Social Networking for Informational Professionals examines how Web 2.0 technologies can enhance the way libraries communicate with their patrons. Far from being scared of the new technologies being used (Facebook, Twitter, Delicious etc) libraries are working out ways in which to embrace social media. However, it is not just a case of diving in without looking, as Farkas (2008) states libraries “started implementing cool technologies because they thought that was what Library 2.0 was about”. Libraries need to carefully examine what technologies they want to include and the ways in which they are helpful and may need to be selective in what social networking technologies they adopt.
There are many and varied reasons why libraries should be on social media including, but not limited to: allowing users to contribute information; making information accessible; to provide better services; being able to extend the collection; and as a way of marketing the library. As Casey & Stephens (2009) explain the need for libraries to open up their communication and organization to improve their services. In addition, some of these technologies are already in place and are freely accessible on the web, for example Facebook and Twitter, so all it costs the library is the time necessary to plan, train staff and implement the social media. However, not all the technologies are free or without constraints particularly if the library is requiring to overhaul their catalogue, for example, to incorporate tagging and user comment software. In addition, these reasons for adopting social media platforms need to be weighed up against other issues surrounding the use of social media such as online privacy; information overload; the blurring of the professional and personal and effectiveness.
One of these issues, Online Privacy, demonstrates the thought and judiciousness that needs to done before implementing any new service, particularly with social media adaptation. We have all heard about cyber bullying and the damaging effects it can have on people. A branch of the online privacy debate is the concept of anonymity of social media outlets. For example, many sites that allow comments do not deem it necessary for users to have their real names but provide an email address (this may also not have any identifying markers in it). As libraries increasingly add review features on their catalogue this may cause a problem. As Pearson, in his article Life as a Dog (2009), demonstrates there are many dangers inherent in the writer being able to keep his/her identity anonymous and the increases of “trolls” on these sites is also a problem. On the other hand anonymity may increase the potential of input from users who would not normally contribute due to shyness. Libraries need to balance these two factors and determine if they want to proceed. As with most of these technologies the service can be moderated but sometimes the damage can already be done.
Also, another issue with anonymity is that it can take time to build up trust in one’s opinion. If a friend of mine recommends a book I am more likely to read it knowing what other books she has liked that I have – this has come over time. However, looking at a library website and finding “Atarbo” or “mincvm”* recommends something I have no idea what this represents.
Nevertheless, there are good services that the library can provide through social media as an information giving service, which have fewer issues to resolve, for example, RSS Feeds. Not only can they be used to update patrons on library activities they can also help with information finding. For example, within a medical library, if the librarians are knowledgeable about their various journals they can help users set up RSS Feeds allowing “Table of Contents” pages to be sent to the users direct RSS feed aggregator. This can be done for multiple journals. It is time saving in that the patron does not have to continually check for updates on various websites – the updates come to them and text, images, audio and video can all be incorporated into RSS. Thus it is also important for librarians not only to be able to implement social networking tools for their own libraries but also be aware of what other tools and technologies are available as information locating tools and be able to assist patrons with setting up such accounts. It is also an “opt in” service where the patron is specifically asking to be kept up to date but in a format which they can better control.
* Examples from my local library’s recent comments page.
Going back to the beginning I was very skeptical about the use of social media, not only within the information profession, but also in general terms. I had concerns about publishing on the internet, for that is exactly what it is when people use some Web 2.0 technologies such as Twitter. Knowing that opinions change over time I would be aghast if earlier thoughts, say 10 years ago when just starting my undergraduate studies, were now available online for all to see by using various searching tools including employment opportunities. Luckily, these technologies were not around then and I am hesitant to post/publish many personal thoughts through these technologies, as you never know what may change in the future. I was also very aware of keeping private conversations private – generally using email – even for matters that were not particularly personal (for example, organizing to go to a movie with a friend, the whole world does not need to know about these negotiations).
Three months later, after completing INF506, my thoughts have changed about the implementation of social networking both in a private form (me as a social networker) and also in a professional development as an information professional. Firstly, personally I have enjoyed trying new forms of social networking such as the social marking site Delicious and microblogging site Twitter. Whilst I agree with the principle of try something before deciding if you like it I cannot see myself using these tools permanently as they are fully intended to be used. For example, I have currently follow 8 people on Twitter and have only tweeted regarding INF506 and can’t see myself tweeting anything else. While many articles deal with the social isolation of people who do not join certain social networks the opposite is also true. Within my immediate circle of friends and family, a consensus is that email is not dead. Contrary to current opinion, although we are Gen Y, we rarely use Facebook etc for forms of communication and are wary about what we post online. So, even after completing a subject on social networking, I think my skills and knowledge have improved regarding the various technologies but my desire to use these tools has not and would not be an effective form of communication with those who I communicate regularly.
The other aspect of social media use by the information profession is resolving various issues such as the use of taxonomies and folksomonies, where it would be up to the library in question to decide what they want to use – for example, public libraries may want a folksonomy with tagging to enhance natural language use whereas a medical library would want a taxonomy to allow for variants in spelling from American to English. Whilst I cannot clarify these issues it is useful to be aware of the various arguments about what to implement and can use this in further discussions along the way. This is also true with issues regarding anonymity in comments and online privacy.
Overall, I have gained skills and knowledge about various technologies and how they work as well as gaining a useful understanding of the various issues that surround the use of social media and the implementation of these new technologies. As with most things, a balance is required and it is up to each library to decide on what they want to implement and achieve through social networking.
Casey, Michael & Stephens, Michael (2009), ‘You Can’t Afford Not To Do These Things’, http://www.libraryjournal.com/article/CA6639942.html?industryid=47356
Farkas, Meredith (2008), ‘The essence of Library 2.0?’, http://meredith.wolfwater.com/wordpress/2008/01/24/the-essence-of-library-20/
Harvey, M. (2009), ‘What does it mean to a be a Science Librarian 2.0?’, Issues in Science and Technology Librarianship, Summer, Retreived from http://www.istl.org/09-summer/article2.html
Pearson, Joseph (2009), ‘Life as a Dog’, Meanjin, Vol. 68, No. 2, pp 67-77.