Takes More Than Blogs And Wikis To Build The Socially Networked Academic Library

It’s been two years since OCLC issued its Perceptions of Libraries and Information Resources report, and just over a year since the release of the subset of that report focusing on college students. Now OCLC delivers its latest survey report, Sharing, Privacy and Trust in Our Networked World. Was it worth the wait? While I think this latest report is not quite the blockbuster the last one was, it certainly is an informative document as it helps librarians to put the phenonmenon of the social web into perspective. It offers a different vision of what it means for a library to incorporate web 2.0 technologies, one that requires academic libraries to go beyond blogs, wikis and facebook profiles. It states:

We conceived of a social library as a library of traditional services enhanced by a set of social tools—wikis, blogs, mashups and podcasts. services, of course, user-friendly for sure and offering superior self-service. We were wrong.

Our view, after living with the data, struggling with the findings, listening to experts and creating our own social spaces, is quite different. Becoming engaged in the social Web is not about learning new services or mastering new technologies. To create a checklist of social tools for librarians to learn or to generate a “top ten” list of services to implement on the current library Web site would be shortsighted. Such lists exist. Resist the urge to use them. The social Web is not being built by augmenting traditional Web sites with new tools. And a social library will not be created by implementing a list of social software features on our current sites. The social Web is being created by opening the doors to the production of the Web, dismantling the current structures and inviting users in to create their content and establish new rules.

New rules? Are libraries ready for that? According to the survey respondents the answer is “probably not”. The vast majority of the respondents, more than 85%, see no reason for libraries to construct or sponsor social network sites (click on the thumbnail to view the chart).

Few respondents say they’d be likely to contribute to a library social site, view the content of others or even participate in a social site. We often look to OCLC for answers. I think the big question is “How do we get our users to contribute their content, to participate in the production process?” Not having read the report in great detail just yet (still waiting for my paper copy), I can’t say if the answers are in there. So far I have learned that the report authors believe “the new social library will be …messy. But mass participation and a little chaos often create exciting venues for collaboration, creativity, community building and transformation.” Perhaps there are no good solutions, and we just have to wade into the mess and figure out how to create the change that encourages more social participation in the academic library.

Mess aside, this report is valuable to academic librarians for the special appendix on “College Students in Our Networked Work.” OCLC surveyed 511 college students to gain insight into their socially networked lives. One surprise is that some college students have yet to explore social networking; only 56% reported using a social networking site. Is it possible the wording of the question gave inaccurate results? What if they asked “Do you use MySpace or Facebook” instead of referring to them as “social networks”. By comparison, 38% of the students reported using the library’s web site. (click on the thumbnail to view the chart)

We tend to think that every student spends hours a day on Facebook or MySpace, and perhaps that’s inaccurate. If you do want to reach students with web 2.0 technology – or provide them a venue for contributing content – you’d be far wiser to use YouTube than Flickr. Only 10% of the college respondents reported using Flickr, but 84% reported using YouTube. (click on the thumbnail to view the chart).

The report is also about privacy and trust in social web environments. While the report finds that college students are less likely than the general public to trust those they meet on social networks, I would have liked some information comparing trust levels of those encountered in networks and librarians encountered in academic libraries. Past reports have suggested that college students and others are more likely to trust people they meet online than institutional authority figures.

The latest OCLC survey report is available online for free downloading (in whole or by section) or a print copy can be ordered for a fee. Either way, take some time to look over the report, and then discuss it with colleagues. Any way you look at it, if the goal is to build a socially networked library that provides opportunities for the user community to participate and generate content we have much work to do. Perhaps of which the most challenging task will be giving our users a reason or rationale for doing so. Because according to the report, right now too few of them think the library has anything to do with or reason to be part of the socially networked web. Another powerful hurdle to overcome is the way the community identifies the library with the book – from their perspective that’s our brand whether we like it or not. So OCLC recommends that if you do build a social network or attempt to engage your community in a social network, the choice is about books. Do you want to leverage the book brand (e.g., book recommendations, book discussion groups, etc.) or do you want to defy the brand and attempt to establish a new one. If it’s the latter, the social network created by the library may be about many things of which the book is just a minor entity. It’s your call.

Credits: Many thanks to OCLC for allowing the reproduction of the charts and the link to the study. These materials are copyrighted 2007 by OCLC Online Computer Library Center, Inc. and are used with OCLC’s permission. I’d also like to thank Kenley Neufeld who first brought the report to my attention and shared some ideas and notes with me.

8 thoughts on “Takes More Than Blogs And Wikis To Build The Socially Networked Academic Library”

  1. “One surprise is that some college students have yet to explore social networking; only 56% reported using a social networking site. Is it possible the wording of the question gave inaccurate results?”

    Definitely possible. I just attended a talk on social networking, and beyond Facebook I had not thought of many of the sites mentioned as specifically social networking sites, but indeed they are – flickr, YouTube, Digg, del.icio.us, LibraryThing, etc.

  2. This comment got me thinking: at my library, we have begun blogging and creating wikis, but the challenge is to get outsiders to read it. I have been advised to create a print “digest” of my blog because “faculty do not like to read online.” Instead of requiring people to come to us, we need to go where they are. You Tube is a great suggestion for outreach to our students, and I plan to think seriously about this. But where are our faculty? I don’t think that most of them are online much, if at all. Perhaps the first step should be a short survey of faculty to find out which websites (in addition to the College website) are the most useful in their professional work. This should be pretty easy via Surveymonkey.

  3. I have already posted this comment here: Is This New OCLC Report Worth It?, ACCESSED: 14 November 2007, URL: http://acrlblog.org/2006/05/31/is-this-new-oclc-report-worth-it/

    I think any Academic library worth its salt, would NOT be connected with a site such as wikipedia in anyway… It was surprising to see these connections: Archive for ‘Wikipedia’, Computing Wikipedia’s Authority, ACCESSED: 14 November 2007, URL: http://acrlblog.org/categories/wikipedia/ and Computing Wikipedia’s Authority, ACCESSED: 14 November 2007, URL: http://acrlblog.org/2007/08/15/computing-wikipedias-authority/.

    Wikipedia can be altered at anytime to say whatever the person altering it wants it to say. To have this type of link undermines the credibility of a site pertaining to be credibile. Therefore, undermining the authority of the comments made…

    It is highly recommended that links to any form of wiki site be removed.


    Where the authority of the comments made is undermined, how then, can the comments be relied upon? A further concern is that, being a library organisation of academic leanings, there is a fiduciary duty to provide accurate information upon which the public and students alike can rely upon… but this duty is being undermined by having the wiki links. Thus, any comments made referring to another report, holds no credence at all.

    A MAJOR aspect not addressed in these articles, is the danger that the social networking areas contain… i.e. cybercrime, identity theft, etc… To hold any form of academic tutallage in these social networking environments is ridiculous to say the least… and will hold no academic value.

    The perceptions need to be changed… create an academic social networking environment… and do not use existing ones.

  4. One of the other questions is–What does it mean to “use” a social networking site? Is watching the occasional video on YouTube “using” it? Or the other way ’round: I do know people who have videos on YouTube but never watch anything on it themselves–and lots of people for whom Flickr is photo storage, not a social networking site. Is joining Facebook for your college reunion planning and never doing anything there, since you just ended up calling each other, “using” Facebook?

    This could really impact this sort of statistic, depending on the questions asked. “Do you have a Facebook account?” is a lot different than “Do you use Facebook frequently?”

  5. I sense that many librarians are seduced by these Library 2.0 tools, and see them as “advances” because they introduce new technologies into the library world. But as Michael Stephens says, they’re totally useless unless we use them for the specific goal of increasing use of the library. Beyond listening to music, what do people actually “do” with MySpace or Facebook? They spy on their friends, and look to see who’s a friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend, etc. But I don’t think actual conversations are held there – they use IM for that instead.

    What we need to do as librarians is to provide something that people can not get elsewhere. Merely having a presence on MySpace or Facebook is only half the job. What we have to do is be proactive – not wait for users to come to us, but go out to users and engage them. This goes against the usual librarian interactions (which are passive – we wait for users to approach us).

    If we’re going to survive the distractions of the Internet, we’re going to have to be as ubiquitous as McDonald’s, Coke/Pepsi, and a host of other in-your-face products.

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