Monthly Archives: July 2009

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?

Where’s The Real Discussion On Our Discussion Lists

Though they may seem a bit behind the times, e-mail discussion lists (since “listserv” is a registered name the proper generic term is “discussion list” – it’s like using “xerox” instead of “photocopy”) are still important to academic librarians. In his Chronicle article about the status of discussion lists, Jeffrey Young writes that “the time of scholarly e-mail lists has passed, meaningful posts slowing to a trickle as professors migrate to blogs, wikis, Twitter, and social networks like Facebook.”

I would agree with the academic librarians quoted in the article who express their ongoing interest in and dependence on the discussion list. On the other hand I’d agree with Young that they are no longer a forum for scholarly exchange. But were the discussion lists of academic librarianship ever about exchanging scholarly ideas? I don’t think so. Take Collib-L for example. You may disagree, but I never saw it as platform for the exchange of scholarly ideas. But I can recall, prior to the advent of blogs, more discussions about philosophical topics and more responses to postings that raised questions about what we ought to be doing as academic librarians about different issues in higher education. Think back, for example, to Chronicle articles such as Carlson’s piece on the deserted library or Wilder’s essay on information literacy. In the aftermath of those posts there were some great exchanges on Collib-L with much back and forth conversation, good debate on the issues, and folks from many different institutions joining the discussion. It was quite lively.

Most of that discussion has, I think, migrated to blogs and the comments to blog posts. Now, the real value in Collib-L is as an exchange for what works and what doesn’t work. Need to know how to get involved in Facebook? Ask on Collib-L. Need to know if you should convert that remaining Dewey Decimal collection to Library of Congress? Ask on Collib-L. Wondering how you can get your provost to look more favorably on tenure for librarians? Ask on Collib-L. What people to take your survey? Ask on Collib-L. And it seems that the more mundane the topic, the greater the number of responses to it. But these days it seems the more challenging and thoughtful questions, the ones that could lead to a debate and the exchange of many different views, are the ones that die a quick death with little response.

When Bernie Sloane recently pointed to a new Chronicle study that stated “There is very little that students cannot find on their own if they are inspired to do so” he asked Collib-L subscribers what they thought of that statement. Did they find it a “kinda scary contention from a librarian’s perspective, especially since it’s in a research report from the Chronicle of Higher Education.” There were all of two responses (and another one or two “I agree with what he said” posts) to Sloan’s post to the list, and yet this was a fairly thought provoking question that should have elicited a good many responses and perspectives. Why so little response? Are list subscribers just too busy to think about their response to a question like this one? Are they thinking “That’s an interesting question but I’ll leave it to the bloggers and Twitter crowd to deal with that one.” It certainly is easier and less time consuming to rattle off a response to a concrete “how do you do it at your library” question.

I’m not suggesting there is anything wrong with the exchange of such grounded, day-to-day practice questions. Collib-L remains a thriving community of academic librarians who are there to help each other do a better job; the sharing of information is great. Well, when you get to the 20th or 30th response to a question about whether you stamp your library’s name in the front or back of the book, maybe it’s not so great. But I can’t help but feel academic librarianship suffers a loss of some sort when our discussion lists become void of real discussion and devolve into forums for the most practical types of information. If this is what the e-mail discussion list has come to perhaps Young is correct when he says they need to “change or die”.

Onellums’s last FYALE post, short and sweet

When I tried to reflect on my first year of academic librarianship and what I should include as advice for other new librarians in my final post here at ACRLog, platitudes such as “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again” kept popping into my head. So I thought I’d start with a short list of the somewhat obvious qualities that I repeatedly found helpful at work: 

1) Maintaining a positive attitude 
2) Persistence 
3) Cooperativeness

Then I thought of some more personal advice I would give (that I learned the hard way):

1) A workplace is a political minefield. Best do your homework before putting your foot in it.
2) It is better to be flexible than cavalier. Youth and energy are not endearing to everyone.
3) Leave your desk to have human conversations every once in a while. Librarians are perhaps more prone to use email and other text-based media, but I cannot count the number of times a solution has been more forthcoming when I approached people directly. 

And because I am writing this during performance review season, here is a sprinkling of self-criticism and future goals:

1) As Susanna mentioned in her last post, I too am realizing that I might not be fit for a lifelong career in public services. I may not have the requisite gift of patience, and I am noticing that the areas of my job I find most enjoyable involve making systems and processes simpler and more efficient. When I moved to New Jersey last August I lacked the confidence to apply for systems librarian jobs, but now I am motivated to learn more programming and pursue work in that direction. 
2) I would like to publish in the professional literature. Publishing informally online is great, but I am going to try and shoot for something more rigorous and official. 
3) I would like to continue to interact and participate with this and other communities of librarians. They (we?) are wonderful. I hope some day I can be as useful to them as they currently are to me.  

Thanks for reading and commenting — I have really enjoyed writing here! If anyone wants to continue to follow my thoughts, I post weekly to my personal blog, the librarian’s commute. And it would be great to meet you in person if you are going to ALA next week!

9 Out Of 10 Academic Librarians Surveyed Liked The Seattle Conference

Did you have the opportunity to attend both the 2007 Baltimore ACRL conference and the 2009 Seattle ACRL conference? If so, which did you like better? I did get to both and I really wouldn’t compare the two. I think each conference needs to stand on its own. You have different cities, a different crowd, different themes, different speakers, etc. With so many differences a comparison could be difficult and not all that informative. It’s likely something worked better at one than the other, but every conference is going to have its ups and downs and it all balances out in the end. Yet, when I reviewed the results of ACRL’s comprehensive attendee survey for the 2009 Seattle conference, I was surprised to see a number of comments directed towards comparing the two, and a number of them expressed a preference for the Baltimore conference.

That said, the reactions to and comments about the ACRL Seattle conference were overwhelmingly positive. I was especially pleased to see that many of the newer-to-the-profession first-time attendees indicated how much they enjoyed the conference and that they intended to register for Philadelphia in 2011. Here are just a few of the highlights from the official survey questions:

* 94% indicated they’d recommend the conference to their colleagues

* 87% indicated the most important reason to attend is “keep up with the profession”

* The top response to the question “what is the most valuable part of the conference” was “connecting with colleagues”

* Ranked from “most important” to “least important” here’s what attendees said they found valuable: panel sessions; keynote speakers; poster sessions; contributed papers; cyber zed shed

* 55% of attendees reported that their institutions paid 95% or more of their conference expenses

* When asked what are the top issues for academic librarians the most frequent responses were: keeping up with technology; managing change and innovation; dealing with budget issues

* When asked what are the top issues for the academic library profession the most frequent responses were: technology change; demonstrating the library’s impact; maintaining relevance; managing change and innovation; declining support for libraries

* There was an increase in the number of attendees between ages 21-30 to 13.5% of all attendees (up from 10% in Baltimore); the majority of the attendees (41%) were 51 or above.

* For those of you waiting for librarians to retire only 8% indicated they’d retire in the next 5 years; 15% indicated they planned to retire in 5-9 years.

There were tons of comments, far too many to even summarize here. Again, I’d say the bulk were positive and reflected great enthusiasm for the conference, the Seattle location and the “green” initiative. Here is a sampling from the comments:

* We need to cut program dead weight; we cannot ask people to pay to come to boring and irrelevant speakers

* The content was consistently very good; the scheduling to avoid conflicts was a blessing and everything was easy to get to

* Too many session on instruction and reference; I want more sessions on management issues

* Still the best conference for academic librarians

* I want to be provoked by something new and creative

* I come from a very small private institution and didn’t feel like I could connect with those from large research universities

* Too much flat and outdated content; we need the latest and greatest in Philly

* Too many posters and not enough sessions

* Too many sessions and not enough posters

Well those last two comments give you an idea of what ACRL is up against in trying to figure out how to improve things for the 2011 conference. For everything that some folks loved there were other respondents who disliked that same aspect of the conference. I was interested to see a number of comments suggesting that ACRL should model the conference on EDUCAUSE. There’s no question that the annual EDUCAUSE is a great conference, but I think ACRL already has a similar structure and in fact offers more programming variety and innovative activity such as the cyber zed shed. What to do? Here are a few random observations and thoughts:

* Consider reducing the number of contributed papers and increasing opportunities for birds of a feather sessions. There were more than a few comments that indicated the topics are out of date by the time the conference rolls around; that’s not unexpected when proposals for papers and panels are due a year before the conference. You could debate that the contributed papers are the least interactive and dullest part of the conference. This is not good for a conference where the top reasons to attend are “connect with colleagues” and “keeping up”. Can we give this conference more of an “unconference” feel where attendees could identify the topics they want to talk about and then have BoaF sessions generated shortly before the start of the conference? Attendees want to connect with their colleagues, and they want to be involved. This could be a way to do both. What gets lost? Opportunities to list conference paper presentations on CVs. Then again, doesn’t ACRL have some responsibility to promote scholarly research at the conference through the delivery of contributed papers. Or is there another way to do that? We may have a conflict between tradition and changing attendee expectations that needs resolution for Philly 2011.

* Attendees seem to like the format of the cyber zed shed – concise 20 minute “browseable” presentations (many comments indicated the need for a bigger room for this part of the conference) – that don’t demand much time and allow them to take in a greater number of sessions while at the conference. Is there a way to create a conference that shifts to more of these shorter format presentations? I don’t think we should entirely lose programs that need more time for in depth exploration of topics, but attendees could benefit from the ability to take in more content in shorter bursts. It could also create opportunities for more people to participate as presenters.

* The flip side of shorter sessions would be to consider doing away with the three-hour workshops; that is the one content area where I noticed more negative comments than positive ones. You’d think these programs would offer the most opportunity for interaction and sharing ideas with colleagues but the comments indicated too many slides, talking head presenters and colleagues who seemed more interested in getting continuing education credits than talking with each other. Why not offer the workshops as virtual programs that ACRL can make available throughout the year so those needing continuing education credit can get it when they need it. Re-thinking the conference means figuring out what to eliminate as well as what to add.

I’m going to wrap it up here. As a member of the conference planning committee for 2011 I know there will be much discussion about how we can improve the conference. These evaluations provide great food for thought, but innovative ideas can come from anywhere so please share yours with members of the Philadelphia planning committee (or send them to me – bells at – if you like and I’ll pass them on). I’ll just finish with these three items:

* Do you think “cyber zed shed” is a name in need of a change? Several respondents commented that they hated the name. Do you have a suggestion for something better (the complainers of course never have a suggestion for anything better)? What about “Tech Tips in 20”?

* Who do you think would make a great keynote speaker? I’m co-chairing that committee so please feel free to send your suggestions directly to me.

* Who wants to own up to recommending we have the conference in Kansas City? Oh yeah, and who said they wanted more handouts!!!