Are We Welcome At The Party

Kathryn Wymer’s Chronicle piece took me back to a recent discussion on COLLIB-L about online social communities such as MySpace.com and Facebook. Bill Drew announced that he was going to create a profile for his library in these spaces. That led to some discussion about the relative merits of placing a profile (tantamount to an ad?) of one’s academic library in virtual spaces that are clearly more about social interaction and connecting with friends than academic endeavors. I suggested that it could be viewed by students as an imposition by an unwelcome outsider on their social space. If you think positioning the library in MySpace or Facebook is a good way to connect with your student population, what’s stopping you from handing out your business card at the local pub on Friday nights when your students are partying. When you put it that way invading students’ social spaces, in physical or virtual ways, seems rather awkward if not downright creepy. As Wymer found, she was not readily accepted and it may be that students do want to separate the technology tools that serve as social spaces from those used for their studies. For those who do want to experiment with outreach to students in those social communities, I wish you luck – and look forward to your candid assessment of the experience.

9 thoughts on “Are We Welcome At The Party

  1. A couple of thoughts….Establishing a presence, either as an individual or as a library, in one of these online spaces, which students may think of as “their own” but which are actually open to many others (anyone can join MySpace, and fac/staff/alumns can join Facebook), seems much less invasive than “handing out your business card at the local pub.”

    That said, we did have an interesting conversation about Facebook at my library, where one of our student workers enthusiastically started a Facebook group of students who “heart our library” while another recoiled at the thought of the unholy union of library and Facebook.

    I’ve also heard anecdotes of students posting unflattering comments about professors and college staff on Facebook, only to be surprised later to learn that the targets of their comments could and did read these spaces. Whoops! Another information literacy moment….

    As for the “tantamount to an ad” point….well, if you’ve ever been on MySpace or Friendster and seen the barrage of advertising that claims about 75% of the screen….

    I found the Chronicle article interesting as well. Having staffed an IM reference service at a college library, I found students very ready & willing to interact with (anonymous) librarians through this medium. I saw many of the same things the author described–revealing screen names, music clips, etc. It’s probably less daunting to a student to open up this part of their identity to an anonymous entity (we didn’t ask for or collect personally identifying information) than to their professor, who, presumably, would place a real person with the screen name.

    I think it is smart for librarians as individuals to experiment with these tools, both because they can be fun and useful for us personally AND because we can learn a lot about students’ communication and information-seeking habits this way. That said, it’s always good to ask the kinds of questions being asked here before jumping in on an institutional level. Definitely talk to students & get their thoughts! And I look forward to hearing from libraries who have taken the plunge.

    Thanks for this thought-provoking post.

  2. In a recent meeting with a student here, we were actually invited to the party — the student offered to publicize library tours for undergraduates (a need HE identified) and also suggested that he could advertise this on Facebook. He did not hesitate. It’s what came naturally to him.

  3. I forgot to mention this before, but a librarian colleague of mine actually did hand out his business card at the local pub the other night! Our waitress was an undergrad at our university, overheard our conversation, and asked if we worked at UMass. We said yes. Her major is in my colleague’s liaison area. They got to chatting about Shakespeare criticism, and the transaction ended with him giving her his business card. Yes, pub life in a college town….

  4. Even if it is an ad (and I’m not certain I agree) why would placing an ad be a bad thing? If I had the budget, I’d put an ad in the student newspaper everyday! As is, I did put one of the student group-sponsored textbook exchange/sale website and we put up posters in the campus busses. (Less expensive options.)

    The Chronicle piece that prompts a lot of this current discussion… I just keep wondering if the students didn’t like the instructor in “their space” or if it is because of the parameters the instructor put on her use (she admits her own challenges with the technology and I kept wanting her to ask her students what they thought rather than just continue to conjecture about it)? At UIUC, our IM virtual reference traffic keeps going up, the Undergrad Library has over 300 friends in Facebook, etc. The undergrad student survey has multiple comments of “I love the library!” I think the empirical evidence is they are happy we found the party ……

  5. Last night at a library planning forum, our undergraduate students enthusiastically invited us into “their” space on Facebook. We had asked them about the best way to communicate with them about library news & events, and they all at once looked at each other, nodded, and said “Facebook!” One of the students added that, “Everybody checks it at least 3-4 times a day.”

    I asked a follow-up question about the blogs we’ve been maintaining for the past couple of years. The first response was, “What’s a blog?” I tried to briefly explain, but several in the room were clueless about the concept. (“Don’t you have to download software to read those?” “Don’t you have to be invited to read them?”) One student spoke up and said, “Blogs are a niche. The students who know about them know about all of them, but lots of others have no idea. Facebook would be a better way to reach everybody.” Another student mentioned that the upcoming campus portal might work too.

    I’m curious as to whether any libraries have experimented with adding a Facebook-type function to their campus portals…We’re also planning for library functions in our portal at this point. Any comments/ideas? jharwell@uab.edu

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