WeChat of?cial account platform. Only three libraries include a self-service process. These functions are implemented by using the application programming interface (API) provided by the Tencent WeChat platform through programming design. Thus, the technical requirements may be too advanced for librarians, which could be why fewer libraries offer the service. KEYWORD-IDENTIFIED REFERENCE AUTO-RESPONDERS The of?cial account sets keywords and answers to frequently asked questions, which the system automatically matches to respond according to a user's input. The difference between information inquiries and keyword-identi?ed auto-responses is not obvious. However, Xmu Library adds a consulting auto-response service, which requires users to enter “zixun” (advisory Pinyin) or “zx” plus keywords for recognition. Two libraries have no navigation service or self-inquiry information, but do provide a consulting automatic reply. For example, after the author entered keywords, Buaa Library of?cial account replied, “Do not worry, teachers will reply to your message.” Csu Library uses a ?xed response:

“If you did not see my reply, do not be sad, I'm just napping,” to which the researcher replied: “Well, you take a break.” After a few days—the librarian had not responded to the query—another message was sent: “Have you not woken up?” The three functions described above are self-service or autoresponse features available through the WeChat App. These include automatic greetings on becoming a follower, after-hours auto-response messages, keyword-identi?cation auto-responses, self-inquiry information, and self-service functions. Based on the analysis of the basic and advanced features of library WeChat of?cial accounts, the purposes for using various features can be classi?ed as shown in Table 3. Using four types of interaction on libraries' SNSs (Chen, Chu, & Xu, 2012; Zhang et al., 2013), a classi?cation of Web2.0 applications for libraries (Chua & Goh, 2010), and a combination of Han and Liu's (2010) examination of the main purposes and features of using Web2.0 tools and Chu and Du's (2013) purposes for using social networking tools, we delineated 5 categories and 26 items by which to analyze interactive content types and purposes of library WeChat of?cial accounts. Since there are fewer one-to-many messages in one month, the authors also reviewed message history before November 20, 2013 for content classi?cation, thus avoiding omitting important content and columns.


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The development of the checklist was adapted from and synthesized ideas from the literature above. The checklist is a list of features and criteria that emerged from the content analysis of literature pertaining to social media in libraries and the unique features of WeChat. The checklist—as instrument—can be used to evaluate social media application in the library, indicate the status and purpose of applications, and collect research data. Table 3 explains the ?ve types of interaction. Unlike Facebook, Twitter, Sina, Tencent Weibo, and Q-zone, response record and follows as well as the content of a user's exchanges cannot be seen by other users in WeChat of?cial accounts, even though it is within the contacts. Only librarians can see these items after logging into WeChat to ensure privacy. Second, this platform broadcasts public information to all followers; however, if the user responds through a video call, real-time voice intercom, or a picture or text message it reverts to a one-to-one model where the conversation is between the librarian and responder, not among users. The content analyzed in this study is broadcast by libraries, as we cannot analyze the content of users' interactions with library of?cial WeChat accounts. To determine libraries' interactions with users on WeChat, the sampled one-to-many information was summarized as a percentage based on interaction type (see Table 4). Table 4 shows that more than 90% of the sampled data is information dissemination, except for new book listings. Self-inquiry information services and keyword-identi?ed auto-responses account for more than half the sample. As such, libraries use the unique features of the WeChat of?cial account relatively fully. Meanwhile, self-service functions account for 27.8% of the sample, as it is dif?cult to implement this feature. Overall, libraries have substantially implemented the self-service feature, although it is not as prominent as information dissemination. In comparison, communication between libraries and users (36.4%) is not as frequent as information dissemination and self-service features. In addition, the authors observed that only text messages are used, while voice/video messaging and sharing links or photos have not been explored. Like YouTube, voice/video messaging can effectively be used to share tutorials, user guides, lectures, and for promotional advertising of library services. Similarly, image/photo sharing can be used for sharing pictures and images of library personnel and events, that is, seminars, conferences, and exhibitions. This is also another medium for sharing rare picture collections and promotional ?yers with library users, similar to Flickr (Sha?que & Riedling, 2013). Finally, the results for knowledge sharing and information acquisition interactions are similar. The authors note that knowledge sharing includes different types of interaction, such as memories of the library, biographies of excellent scholars, and special collections exhibitions.

The following is a representative sample of content and purpose: The Thu Library has rich content, such as memories of the library, interviews with scholars, and special collections. The content of Xmu Library's account includes instructions on database usage, guides on library usage, video sharing (except for information dissemination), and a feature to apply for reading space lockers through the WeChat of?cial account. Thu and Pku Libraries send noti?cations on new and recommended books. For Xmu and Thu Libraries, the last push noti?cations were instructions on WeChat usage and calls for papers with lucky draw prizes. Furthermore, they constantly push usage tips and gather recommendations to familiarize users with the operation, enhance user experience, and engage users in participating in the library scene. QUALITY APPRAISAL The study speci?es six categories on which to evaluate the quality of interaction content delivered by WeChat, namely volume of information, information content quality, concordance rate, frequency, selfservices, and basic features. In addition, content quality is a measure of content functionality. Based on Chua and Goh's (2010) quality evaluation framework for library websites, content functionality and service provision can be conceived of in terms of six dimensions: timeliness, usefulness, usability, interactivity, playfulness, and aesthetic appeal. For timeliness, information is current, secure, and timely. Usefulness refers to the understandability and appropriate volume of information provided. Usability is affected by WeChat navigation or menu organization to support browsing, searching, and keyword identi?cation. This dimension refers to the ease and speed with which users can use WeChat by providing guidelines or help information or concise menus. Interactivity is the extent to which users can exchange information and librarians can respond to users' questions promptly or, if not, through auto-responses by WeChat. Playfulness stems from the devices that appeal to users by offering fun and enjoyment. Examples include browsing information for pleasure in accordance with the language and psychology of users, and occasionally using online slang. Aesthetic appeal is the use of fonts, colors, layout, and graphics in WeChat to attract users. If the provided information is deemed unattractive, users are unlikely to remain there for long, regardless of content quality or usefulness. To effectively meet the different information needs and mounting expectations of users, Library WeChat of?cial platforms have to maintain high service quality, and ongoing maintenance and updates. The concordance rate is the proportion of the number of total push information and information similar to that on the library website. A

Table 3 Five types of interaction on libraries' WeChat. Purposes Information acquisition Description/De?nition Harvesting information (feedback, suggestions) from individual users to improve library services and academic research. Sample references Welcome to the survey; Welcome to contribute\comments\suggestions on the use of functions of the Library WeChat Of?cial Account; Journal subscriptions are works in progress. If you have recommended journals, contact me directly. Call for WeChat Prizes New online resource listings; Borrowing regulation adjustments for the Winter 2014 vacation My college, my library: library memories; Guide on WeChat usage; Sharing videos on activities Things on Weibo; Tips for Library Design Competition Submission The remaining seats enquiry; Check my loan; Frequently asked questions

Information dissemination Knowledge sharing Communication Self-service

Promotion of library events and dissemination of news Librarians or users share information resources with others

For any questions or concerns regarding using the library, please consult a librarian. Self-inquiry information, self-service functions, and keyword-identi?ed autoresponses

Note: The ?ve types of interaction are not exclusive to one another, which mean one item could contain more than one type of interaction.

J. Xu et al. / The Journal of Academic Librarianship 41 (2015) 21–30 Table 4 Content on libraries' WeChat: 26 interactions. Purposes/Content classi?cation Information acquisition Access to users' ideas and comments on WeChat Questionnaire Purchase suggestions Information dissemination Library news Publicizing events Publicizing lectures Latest trial materials Latest acquisition resource New book notice Knowledge sharing Sharing links Sharing photos Sharing videos Instructions/guides for library usage Knowledge sharing (continued) Recommended reading Instructions for database usage Instructions for WeChat usage One's memories/history of the library Biography of excellent scholars Special collections exhibition Communication Interaction with users online Reference services on WeChat Text-based chat Voice/Video chat Self-service Self-inquiry information Self-service function Keyword-identi?ed auto-response Note: N.: number of libraries; P: percentage of total. N. 2 2 1 P 18.2 18.2 9.1


a higher service quality was found for Xmu, Pku, Nju, Sjtu, Thu, Rcu, and Bnu Libraries' of?cial accounts based on the above mentioned dimensions. However, it was also determined that there is still some way to go. DISCUSSION Overall, eight (72.7%) libraries reported at least seven of the 14 elements. Among the ten basic functions, where the minimum amount of basic information services and features is two and the maximum is nine, 11 libraries displayed signi?cant differences. Only two libraries utilize all four advanced features—navigation service, self-inquiry information, self-service functions, and keyword-identi?ed reference autoresponders—and three libraries provide self-service functions. Although all samples are “985 Project” universities, WeChat is currently not widely applied as a new mobile social media tool. Some libraries have not applied for WeChat of?cial accounts; perhaps because their universities have of?cial accounts, for example, the Nankai University WeChat of?cial account often publicizes library-related news and events. Four libraries do not include the WeChat icon on their homepages, which could be because of webpage changes. Here, as a form is added to the page, Cascading Style Sheet (CSS) code could result in a disorderly display in different browsers. This is unlikely to attract user attention and will make the site seem unprofessional; after all, users often use libraries' of?cial websites to retrieve online collections. The WeChat QR code is displayed at the bottom of Sjtu Library's main page and is dif?cult for users to ?nd. After completing the draft paper, the authors observed that a new version of the homepage had been tested from the library's WeChat of?cial account. In the new version, the WeChat QR code was displayed on the right side of the homepage with Sjtu Library's Sina Weibo link. By analyzing announcements, we discovered that the main purposes for using WeChat of ? cial accounts are to expand reciprocal communication channels and to provide convenient access to information and real-time interaction with users. Meanwhile, users can give feedback on various problems encountered when using the service. Essentially, libraries utilize WeChat to release news and virtual reference services through text, voice intercom, or voice messages. The of?cial account for Xmu Library currently boasts more than 500 users, while Jlu Library has more than 2300 users through WeChat reference. However, Tencent has not yet authorized a veri?ed account for either library. Although the WeChat icon or logo is not on Ruc Library's website, it has been certi?ed, and has reached 3126 users. This indicates that other promotional approaches are working well, such as the reference desk or distribution of promotional materials to reach the wider user community. If accounts are not authenticated for a long time, the credibility of information released, the enthusiasm of user interaction, and user anxiety regarding information security and privacy due to representation of the institution's authority in the minds of users will be in?uenced. User data collected from the interaction between users and WeChat can be used to classify users into different groups, and then provide them with personalized one-to-many information services grouped by characteristic. The surveyed libraries do not use this service much, indicating that the capability of group subdivision within social media is not fully utilized to provide accurate, targeted information services. Meanwhile, librarians should be careful and appropriate when developing this function so that they do not seem to prey on user privacy (Connell, 2009). On average, there is 93% predictability across all users through data analytics (Barabási, 2010). With regard to response time, some libraries were quicker than others. For example, we noted that the reference staff at Bnu Library pushes new resources on Saturdays, during which time there was no response to our queries. Perhaps, there are so many user reference items that librarians' responses are an urgent and important advisory priority. On the other hand, the WeChat of?cial account is currently limited to

10 10 10 10 10 2

90.9 90.9 90.9 90.9 90.9 18.2

0 0 1 1

0 0 9.1 9.1

2 1 2 1 1 2

18.2 9.1 18.2 9.1 9.1 18.2

4 4 4 0

36.4 36.4 36.4 0

6 3 6

54.5 27.8 54.5

concordance rate of 100% indicates that push content is entirely from library website columns. Frequency equals the total volume of information divided by 30, indicating information within 30 days of the push frequency. This does not mean that a higher frequency improves information disseminated. A higher frequency may cause interruptions and annoyance, which is why Tencent restricts clients to only one push message a day. Sjtu, Buaa, and Csu Libraries' WeChat of?cial accounts do not have one-to-many message records and no history messages; thus, they are not summarized. Sdu Library pushed no one-to-many messages during certain periods: the library pushed 15 items 15 times between September 9 and November 15. Of these push noti?cations, 12 originated from the library website news and events, which is a concordance rate of 80%. Browsing various website pages, the researchers found that the last release was also November 15. The date and content were the same, indicating slower updates. The ?ndings in Table 5 reveal that one-to-many information is sent every 2.5 to 5 days on average. Some libraries release information about new collections and lists, or publicize library events and news through WeChat one week to one month later than on the library website. Lack of timeliness, poor communication may cause user dissatisfaction. Table 5 lists three objective quality indicators, namely number, concordance rate, and frequency. Volume of information, self-services, and maintaining basic features are as in Table 1. In addition, future work will investigate a large number of users across the six dimensions of content quality measurements for the sake of objectivity. Otherwise, researchers' subjective judgment and feelings may be infused into the evaluation process of this paper. Although these indicators have no ?gure range, it is important when they are combined to evaluate the library's service quality. Overall,

28 Table 5 Three objective quality indicators. Library Thu Library Pku Library Xmu Library Nju Library Sdu Library Rcu Library Jlu Library Bnu Library

J. Xu et al. / The Journal of Academic Librarianship 41 (2015) 21–30

Concordance rate 56.8% (21/37) 77.8% (7/9) 50% (14/28) 100% (12/12) 80% (12/15) 57.1% (4/7) 77.8% (14/18) 93.3% (28/30)

The number of times 12 9 7 7 0 6 9 12

Frequency 0.4 (2.5 days on average) 0.3 (approximately 3 days on average) 0.23 (approximately 4 days on average) 0.23 (approximately 4 days on average) 0 0.2 (5 days on average) 0.3 (approximately 3 days on average) 0.4 (2.5 days on average)

only one administrator at a time, so more than one reference librarian cannot simultaneously provide reference services. This may be another reason for delayed or no responses. This basic information comprises important methods to publicize the library and attract more subscribers. Users can easily search and identify library WeChat of?cial accounts; thus, it is essential to manage and maintain them. Instructions and a menu are types of navigation services. The advantage of a menu is that it is clear and concise regarding the provision of services and features, and does not require inputting instructions for interaction. The Rcu Library of?cial account added three custom menus in March 2014 (although it did not include advanced features during the data collection period). Functions include reserving seats and research rooms online through the university ID card, library catalogue search, and news and opening hour inquiries through the WeChat App. This re?ects the idea of user-centered service, and enables constant improvement of service quality. Similarly, Sjtu Library's of?cial WeChat account is a service account; users can enter information or voice messages for consultation and select any of the menu's various capabilities (see Table 2). As seen for Rcu and Sjtu Libraries, subscription accounts and service accounts both include setup menus similar to webpage navigation methods. As shown in Tables 3 and 4, these ?ndings imply a shift in WeChat mobile social media, which were previously found to be different (Baro et al., 2013; Chen et al., 2012; Chu & Du, 2013; Zhang et al., 2013). WeChat is helpful in self-servicing users, as it can generate auto-responses using keyword recognition (FAQ) in real time, equivalent to a reference librarian, especially when users interact with social media. It can also be utilized for catalogue searches, to check loans, renewals, recalls, receive real-time noti?cation of events, review history messages, inquire about talks or vacant seats, and to share knowledge. Libraries can also use API and custom menus provided by WeChat to integrate library application systems and various businesses, and position the library of?cial account as the library's mobile portal. Other applications can be integrated including OPAC, digital resource database searches, seat management systems, seat and room reservations, barrier access controls, etc. This can achieve a high level of interaction and selfinquiry information functions. Users and librarians can also communicate one-to-one through voice intercom or video in the high-speed mobile internet era. This is more lucid and intuitive than text responses, and more similar to in-depth interview exchanges. In addition, with the development of the WeChat of?cial account service itself, selflearning arti?cial intelligence technology may be added enabling the auto-response feature to deliver a quality user experience. These features and services comprise the biggest differences and advantages compared to other social media. Table 4 summarizes additional purposes for using WeChat, which are similar to other social media tools, including disseminating information on new collection lists, publicizing library events and news (e.g., events alerts, library updates, seminars, training courses, exhibitions, competitions, talks, tutorials), and providing online reference services. Most importantly, however, users browse the received information in real time with vibration/sound reminders, and automatically store it in their smartphones for future access.

The study also found that most libraries, currently, do not make full use of WeChat's capabilities. Many libraries are only in the initial stage of implementation. For example, Csu Library's WeChat account is at a standstill: neither providing services, nor promptly responding to users' questions, which may lead to a loss of users and ultimately to an inactive, useless account. If WeChat of?cial accounts are not operated to a suf?cient standard, they may as well not exist in the eyes of the user. Attracting librarians and users to participate and actively promote the service is important. On the other hand, most libraries constantly try to add new features and fully exploit WeChat's capabilities. They can integrate the service and information technology, and can serve as a model for other libraries to follow by providing best practices. For example, Xmu Library integrates a seat management system into the WeChat of?cial account via API enabling users to check remaining seats and informing them whether they can use the library. They can determine their best option before visiting the library, particularly during exam period. The survey also indicates that the WeChat of?cial accounts of 11 libraries in this study do not have an English version, although WeChat has support for users in many countries. This is detrimental to international student inclusion. It was also observed that there are no one-to-many voice/video messages, only text-based messages. This can be attributed to a complex production process, which necessitates professional skills before uploading to WeChat for release. In contrast, the user can easily send voice or video information to the of?cial account, by merely holding the button to send a voice recording. Therefore, professional librarians are needed to manage and maintain the WeChat platform, which may explain why only 11 libraries have implemented this service so far. For example, Liu, from Bnu Library, is specializing in delivering WeChat services to users. An important issue in this discussion involves the library image, in other words, people's perceptions of libraries and librarians. Only a few libraries have managed to build a brand name and be recognizable worldwide (Garoufallou, Siatri, Zafeiriou, & Balampanidou, 2013). Rossiter (2008) and Potter (2012) discussed the importance of branding in libraries. Branding is also very important on social media, as it enables libraries to reach a wider audience. This can help libraries receive more ?nancial support from the nation or university. Push information sent from WeChat may differ from information on the library website. Importantly, information appropriate to users is shared and disseminated through WeChat of?cial accounts for marketing purposes and to post announcements that are potentially interesting to subscribers, such as feedback and suggestions, common tips for using the library, famous scholars, database introductions, tips, exam tips, important news, and season's greetings. This enhances user interaction and communication, and increasing satisfaction with the service. Frequency of push information should be appropriate, although there is no exact ?gure. LIMITATIONS This study is limited in several ways. Information sent to the WeChat platform can only be browsed by librarians after Login. Therefore, we could only see the information disseminated by librarians, not that between users and librarians, although the authors subscribed to the

J. Xu et al. / The Journal of Academic Librarianship 41 (2015) 21–30


entire library of?cial account to gain an interactive experience. In addition, the sample comprised only 39 libraries; thus, the results may not represent all academic libraries in China. It would perhaps be useful to examine other types of libraries alongside academic ones. CONCLUSION This investigation outlined the application of of?cial WeChat accounts in the top 39 university libraries in China. The focus was on overall status, features, potential issues, content, purposes, and quality dimensions. The study provided these libraries with helpful information to better understand their peers' application of WeChat technology. In addition, other interested groups can use these research results when planning WeChat for their libraries. Furthermore, researchers and information professionals may ?nd this research useful if they intend to conduct research relating to emerging mobile social media in libraries. As mentioned in the analysis, on the one hand, most libraries are in the initial stage of WeChat application. It is hoped that libraries comprehensively utilize WeChat's capabilities such as self-services, integration with various library information systems, one-to-one communication (e.g., online reference services by text, voice message, voice intercom, or even video), and one-to-many communication. On the other hand, at the time of this paper's completion, we reinvestigated our sample and observed that most libraries had already improved and added many functions to their accounts; thus, they had evolved over time. They stay abreast of technology development through critical thinking, leadership support, librarians' literacy, and improvement of technical knowledge. In addition, another nine academic libraries began providing a WeChat service during the period between delivery and revision. More than half the “985 Project” libraries (20/39) focus on using mobile social media tools. This trend suggests it might be inevitable for libraries to use WeChat for their services such as offering responses to inquiries, self-services, marketing and publicity, improving reference services, and enhancing knowledge sharing activities. While often used in China's top academic libraries, WeChat of?cial accounts are somewhat less prevalent compared to different parts of the world on the use of other social media tool applications such as Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter to promote services, collection, events, and resources (Aharony, 2012; Boateng & Liu, 2014; Chua & Goh, 2010; Han & Liu, 2010; Linh, 2008; Mahmood & Richardson, 2011; Saw et al., 2013). Indeed, libraries adopting this emerging technology will need time to overcome the challenges or barriers mentioned. This distinguishes the App from those SNSs launched earlier, which have already extensively been used in libraries. Similar to Facebook, WeChat may prove to be a successful outreach tool (Vassilakaki & Garoufallou, 2014). Therefore, it is important that librarians understand how to best harness the platform to enhance library service practices with the critical, creative, collaborative, and communicative capabilities required in their professions (Zohoorian-Fooladi & Abrizah, 2014). Libraries should take advantage of the plentiful, freely accessible tools to reach this growing and untapped area. Future work in this area will examine cognition and attitudes toward libraries using WeChat across different user types, such as librarians, faculty, and students (including international students). REFERENCES
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