Facebook yourself!

There is a common marketing rule, which seems to fit nicely to libraries in the digital age: “Use that very method of communication that the user prefers.” This may be Email, phone, face to face, SMS, Skype, ICQ, instant messaging, but also – increasingly – social networks. Email is out and social portals such as StudiVZ, MySpace or Facebook are “in”.[1]

A study on the communication behavior of the Millennials published by OCLC supports this experience: „It is to be expected that an online population equipped with do-it-yourself discovery tools will continue to expand their reach, as well as their desire to be self-sufficient, looking for information on their own in more and more places. Now experts themselves at search and find techniques, users naturally would move away from last-generation, “expert-based” information systems and gravitate to sites designed for them and by them, sites offering self service, quick access and limited rules. No authentication needed, no ILL forms to fill out, just free content and the tools to share it or create it.“ [2] As a result, the use of library web sites is decreasing. In Münster we made the experience that users visit our library’s homepage not by choice but by chance: The HTTP referrers tell us, that most visitors are referred to our library’s website from Google searches but not from local web sites. Millennials make more use of do-it-yourself discovery tools such as Google, social networks or recommendation systems than library web sites. As (real or self-assessed) experts they are more independent on library information services then one would like to know.

In that picture, social networking is more than just mingling with peers: “It is redefining roles, muddying the waters between audience and creator, rules and relationships, trust and security, private and public”[3] and between users and library, one may add. It is not sufficient to just pep up one’s library website with interactive features like RSS feeds, blogs or wikis. First you must ensure that the library’s homepage technically can act as a social meeting point and second that it is attractive enough for users to work with.

By that way: The demand to met the users where they are, is not new: “To continue to be vital to society, libraries must adopt new objectives. In particular, they must strive to participate with individuals in their cultural activities; passive, depersonalized service is no longer enough.” [Frederick Kilgour: “Evolving, Computerizing, Personalizing” American Libraries, February 1972]

The OCLC report recommended to increase the engagement of the library on social sites and many libraries, especially in the USA, have dependences at Facebook. My library created at first a profile on StudiVZ (Students Directory), the German competitor to Facebook[4] and with 4 Mio. users the largest social network in Germany. Even without much public relation, the library’s engagement was quickly recognized and welcomed. Students like this way to get in contact with the library management very much and obviously it lowered the barrier for interaction such as asking for improvements. Students even founded a group called “The residents of the medical library Münster” with about 70 members. From these informal contacts a joint taskforce for improvement of library services started.

Recently we opened a site on Facebook too. Facebook allows far more features than StudiVZ, and there are many EAHIL members too on Facebook to mingle with. Let me cite Anne Christensen, a colleague from the University Library of Hamburg[5], about the advantages of starting a library web site at Facebook:[6]

“For almost a year, it is possible at Facebook to build pages for products, companies or even libraries (yes, there is an extra-page type for libraries!). In the U.S., where Facebook is the market leader, the number of libraries with a Facebook presence increased rapidly. In relevant discussion forums there is an intense and ongoing debate about possible services from libraries via Facebook. Actually, a library page at Facebook is created easily: Upload a picture, addresses, opening hours, enter the RSS feed of your library’s blog: All in all no more than 10 minutes of work. Then: Wait for users (in Facebook there are called “fans”). Do not be afraid of the „empty restaurant“ symptom, because within a few days, people will quickly learn about your new offer. Mainly students will be attracted, who know Facebook before (maybe because they were abroad) and are therefore used to an international platform for exchange. In 2007 we invited all our 90 fans to a (physical) workshop on literary management – the training room was full and the parallel Facebook page of the event became a lively discussion forum. What else could you do with a Facebook site? For example a widget to search your catalog, which could be installed by your fans on their own sites (making them even more self-sufficient). Other libraries offer instant messaging applications or a counseling service on Facebook. The list of potential activities is long.[7] My conclusion: Facebook is an ideal playground for libraries in social networks. With little effort you can present your library – and any RSS-based services such as blogs and book lists can easily be integrated. You can met students at eye level and present yourself as trendy.”

If you act as an individual in these social networks, you should note however, that not everybody loves the interference with administrative supervisor such as librarians. In ACRLog, “StevenB” made us aware of students, who like to be among themselves: [8] “For the most part, [administrators shouldn’t use Facebook]. I’d much rather they stay out of it. However, I do have one professor who is known for being fairly hip. He’s on Facebook and I have no problem with this because I know he’s not going to abuse that position.”

So it seems that, all in all, the only thing to worry about is not the use of Facebook by librarians but by students. A recent study reveals, that medical students’ use of social networks is far from being professional:[9] „One of the major findings of this study is that medical students and residents are using Facebook [unprofessionally]. Many medical students seem unaware of or unconcerned with the possible ramifications of sharing personal information in publicly available online profiles even though such information could affect their professional lives.” They concluded: “Medical educators need to become more involved in electronic social networking.”


[1] Marcus Banks: „Facebook is so much cooler than an Email address“ http://mbanks.typepad.com/my_weblog/2008/01/facebook-is-so.html

[2] „Sharing, Privacy and Trust in Our Networked World” http://www.oclc.org/reports/sharing/; http://www.oclc.org/reports/pdfs/sharing.pdf pg. 219

[3] footnote 2, pg.220

[4] StudiVZ is hold by Holtzbrinck, who also owns Macmillan Publishing.

[5] http://www.new.facebook.com/pages/Hamburg-Germany/Universitatsbibliothek-der-Technischen-Universitat-Hamburg-Harburg/20334581960

[6] Anne Christensen: „Bibliotheken in Facebook“ http://log.netbib.de/archives/2008/10/10/bibliotheken-in-facebook/

[7] See for example Sarah Elizabeth Miller and Lauren A. Jensen. „Connecting and Communicating with Students on Facebook“ Computers in Libraries 27.8 (2007): 18-22. http://works.bepress.com/sarahmiller/1

[8] StevenB: „What students think of authority figures in Facebook” http://acrlog.org/2007/03/19/what-students-think-of-authority-figures-in-facebook/

[9] Justin M. Grimes, Paul T. Jaeger, Kenneth R. Fleischmann: „Medical students’ and residents’ use of online social networking tools: Implications for teaching professionalism in medical education“ First Monday 13(9):2008 http://www.uic.edu/htbin/cgiwrap/bin/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/2161/2026

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