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Facebook and public libraries

facebook logo“Facebook is a social utility that connects people with friends and others who work, study and live around them. People use Facebook to keep up with friends, upload an unlimited number of photos, share links and videos, and learn more about the people they meet.” (Official definition.)

I think most people have some idea of what Facebook is; I, myself, have often described it as the classier cousin of MySpace. Love it or hate it, Facebook is incredibly popular, and not just with the college set (anyone can join now, if you haven’t heard).  TIME magazine pointed out last year that Facebook is more popular than porn.   A quote from the TIME article:

“When you can reach all of your friends through Facebook or MySpace, there’s little reason to spend time in your old-school inbox.”

Chances are, you already knew that email is for old people.   Instant messaging (IM) is but one of the replacements with the more recent generations of netizens. Now, we have to contend with all kinds of social networking (AKA “Web 2.0”) sites, and Facebook is one of the kingpins.  So, should libraries be paying attention?

Yes and no

Will it hurt to create a Facebook profile for your library?  Very unlikely.  But libraries need to understand that they will be, to some extent, unwanted.  Ryan Deschamps of The Other Librarian says:

“So let me start with the Facebook library search application. It is fine, but my opinion is that few people besides librarians are going to add the applications to their profiles. The technology is Web 2.0, but the strategy is still Library 1.0. Why? Because the model is still, “I am librarian. I can help. Come to me (ie. my Facebook page) and I will serve.” The applications, though offering marginally better service for little cost, are not taking advantage of what Facebook offers its clients.” (Source)

And Casey Bisson writes:

“I’m going to avoid the question of whether libraries should be trying to offer services inside Facebook, and instead ask the question of how well our existing services work for those using Facebook. If students are collaborating, they’re likely sharing URLs, but our OPACs and databases often aren’t bookmarkable, making it difficult to exchange links to those resources (and instructions like these don’t help either). And if somebody blogs about one of our items, our catalogs don’t support comments or trackbacks, making it a one-sided conversation. Facebook and other online services are important to our patrons, and we would do well to think about how information is exchanged using those technologies. We would do well to build services that interoperate with the internet that people are using.” (Source)

So, not many libraries are providing anything in Facebook that users want.  Our resources are inaccessible to the Facebook multitudes.  Apparently libraries don’t “get” how to really fit into Facebook culture.  So why bother?

I can answer that in one word:  findability. Sometimes, half of life is just showing up to the party.  Maybe you don’t get to dance much, but at least people can see you made the effort to get dressed and show up.  A few years ago (and it still holds true now), many small businesses were madly scrambling to get a basic web site up on the web.  Most didn’t have shopping carts or even professional layouts.  But these businesses quickly realized that, if they didn’t have any web site, they were essentially invisible to modern customers.  I believe Facebook represents a similar scenario.    Libraries might not have cool widgets or apps, but we need to show up and put in a little face time (pardon the pun) with the net communities.

So, what does this mean to me, Laura?

  1. Your library should probably have a Facebook profile.
  2. Put a little time into it.  Check out reading-related applications like Visual Bookshelf that show what you’re reading.  Contribute reviews.  Maybe challenge your patrons to a little Scramble match to up their vocabulary skills.
  3. OPLIN has a Facebook profile (and yes, we dig Visual Bookshelf).  You can find it here. And we’re even giving away OPLIN pieces of flair. (If you don’t get the reference, you’ve got to watch Office Space.  Really, you’ll love it.)  Want to be our friend?
  4. Facebook is known for it’s mindboggling assortment of apps.  It’s like being a kid in a candy store.  You can add games, widgets for charities, you name it…somebody has likely already built it.  Yes, free.
  5. There has been some controversy over privacy in Facebook profiles (although they have made strides). This really shouldn’t affect a public library very much, if at all, since everything we do is open to the Sunshine Laws anyway.  But be aware that the controversy exists.

There are 2 comments

  1. Good post! I’d like to emphasize how widespread Facebook is among college students, a very powerful demographic. I once asked my son (now a college junior) how one of his best high-school friends was doing. The answer: “No idea, he’s not on Facebook.” Food for thought.

  2. We’ve reached a point in our lives where we head to the library to find a friend on Facebook before we pick up the phone to check on them. I never thought about how much this affects the library and the services it provides. Thank you for your insight.

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