What Students Think Of Authority Figures In Facebook

In researching an article about Facebook use that appears in the latest issue of University Business, the author interviewed college students about Facebook and their use of this social network. Some of the answers are revealing. When asked if they think college faculty or administrators (librarians could fit into either category) should use Facebook or MySpace here is what students had to say:

“No. College faculty and administrators are there to be professional and, well, administrative. Facebook and MySpace, to me, are seen more for fun and a way to keep in touch with people that you don’t see every day or to find old friends. If our professors need to get in touch with us, they should e-mail us.”

“I don’t think it is appropriate for them to try very hard to be buddy-buddy with me, or know my personal business.”

“Facebook is primarily for me, my friends, and occasionally cruising purposes. It’s not for my enemies, it’s not for my parents, and when I get on Facebook I don’t hope that my logic professor, or the president of the college, saw my status today.”

“For the most part, no. I’d much rather they stay out of it. However, I do have one professor who is known for being fairly hip. He’s on Facebook and I have no problem with this because I know he’s not going to abuse that position.”

Whenever I’ve directly asked students this same sort of question – do they think I should have a Facebook page – I’ve received similar responses. It can range from a flat out “don’t even go there” to a “You can create a profile but I won’t look at it” reaction. This leaves me puzzled because according to a number of library pundits I should be in Facebook, MySpace or both, and the reason is because that’s where the students are. So who am I to believe? The students or the pundits? I’ve been thinking about this since I first blogged about where academic librarians might fit into the student social networking scene.

I think neither group may be all right or all wrong. My thinking is that a librarian profile in Facebook will like work best when some form of personal contact has already been made, and there is a working relationship with the student(s). In other words, if a face-to-face connection has been made, it could be extended to a social network. But just going in cold with no student connections – that’s not likely to result in much serious attraction to the profile. In other words, if you want to give this a try, first find out if your students are likely to pay your profile much attention at all. Otherwise you might end up with a few “friends”, but none that really would want to develop the type of working relationship we’d like.

11 thoughts on “What Students Think Of Authority Figures In Facebook

  1. I have some different (anecdotal) experiences to offer. Last fall, at our library, we had a student panel (to talk about IT and website issues in the library), and when directly asked what they think about librarians and such being in Facebook, they said, “It’s fine, our profs are there, you can be there too.”

    More compelling was another group of students this spring. A first year student, when hearing about all the library has to offer that he didn’t know about, said, “Can’t you put this stuff in Facebook?” Especially the youngest college students, who live in Facebook like we live in email, expect much of their lives to be there. They use it as a personal calendar, too. I saw one student jokingly comment that she didn’t do anything anymore that wasn’t a Facebook event.

    I agree you have to have a personal relationship first–which is how Facebook works for most students, anyway. Every student who is my “friend” is someone with whom I had contact in person or via email first. I also had a student who, after seeing my profile and seeing some of my own interests, emailed me to get together and talk about some similar interests. We had a great 45 minute chat in the library coffee shop. So our relationship developed because of Facebook.

    I also think a comfort and familiarity with Facebook (which you can only get by really using it, not by just setting up a profile and disappearing) helps me understand how students are living and functioning. The more I use it, the more I get it.

    Facebook may be evolving like IM. It was weird to students when they started thinking about using IM for reference help. Now they love it. As long as we’re not spying on students, and they can trust us, it’s a great way to connect.

    (And while I’m no pundit… I did actually give a talk partly about my experience in Facebook to a bunch of librarians last week!)

  2. 30 years ago, the United States was overtaken with the CB radio fad. What had previously been a tool for truckers suddenly became a must-have toy for the everday motorists. The fad reached the peak of absurdity when Betty Ford went on the air, using the handle “First Mama,” and urged CB users to vote for her late husband in an upcoming primary. Despite this mania and the FCC’s scrambling to add more channels for CB traffic, the fad was over by the end of the decade, and numerous CB radios gathered dust in basements or became garage sale fodder.

    To the best of my knowledge, no library was silly enough to attempt reference via CB radio, but for some reason librarians and educational administrators seem to feel obliged to try to adopt every new medium that comes their way. While some new media, including this one — the Web — are enduring and transformative, a great many are simply today’s version of CB radio. Let’s not rush to adopt something that may simply be an embarrasing memory a few years from now.

  3. I think two things are getting conflated here. The quoted students (quite justifiably) uncomfortable with the notion that the grown-ups are checking up on them, trolling their profiles for untoward behavior. Their belief that Facebook is a protected, consequence-free space may be naive, but clearly Facebook snoop isn’t a role for librarians to be playing, regardless of what you think of anyone else doing it. That’s not the same thing, however, as creating a presence and letting the students come to you, and I would expect them to find it less threatening.

  4. I actually wrote a posting about my experience with starting a MySpace account last year. As I outline there, I had good intentions, but I ended up using MySpace as a way to meet people who share my avocational interests. I did not use it at all to network with students, or with other library professionals.

    Although I ultimately deleted my original account, I recently started a new account under my own name. However, I have made my account private, and I have no illusions about using it as any kind of professional tool. In fact, I would say that I share the same attitudes as the students mentioned above.

  5. I completely agree with your final observation, Steven — a Facebook profile will not work without initial face-to-face interaction. I’ve had a Facebook account for some time now, and I have fielded reference questions through it — but only from students that have met me through course-integrated instruction or individual research consultations. I also provide easy access to the profile itself: I’m ‘registered’ for courses in my field, and there’s a link to my profile from the class’s research guide (which in turn is linked from their course management software site).

  6. I also feel it is important that we don’t present ourselves as authority figures. Administrators and professors relationships with students are defined by their positions of authority. Professors control grades and administrators make and enforce rules. Do librarians perform these tasks as a core part of our job? Certainly we have often portrayed ourselves as uptight rule makers, but this is perception is changing in many academic libraries. It has always been our goal to have students feel safe asking us reference questions in confidentiality and it is important that we maintain or create this trust in online services. Again, this point was one of the primary points of the scale at the bottom of my concept model:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/habibmi/318027173/

  7. Generally the views students tend to have about social networking sites is that its designated just for them and their age groups, and often harbour a close ended view on “others” interacting with them online. The question of educators on facebook etc to students is that of an invasion of privacy. From past conversations with fellow students and reinforced with the first 3 paragraphs of student views in the article; its been that of educator-student relationships should remain professional and not “buddy buddy”. Although other students have sought to differ; remaining optimistic that social networking sites have the opportunities to better learning experiences and improve student-educator relationships. How this issue is approached is the answer!

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