Web 2.0: Social Networking Sites: Are You 'Friends' With Your Library?

Note: This post was created for a graduate level class at the University of Alberta: EDES 501 Web 2.0 for Libraries.
- poke - want to be my friend :)
Confused? Maybe it's time you learned about social networking sites...

What is Social Networking?
Social networking sites are online communities of people linked by a common element "like friendship, professional association, educational institution, or even a shared interest like art or dating." (Bell, 2007). They are web based and provide a various ways for users to interact with each other, such as chat, messaging, email, video, voice chat, file sharing, discussion groups and blogging. These services are usually free. A user can link to or 'friend' other users to interact with and have access to their content via a constantly changing network.

Mathews (2007) describes these sites as a "communications phenomenon"! Core features common to many sites include: user profiles, friending, groups, individual messaging, announcements, individual message boards, photos, blogs or journals, icebreakers (pokes), searching, and privacy control options.For a detailed history of social networking services, please see the article by boyd & Ellison (2007) here. Common social networking sites include Myspace, Facebook, Ning, and LinkedIn. Wikipedia has a list of social networking services that is over 100 sites long! A great comparison of ten popular services can be found at Top Ten Review.

Reynard (2009) links to an chart regarding age demographics on social networking sites. While the biggest age group is 18-24, the 25-34 is close behind and use is growing in the older demographics as well. The following chart lists the top social networking sites in the United States.

It is important to note that popular social networking sites vary around the world. Click the photo below to see a large, interactive world map of social networking services.
Libraries need to be where the people are, thus joining social networking sites is an option to consider critically.

Where Am I?

I am, of course, on Facebook (along with 250 million other people). I have been on Facebook since 2006. In the beginning, I was keen to add friends, join groups, use applications and post pictures. It was very exciting in the beginning to reconnect with long lost friends, and to easily communicate with people I knew around the world. Unfortunately, with today's climate surrounding privacy concerns, my profile has become more simplistic. I no longer post personal photos, use applications, join groups or 'fan' pages. Though it is a 'closed' network, I do try to maintain a professional look to my presence, as I know one day an employer could see my profile. In fact, a lot of librarians are on Facebook, and I think it will become a good networking tool throughout my career.

It is interesting to reflect on how my Facebook use has changed. I find myself using the messaging function more than regular email, and use the events application on a regular basis. Facebook has now become a useful way to keep in contact with people I already know, instead of a way to get caught up with people I had not seen since high school like it was in the beginning. It is a great forum to rally people together over a common event, idea or situation. The word 'facebook' has become a verb, as in "I'll facebook you", just like our use of 'google' has changed. Facebook is a constantly changing, always evolving network.

Ultimately, I have a love/hate relationship with Facebook. It can be a fabulous tool for communicating with others, but it has also caused me a lot of personal grief and I think daily about deleting my profile and getting on with my life. I actually think Facebook has changed the way we interact with others, and personally believe this might not be for the best. Sometimes I wish I could just talk to a real person.

Hane (2008) discusses the success of the social networking element of LibraryThing and its sister site LibraryThing for Libraries. LibraryThing is a personal cataloguing service that allos you to upload all the books you have own or read into your 'library'. You then have the opportunity to catalogue your work by adding tags or grouping it into collections. LibraryThing for Libraries is a service that allows libraries to involve their patrons by asking them to improve their catalogs with their reviews, ratings, and tags. It will work with your existing OPAC or ILS systems and has been used by many types of libraries. A list of libraries using this service is available here. Most of the libraries are from the US or Australia, but Pelham Library (ON), North Vancouver City Library and West Vancouver Memorial Library (both located in BC) also use the service.

I have been on LibraryThing for about a year (see my library here). I signed up because I wanted a way to keep track of all the books I own. In the past year, the site has grown and new functionality has been added. I can now friend other people, including authors, and send them messages. I have not found that this capability is used very much though. It will be interesting to see how LibraryThing evolves in the future, and if the social networking element takes off like Facebook has.

I am also on Bookmooch. This is an online service that allows you to mooch books from other people, who then send the book to you in the mail, and you do likewise when they mooch a book from you. The sender covers all postage costs. I have sent books, and received them from all over the world! The first book I sent went to Australia, the last to Iceland, and my most favourite transaction occurred with a sender from the Philippines. You can view my profile and inventory here. I really like the concept of this site, and have also seen its capabilities grow over the past year. Similar to LibraryThing, you can add friends and communicate with them, but I have never done this, as it is not a very popular option.

The social networking site I am not on, but am considering joining is LinkedIn, so I took this opportunity to explore the site a bit further. LinkedIn began 2003 as a business community, Users can network for career promotions and commercial ventures. It uses a 'gated access' approach that limits your direct contact with other members who are not within your expanded network of friends (Mathews, 2007), and seems to offer a great deal of privacy. Myspace and Facebook profiles look like flashy scrapbooks, but LinkedIn profiles are more like resumes. Elements such as job title, industry, education, and location are necessary and help users get jobs, contracts, or just maintain professional relationships with people they have met or worked with. As with all social networking sites, there is a messaging function and search tools that help you find people by career or location. You can also be linked to other people you went to school with or work with. In this case it is all about who you know, as these people might help you get a good job in the future.

The LinkedIn Learning Center and the New User Guide was a great place to start my exploration. These resources did a great job of explaining what the site was about, and how to use it effectively. The interface is quite simple and visually appealing. Once I looked through the guides, I tried using the search to find library jobs, but nothing came up for Canada. There were however, 5500 jobs in the Edmonton region, all of which seemed to be of a high standard (not MacDonald's postings here!). You can also get professional advice and ask or answer questions from the entire community. A quick google search for 'librarians LinkedIn' did prove that there was a lot of library action on the site, and provided links to sample profiles and groups. LIScareer.com has a fantastic article with information and related links about LinkedIn for librarians. I also found Guy Kawasaki's blog post title "Ten (13) Ways To Use Linked In" very helpful. He notes LinkedIn can be used to:
  1. Increase your visibility.
  2. Improve your connectability.
  3. Improve your Google page rank.
  4. Enhance your search engine results.
  5. Perform 'backwards' employer reference checks.
  6. Increase the relevancy of your job search.
  7. Make you interview go smoother.
  8. Gauge the health of a company.
  9. Gauge the health of an industry.
  10. Track startups.
  11. Ask for advice.
  12. Integrate into a new job.
  13. Scope out the competition.
While I am not yet ready to join LinkedIn, it is something I definitely will consider as I get closer to entering the job market once again. I plan on watching the site's growth and development carefully.

Uses For Librarians and Libraries
Social networking use is growing among the general public which makes it a good forum for libraries to be involved, in order to reach their community. Being part of a social networking service can allow librarians the opportunity to learn what trends are popular, connect and share information with professional colleagues. Social networking is a powerful networking tool!

Besides personal use of social networking sites, a library could use their library's social networking account/page to:
Mathews (2007) offers these tips to librarians for getting started on a social networking site:
  1. Explore to get a sense of the environment.
  2. Set ground rules for participation and privacy
  3. Add content.
  4. Advertise.
  5. Update regularly.
  6. Have fun!
Other suggestions are to use the RSS capabilities embedded within the service to get your updates out and use your page as a supplement to your website as opposed to a replacement of it (Ganster & Schumacher, 2009).

Advantages and Disadvantages
The advantages and disadvantages of social networking sites revolve around the common themes of identity, presence, relationships, conversation, groups, reputation, and sharing.
Mathews (2007) cites many advantages of libraries being on social networking sites. First, these sites appeal to young people, so in order to gain the attention of a variety of patrons, a library must be where the patrons are online. This gives a positive impression of libraries to the public and lets them know that libraries are 'hip' and 'cool'. The public will be encouraged to participate in open communication with the wider community if they are allowed to submit of photos, videos, and comments. This can increase community spirit and closeness. It also allows libraries to get the unfiltered and honest opinions of patrons, which can be used to improve services. Rainie (2009) notes that 'friending' libraries offers problem solving information, personal enrichment, entertainment, relationships and communication opportunities for patrons. Thus involvement is just another alternative method of reaching patrons.

Another advantage to being part of a social network is that it allows an institution to use the site as a low cost, simple viral marketing tool (Ganster & Schumacher, 2009). Viral marketing occurs when the promotion of a brand, idea or information is spread quickly from person to person. In order for a library to take advantage of this, they must be where the patrons are, and the patrons must know they are there. Thus a library must market its presence to patrons first, before patrons can use or promote the library to others. Content must also be kept very up to date in order to keep the library's presence fresh, and thus more desirable to users.

As with any online environment, social networking also has many possible problems. It is possible that the continued use and reliance on online interactions could lead to the degradation of real life interaction, and cause the breakdown of communication and relationships. Addition to social networking sites is a real possibility (Mathews, 2007). There is also occurrences of online predators, identity theft, stalking and cyber bullying due to the elements of unregulated content in an unmoderated environment (Mathews 2007). There is also the possibility of invasion of personal privacy, as police, principals, and employers can 'check up on you'. In order to combat the invasion of privacy, Bell (2007) suggests using care and common sense: "Don't post anything that you could get in trouble for in "real life," and if you simply can't resist repeating company gossip, posting racy pictures of yourself, or badmouthing people, be prepared for the possibility of real-world consequences." For personal accounts there are privacy options to restrict access, but when at work and aligned with a library's account, librarians should maintain a professional ethic when putting themselves online as librarians.

In order to combat cyber bullying and other online predation issues with regards to young people, a library must be where the teens are to reach them and empower them to use the internet safely. Kranich (2007) discusses some very practical privacy tips for librarians, especially with regards to teenagers who are online. Librarians must know and respect the users right to privacy (we do not want to be 'creepy' [Reynard, 2009]), and develop a privacy policy to structure an guide their own social networking use within the library context. Another great idea is to use your online presence to promote privacy education while showcasing the value and safe use of social networking. By using the site carefully, a library account can be a model of safe use. Thus by actually belonging to a social networking service, a library can use their presence to promote safety.

Even though there are many issues with library involvement in social networking sites, I think they are a technology that will persist for a long time. Libraries need to be involved with the social networking wave: only when we are where the people are will be able to improve our services to our local community. After all, it's not what you know, it's who you know.

Are you friends with your library?

Bell, Erin. (2007). A dummy's guide to social networking. PC World http://www.pcworld.ca/news/column/8ba3be240a010408011d3f0bae419646/pg0.htm.
boyd, d. m., & Ellison, N. B. (2007). Social network sites: Definition, history, and scholarship. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 13(1), article 11. http://jcmc.indiana.edu/vol13/issue1/boyd.ellison.html.
Ganster, Ligaya & Schumacher, Bridget. 2009. Expanding Beyond our Library Walls: Building an Active Online Community through Facebook. Journal of Web Librarianship, 3(2): 111 - 128.
Hane, P. (2008). Social Networking and Collaboration Platforms Lead the News. Information Today, 25(8), 7-12.
Kranich, N. (2007). Librarians and Teen Privacy in the Age of Social Networking. Knowledge Quest, pp. 34,37.
Mathews, Brian S. (2007). "Online Social Networking." In Nancy Courtney (Ed.), Library 2.0 and beyond: Innovative technologies and tomorrow's user, (pp.75-89). Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited.
Rainie, Lee. (2009). Friending libraries: Why libraries can becomes nodes in people's social networks. Pew Internet http://www.pewinternet.org/Presentations/2009/8-Friending-libraries.aspx.
Reynard, Ruth. (2009). Beyond Social Networking: Building Toward Learning Communities. Campus Technology. http://campustechnology.com/Articles/2009/07/22/Beyond-Social-Networking-Building-Toward-Learning-Communities.aspx?Page=1.
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  1. Thats a lot of sites with a lot of uses! But I guess, soon one will see convergence in social networking sites. Much like the search engines where Google has emerged as the leader. Till that point of time, its up to us to utilize the above sites to the maximum.

    By the way, if you are looking to make the most of your LinkedIn account, check out networking expert Jan Vermeiren's new book "How to REALLY use LinkedIn". You can find a free lite version at http://www.how-to-really-use-linkedin.com/


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