Tag Archives: social networking

Social Hacking at the Library

I’m always interested to read about ideas that folks outside of librarianship have about libraries. The other day my partner forwarded me a tweet from tech publisher Tim O’Reilly:

Interesting note about an MIT professor who “hacked” (socially) the library as a way of recruiting interesting students http://bit.ly/k4qzrl

O’Reilly links to Harvard’s Library Innovation Lab blog to a brief post by Matt Phillips that discusses an obituary for an MIT professor. The obituary noted that this faculty member kept many library books in his office long after they were due, because:

the library would send him the students who wanted those books, and he would interview them as potential assistants

Phillips goes on to write:

People connect through works held at the library and the library should encourage these connections.

Many of the thoughts that ran through my head after reading this are expressed in the comments for the blog post. How could the library reveal which patron had checked out those books?! Doesn’t LibraryThing (among other social reading tools) already help readers connect over similar interests? And what about the poor students who didn’t feel like going over to that faculty member’s office — wasn’t he holding those books hostage?

While the specifics of this situation are probably somewhat unique to the institution, I do think that providing opportunities for patrons to connect around library collections is an interesting idea. But the privacy concerns are a big deal. Protecting our patrons’ privacy is a core value of librarianship, and revealing to another patron who has checked out a book flies directly in the face of that.

Perhaps we could provide the opportunity for patrons to opt-in to a service that would allow them to connect with other interested readers, to give our users a choice between keeping their reading history private and sharing it. Though I worry that it can sometimes be easier to see the short term benefits of decreased privacy than the possible longer term detriments. With so many services incrementally moving to public by default (yes, Facebook, I’m looking at you) it’s getting easier to share more and more of our information, and it seems like the more we share the easier it gets.

There are also technical issues. Barbara wrote about academic libraries using LibraryThing a couple of years ago, but it seems like most libraries that have added LibraryThing to their catalogs feature tags and related readings only, not the kinds of social connections that are available on the main LibraryThing site. Would it be possible to layer what is essentially social networking on top of our library catalogs? I’m sure the feasibility of this would vary between catalogs. There are some promising social networking applications out there, including open source options like BuddyPress, a plugin for the WordPress blogging platform, which might be a candidate for a social catalog hack.

I’m sure there are lots of other possibilities for making our catalogs (and databases?) more social and helping our readers connect over their shared interests. If you’re experimenting with these kinds of features in your library, I’d love to hear about your experiences.

Is There A Social Media Librarian In Your Library’s Future

Academic libraries are leveraging social networks to increase opportunities to connect with students and faculty. Facebook or Twitter are the primary social media tools used for this purpose, but others are exploring how geo-location sites may play into a social strategy. It’s not clear how academic libraries are tackling these new methods of marketing and promoting services and resources. Is oversight for social media accounts and activity assigned to a single librarian? Is the same staff member who oversees marketing and PR taking on social networking? Are all library workers empowered to contribute to the effort? We know little about how social media responsibilities are handled, but it’s unlikely that any academic library has yet to create a dedicated Social Media Librarian position – although whenever I say something like this in a post before the end of the day there’s a comment along the lines of “No you’re wrong – we have a Social Media Librarian here”. With Facebook reaching its 500 millionth member and Twitter members tweeting over 50 million times per day these behemoths can’t be ignored. Corporate America certainly isn’t ignoring them.

Two trends point to a growing interest in taking social network marketing quite seriously. First, many companies that market to consumers are rushing to create positions for social media officers – and that’s at a time when no one is even quite sure what someone in this position even does or what qualifies someone for such a position. But who’s waiting to figure all that out? Not companies like Sears, Petco, Ford, Pepsi and many others. Second, MBA programs are adding courses in social media to provide students with the skills needed to get jobs as social media officers or at least help their future employers create social media strategies. According to the article these courses “focus on thinking broadly about social media, not just Facebook and Twitter. Topics include the underlying psychological and sociological foundations of social media and the metrics and measurement tools for gauging the effectiveness of social media campaigns. Students are required to participate in social media marketing projects for big brands.”

An important point made in these articles is that someone who is merely a user of or participant in social media is not the same as someone who truly understands how to use it in a business or marketing context. Just because you tweet all day and watch lots of YouTube video doesn’t mean that you know how to turn social media into proactive tools for getting consumers excited about your organization and what it offers. For businesses social media is all about influencing purchase decisions. How does that translate to an academic library environment? One way in which academic librarians might become better at using social media to influence library use decisions is to become more adept at using the tools to get user community members to do the work for us – by sharing the word about the library with their friends. That’s what happens when your user community members share your library video with their friends – but you have to know how to get that started. Another is to pay more attention to what is happening in the world of business to learn how companies are leveraging social media. Having said that, I always like to remind my colleagues that saying we should pay attention to what corporations are doing is not a statement that libraries are businesses and should be run like one. Some good ideas emerge from the world of business, and we should pay attention when they do.

Does librarianship, like the MBA programs, need to provide more opportunity for LIS students to gain these skills, and if so how should it happen? I still lean on the side of not dedicating entire courses to social networking and media tools. There are too few courses LIS students get to take, and they can learn about the mechanics of social networking tools on their own time. Perhaps what is needed is a course dedicated to library marketing and promotion. Marketing and promotion appear to be the primary reasons to use social media in the context of library operations. If that’s the case we should be educating LIS students how to leverage social networking and media tools to create more library awareness and to get the community to spread the word. That seems like a sensible way to introduce these increasingly important skills for the Social Media Librarian.

Seeking The Killer Connector For A Social Academic Library Site

Editors Note: I recently had the great pleasure of delivering a talk at the McKeldin Library at the University of Maryland. Afterwards Gavin Brown, Manager, Digital Technology Interface Services at the University of Maryland Libraries, and I chatted about ways in which academic libraries could do more to make their web sites social. Brown had some interesting insights, and we exchanged some ideas and resources in subsequent messages. I wondered if ACRLog readers have thought about these issues as well, considering how to invite more social interaction with the students and faculty. I asked Brown to share his thoughts in this guest post. ACRLog greatly appreciates this contribution from Gavin Brown.

Steve Jobs once famously said of new technology, “You’ve got to have a killer app to succeed.” App is short for application, but he wasn’t referring to a software program, he was referring to the laser printer, which was what he felt would help the Macintosh computer succeed by making high quality printing available at a low price.

I work at an ARL library and we are currently investigating the possibility of “going social,” that is to say, adding social tools to our web presence to see if that makes it more appealing to the wifired-iphone-mobile-kindle-geolocated-always-connected-engage-me-or-I’m-gone generation.

Social tools aren’t exactly new to me – I’ve been on Facebook and MySpace, as well as some Musician-oriented sites (I am a composer) for a couple of years, but I haven’t tried to implement them in a traditional organization.

I’ve read Seth Godin and I think he’s on to something. He gave an example of how social websites can succeed by connecting communities to each other – threadless.com, which sells T-shirts. The company has no designers. All the shirts are designed by customers. Other customers come on to the site, buy the T-shirts, do reviews of them, make comments. Customers engage with each other to create the “experience that is threadless.com”

I recently discussed threadless.com with my assistant, a library school student, and we tried to think of how the model of connecting communities might apply to our website. But what communities? Subject Specialists with Faculty? Students with Librarians? All our answers seemed boring and pointless. Why would these groups of people care to engage each other through our web site? We couldn’t answer the question.

Then my assistant made the point that what is important to identify is not the communities, but the “thing” which connects them. In the threadless model, the connector is T-shirts.People like talking to each
other about the designs. It was interesting to them. So we began looking at social sites of all sorts of different types to see if we could find the connector and determine what was interesting about it. And we found it over and over. On Couchsurfing.com, people around the world offer their couches to people who travel around the world, saving hotel costs. The site features a world map with pins in it wherever a couch may be found. Travelers and Couchsters discuss the travel and the aspects of the city the couch is in. On Flixster.com, people discuss and rate movies. On Ravelry.com, which is about knitting, the customers trade knitting patterns. On 43Things.com, people select life goals like “buy an electric car,” or “get rid of unnecessary possessions” and connect and talk to each other about them. The point we took away from this investigation was: find something that is interesting to people and they will connect to each other using it, the “Killer Connector.”

In an academic research library setting, what could this be? We first thought of books, but that felt very”1.0,” so we put that aside, at least for the moment. The ideas we came up with were – major, class, professor, location in the building, research topics. In the case of the major – would students in the same major want to connect and communicate with each other about their major? Would faculty use it to connect to students? Would a subject librarian who advises on the major be able to share research ideas or otherwise advise students through the major? Would librarian faculty liaisons connect with faculty through the major? We had similar discussions about the other ideas. One idea we dismissed was clubs – we figured the clubs would already have made use of Ning or Facebook or some other social tool and we didn’t want to compete with that. Our idea had to give our users something they couldn’t already get elsewhere and were unlikely to build on their own, a sort of “procial” network – a professional network for discussing and enhancing the academic experience, but with social aspects.

Our discussions about seeking the “Killer Connector” continue. Soon we’ll be talking to the students and seeing what they think.

Other articles we ran across in our travels which we are also considering:

http://mashable.com/2009/09/15/social-news-sites/ (strategies for maximizing visibility and usability of social tools on your site)

http://www.boxesandarrows.com/view/5-steps-to-building (how to build your social experience so that people will want to use it)

Special thanks to Jacqueline Carrell for her contributions to this article.

Social Networking News Roundup

Recently I’ve followed several interesting online discussions about social networking. Here are a few highlights:

  • Social media researcher danah boyd’s work involves interviewing teens across the country about social networking; she’s collected some fascinating data. In her recent talk at the Personal Democracy Forum Conference in New York she discussed class issues across various social networking sites. Boyd has found differences in the use of Facebook and MySpace in high schoolers of different socioeconomic statuses. Facebook is seen by many teens as more mature and higher status, a place where the “honors kids” hang out, while MySpace is often viewed as somewhat childish and lower status.
  • Ezter Hargittai of Northwestern University does similar research from a quantitative (rather than a qualitative) perspective. Last week she discussed the results of her survey of social networking preferences of first year college students in 2007 and 2009 on Crooked Timber. While her data shows that Facebook use is up and MySpace use down across the board, it also suggests that the class distribution found by boyd in high schoolers persists among college students. Facebook use is highest among first year students of higher socioeconomic status, and MySpace is most heavily used by students of lower socioeconomic status. Hargittai’s data reveal racial differences in social networking choices among freshmen, too.
  • Finally, a post last week on ReadWriteWeb discussed the analysis of Facebook user data by interactive agency iStrategy. These data show that while the total number of Facebook users continues to grow, the past six months has seen explosive growth in the number of users who are 55 and older: over 500%! On the flip side, the number of high school and college users has shrunk in the first half of 2009. Are new users simply declining to list their educational status, or has Facebook lost some appeal for students now that all of us “old folks” are there?

What does this all mean for academic libraries? Facebook has witnessed explosive growth in recent years, and many of us have created a presence on the site to promote our libraries and connect with students. But boyd’s and Hargittai’s research reminds us that we may be missing the opportunity to connect with an often sizable segment of our student population if we restrict our social networking efforts just to Facebook.

On the other hand, if college students are fleeing Facebook (a creepy treehouse effect?), perhaps it’s not the best place for us to be focusing our energies. And if students are leaving Facebook, and MySpace use is down, too, where are they going?

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.