Facebook or Facadebook?

From time to time a discussion on a list such as ILI-L generates a post so intriguing that I think it deserves a wider audience. (Not that ILI-L doesn’t have a wide audience; it has over 4,700 members!) I was so struck by Camilla Baker’s comments on Facebook – especially how her mayor uses it, as a real person, not an office – that I asked her to write a guest post for ACRLog. Thanks to Camilla for taking me up on it! –Barbara Fister

Facebook or Facadebook? My Ediface Complex
by Camilla Baker
Reese Library/Augusta State University

For the past three years or so, there has been on and off discussion of social networks on ili-l@ala.org. The thrust of these discussions has usually had to do with how academic libraries can exploit Facebook/MySpace/Whatever to connect with college students. It used to be that corporate entities couldn’t have presence on Facebook. You had to be a person. But, some of those restrictions now have workarounds of various types. A common thread with most of these discussions, including the one last week (4/20-4/24), was whether it is appropriate for ’authority figures’ to be on these social networks, and whether students welcome our presence in their playground.

I’d like to talk about the ‘authority figures not welcome’ part of the last Facebook thread. It’s not all authority figures, it’s just the ones that individual students don’t know. The friending issue is pretty literal. Students will want to friend people that — hold on to your hats — they’re already friends with. If the university library can’t get students in the door under their own steam, they’re not going to get them on Facebook, either.

Now, having said that, I have a couple of anecdotes to share.

1) I’ve been a librarian for 30 years, so I’m not a native member of the e-generation; to them, I’m old. All my e-knowledge has been learned as an adult. I have two sons, 18 and 20. Back in ’06 when they were both in high school, they were the ones who encouraged me to join Facebook, and they were my first friends. For the first several years, my Fb friend base was composed largely of my birth children, my virtual children, and their friends. And, yes, I know you aren’t supposed to be friends with your children, but in this particular environment, it mostly works. Just like cell phone use, which I resisted for years, it’s another amazingly easy way to stay in touch with them. Now, parents are authority figures, right? But it’s a different kind of authority. Our Facebook relationships are completely personal. They all know I work at a university where a number of them are enrolled, but I’m Mom or Mama Baker, not the Library Instruction Coordinator that some of them see in the classroom. It’s only been within the last year or so that adults of my acquaintance have starting joining up. Some are the parents of the young adults that I’ve had in my friends list for the past three years, and some of them are my colleagues. This segues into the next anecdote.

2) I’m a friend — on Facebook — of the mayor of Augusta, Ga. In governance-speak, that’s an authority figure, too. But this particular mayor is forward-thinking, and several months ago started a campaign to recruit as many people as he could to his friends list, sort of like 1,000,000 Strong for Stephen Colbert, but small, local, and not so snarky. He’s not up for re-election this year, either. I don’t think he’d know me if he passed me on the street, but he posts links to articles in local and national media about the city, websites of local businesses and non-profits, data about the economy, etc. Not a day goes by that I don’t get an update, usually more than one. And, when I got a copy of a report about the positive impact of the university system on the economy of the state, with some local economic data for color, I shared it with him, and he posted that, too. Here’s the thing: I’m not ‘friends’ with the Office of the Mayor, which is how I’d have to deal with him in a strictly analog world. I’m friends with the guy who holds the office. He’s not trying to be a corporate entity, he’s trying to connect with his constituents in a different way, as individuals. The argument could certainly be made that he’s only connecting with those who share his views already, but that could be said of just about any politician.

My point is, if you want Facebook to ‘work’ for you, at some point you have to give in and be a person first. I really do think that’s what’s it’s intended for, and how it’s best exploited. If you have students you are truly friendly with, let them know you’re a Facebooker, and see what happens. Hey, it beats getting friend requests from “mature single writer,” whose only interest in a library is as a market for his unsold work – don’t laugh, I’ve seen library friend lists on MySpace populated with just such as these. It’s difficult to imagine institutions having social lives, and in a social network environment, the social life is king. I realize that many public, and a few academic, libraries have Friends with a capital F, but those serve a different purpose than to notice that you changed your profile picture or relationship status, or that you posted the latest pictures of your baby/puppy/car to share with your friends, or that you think you did well on your final exam (I always respond to those). That’s not a role that libraries can share. Librarians can, but you have to be a friend first.

About Barbara Fister

I'm an academic librarian at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minnesota. Like all librarians at our small, liberal arts institution I am involved in reference, collection development, and shared management of the library. My area of specialization is instruction, with research interests also in media literacy, popular literacy, publishing, and assessment.

6 thoughts on “Facebook or Facadebook?

  1. I think Camilla made some wonderful points about the importance of being visible and involved in the less academically removed side of higher learning, but I think you are a bit off on the role libraries can attain on Facebook. After the new ToS changed, libraries could become a page, or group, or something more than one person. Though not as detailed as a direct friend to friend relationship, this avenue allowed for event notifications, service descriptions, and many other interesting offerings. The intriguing issue is at what level do we become a “creepy tree-house” in the students’ neighborhood? I have written about this previously and think there is a comfortable middle ground that we can find that allows for librarian student relationships to spur on larger library driven pushes. But the last thing we should expect is for the library to be more enticing than a direct association with a living, breathing librarian.

    If you are making a page for your library in the hopes to make more friends, you are just as mistaken as a person who buys Guitar Hero World Tour hoping that everyone will want to come over and play. If the initial connection isn’t there, it will be quite hard to generate sufficient “buzz” to get the page moving.

  2. I agree with what John is saying about the initial connection. There’s a local neighborhood news site that I frequent, which created a Facebook presence as another way of getting the word out about breaking stories, but they did it to answer a perceived need, not as a way to net more readers.

    This topic came up in a more general context on a faculty committee that I chair. Some faculty where I work have used FB to keep in touch with students in their classes. My sense is that this is mostly upper-division and capstone courses where the students already have a fairly close association with the professor (as opposed to a large freshman lecture, though we don’t have many of those here).

    Students who I work with in the library occasionally friend me, and that’s fine. But one of the student members on my committee said that most students really do think of Facebook as social space and aren’t really into the idea of using it for academic purposes–including the library. I realize that a sample size of one might not mean much. On the other hand, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the students I hear from and who seek me out on social networks are those I already know from the library, from classes I’ve taken, and from helping them with research.

  3. I feel like a person AND a librarian on FB. People often thank me for the info (& music & humor) items I share, and they pass them along too. It’s become a pretty cool way to blog without using RSS. And I get reference questions there too.

  4. John, you say in your post:

    “Though not as detailed as a direct friend to friend relationship, this avenue allowed for event notifications, service descriptions, and many other interesting offerings. The intriguing issue is at what level do we become a “creepy tree-house” in the students’ neighborhood?”

    Event notifications and service descriptions sound to me more like what we want students to pay attention to than what they themselves desire or seek. Advertising has to be pretty darn clever to engage an audience that doesn’t actively want its message or product. I’ve seen many more library sites that were informative than that were clever. Informative, in terms of the big sell, doesn’t mean much. On the other hand, what is engagingly clever is also often trivialized.

    As for the creepy tree-house, that could happen when students start getting friend requests from others who may be 1) demonstrably older and unknown to them and 2) in their same domain — to me, that demonstrates a kind of intentionality that friending a friend of a friend doesn’t, necessarily. The dictum about not talking to strangers refers pretty specifically to adults unknown to you.

  5. “at some point you have to give in and be a person first”

    This is why librarians at the reference desk should have names. No experts are anonymous.

  6. I agree, Jim. We wear nametags here, and we also have nameplates on the desk when we’re on duty. That may be overkill, but it’s how we do it.

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