Just How Connected Are They?

There seems to be some serious social networking fatigue out there. Walt Crawford has recently linked to a San Francisco Chronicle piece on the topic, a complement to the WaPo piece Steven referred us to in the previous post.

Marilyn R. Pukkila, Head of Instructional Services at Colby College Libraries, has another thoughtful guest post for ACRLog readers. She’s wondering just how important these technologies really are to our students. Not to millennials in general. Not to “young people.” To the students using our libraries. I’d love to hear how academic librarians answer the question she poses.


Our college now podcasts shows intended to convey to students information about the campus, its people, and its major events. I was wondering how we could work in a story about the libraries, and mentioned this to a group of students at dinner one night. They replied, “What’s a podcast?”

Out of two first years, three sophomores, and a junior, only one of them had heard of podcasting, and only because their parents used it.

We had a library pizza lunch for members of our student government, the campus movers and shakers. I mentioned podcasting to three of them, and was met with blank stares. I then launched into an explanation of Second Life, and the ways some librarians were exploring it for instruction possibilities. Their response? “Why would anyone want to spend time with that?”

So just who is it that’s driving all this social computing, anyway? I may be asking a small pool of users, but it’s MY pool. If they don’t know anything about these technologies, and if they feel that librarians in MySpace or Facebook are peering through the open curtains of their (perceived) student-only spaces, then why would I want to spend all the time it would take for me to become fluent in them? Is it to get ready for their younger siblings (according to the Pew study)? Or would I be better off spending the time asking students how THEY want to receive information from me?

Marilyn R. Pukkila

Author: 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.

12 thoughts on “Just How Connected Are They?”

  1. I had a similar experience. During a class I compared LC subject headings to tags and asked who uses delicious. They had never heard of it.

  2. I have wondered the same thing myself. While students in my school use MySpace and Facebook, overall, they are not as connected as the 2.0 gurus would have us believe. And that usage is not consistent. I have actually had students in some of my library classes ask, “what is MySpace?” If I mentioned podcasting, odds would be good I would get similar reactions as described above. I am not saying we should not try to connect and explore alternatives, but I do think it is a fair question to ask what exactly is driving this sudden desire in librarians to rush into things like MySpace and Second Life? Are the people we are trying to connect to really there, or is it just to look cool? At least in my school and setting, I know many do not know about all the new toys. Best, and keep on blogging.

  3. Your sample sizes are unrepresentative and much too small and your questions are skewed. You should not be misled by your experiences here.

    If you asked enough students how many use some form of text messaging, including instant messaging or SMS, your answer would be very different. If you asked the same group how many have created some online page, whether a blog, MySpace account, or Facebook profile, you would again get a much different result.

    Asking a small and very unrepresentative group will seriously mislead you, and you should be sufficiently scientifically adept to prevent yourself from being fooled in this way.

  4. p.s. don’t ask them whether they listen to “podcasts”, ask them whether they have MP3 players. Or better yet, just look for the ear buds. Forget the terminology; look at what they do, not whether they can answer your questions your way.

  5. Alot of it is proper marketing. If you had asked that same sample how many had iPods, most, if not all, would answer yes. Then tell them about the podcasts.

    Second Life is still very cutting edge and not representative. The students’ reaction to the discussion of how Librarians are using Second Life demonstrates something interesting about a lot of these tools. Until you use them, it is hard to understand their value. 5 years ago, if you had asked those same students how often they would use something like Facebook, they might have responded similarly.

    While students could perceive a library’s MySpace or Facebook page as an intrusion on their social space, much of that is again marketing. Once a library exists as an entity in the social networking application, the library becomes a social entity. As a social entity, the library’s social interactions play a major role in how it is perceived. It is important that the library portrays itself as a friend and not an authority figure. However, that is important at the reference desk as well.

    So much of this is experimentation. While it is very important to ask students how they want to receive information, it is also important to try new things to see if they work. A student might have to see the library in Facebook to really know whether they like it or not. Furthermore, it is important to educate students about new ways of receiving information. While most students are probably unfamiliar with RSS feeds, it is important that they still learn about them.

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  7. I think part of Marilyn’s point is that it isn’t a sample – these are her students, encountered face to face. Sure, it might tell you more if you polled the entire student body in a carefully-designed study, and that may be worth doing, but if you’re talking about the the one-by-one individuals you encounter, you’ll find a lot of them aren’t wishing the library would add more technology to their lives. Yes, they do have ipods, but mostly they use them for music, not to listend to educational segments on libraries or other campus information (unless they have a need – like getting the extra credit for listening to that lecture). Gotta remember – they’re incredibly busy!!

    They do like books, though, the regressive little vermints. If we offered recreational audio books I bet they’d go for it.

    My current first-year students told me that they texted a lot in high school classes – but that was because they were bored, not because they wanted to use it as a learning technology. We passed notes in my day.

    I’m not against any of this, mind you, just aware that a great many of the students I encounter are not as interested in technology as many of us assume.

  8. I would use caution with SGA types – talk with your regulars, talk with the ppl in there every night, or better yet, with students who are not in the library.

    second life, WoW, etc are very niche, same with social bookmarking

    Podcasting as a term is lame. So are blogs. These are meaningless just like all our jargon… seriously, why don’t we change reference to help?

    Did they actually say “your library” was intruding on their social network space, or did you just describe the idea to them? It is different when they see it in action. If students are ‘friending’ you- I don’t see that as intrustive? Michael maked a great point above about not coming across as stiffy, finger-pointing, google bashing, authorities.

    I would urge libraries not to jump in just because it seems popular, but rather, understand the culture and find a practical use that works for you. Use these tools before you adopt them.

    Plus, instead of asking, “do you use this technology” – ask them, “what technology do you use” and build around that. Same with assessment overall, instead of asking, “how do you use the library and what should we do to make it better?” – why not go bigger and ask, “what would you need to be more productive?” and then build your services as solutions.

  9. Maybe we need to have students asking other students what they’re doing with techology – in their own terms – and then telling us what they learn. I like that Brian has pointed out to me that I don’t know the terminology or culture as well as I need to because it’s not native to me. Guess what I could be saying is that we need a social/cultural guide-translator to break down some of the barriers for us. Then we might get a better picture of what our students do want from us without us seeming like we’re doing a scientific survey of their world.

  10. I totally agree with Brian when he points out that we are asking the wrong questions — or that we could be asking better questions. All our questions are asked from the perspective of the library and its services. We should be asking questions from the perspective of their lives and work and study. This would give us vital information to work with. When I help libraries with strategic planning or directions work I always focus on this issue of crafting the right questions for focus groups and/or in surveys: what is going on for students and faculty? what are they working on? what technologies do they use? etc. etc. We know our own stuff but the questions about where libraries need to go in order to meet customers where they live have nothing to do with our internal operations and everything to do with what is happening in the lives of those customers. Asking ourselves about our own “purchasing” behaviors might give us a clue into this: do we want to know all about the internal operations of an organization we are seeking a service from? are we surprised when a service appears that fits a need? how and when did we notice that service?
    But the main and critical point is that we learn to craft good questions such as the ones Brian indicates!

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