Social Networking Software multiplies faster than tribbles these days. In our first discussion post, we’d like to offer some talking points on the benefits and detractors of social networking software in the professional sphere of librarianship.
Â Point 1: It’s where the patrons are, right?
As we’ve mentioned before, undergraduates are flocking to social networking sites in droves. But reaching this user base is not as simple as setting up a library profile and finding friends. As Meredith Farkas observes, “there is a big difference between â€œbeing where our patrons areâ€ and â€œbeing USEFUL to our patrons where they are.â€ To make social networking software work for your institution you have to be proactive: mention your Facebook presence in classes, solicit feedback from students using features available in the social networking software, and use your profile as a portal to the library within the social networking site.
Point 2: Where do hospital libraries fit in?
There are 59 profiles that match a keyword search for ‘hospital’ in MySpace, and I can assure you, not one of them is related to the health sciences. From locked-down networks to the simple fact that time is precious, perhaps hospital libraries would do better to explore social networking resources that put on a more serious face. Free online reference management systems like Connotea and Citeulike, new sharing and discussion features in open access journals such as BioMed Central and PLoS ONE and professional social networking sites like LinkedIn, or Pronetos and Sermo (an online network for physicians which counts the AMA as a strategic partner) focus on the health sciences and leave the “hooking up” to the kids.
Point 3: There’s simply not enough time in the day
The growth and amount of social networking software available can be threatening to a new user, but you don’t have to take on everything at once. We’ve mentioned 23 things, the self-directed exercises designed to give hands-on experience with social networking software tools. The soundest advice may be to pick out a couple sites that sound interesting to you and just jump in. (Don’t worry, you are not going to break the Internet.)
Point 4: The technology disconnect
Libraries have a long history as policy-driven privacy advocates, while social networking tools encourage users to tell the world everything about themselves. McDonald & Thomas ponder this disconnect in Educause Quarterly’s “Disconnects Between Library Culture and Millennial Generation Values”:
Dogmatic library protection of privacy inhibits library support for file-sharing, work-sharing, and online trust-based transactions that are increasingly common in online environments, thus limiting seamless integration of web-based services.
This is an interesting observation about philosophies of information. Do our users trust us? Does staunch support of patron privacy & protection of copyright limit a library’s influence when it comes to current trends in online interaction?
Point 5: Multi-tasking vs. critical thinking
Did you hear the one about the law professor who banned laptops from his lectures, or were you too busy chatting up friends online? As a Chronicle of Higher Education article points out, social networking encourages distraction in the classroom & multitasking, which thwarts traditional objectives of higher education such as inspiring critical thinking in learners.
Final Thoughts: The move from one-way to two-way information
We put up information on library websites and assume patrons will find and use it when they need it, while social networking sites encourage interaction between users by design. With the advent of Web 2.0, patron/user behavior is changing. For better or worse, as you consider your library and it’s position on social networking software, here’s a few more questions to mull over (taken again from McDonald & Thomson)
What is your library doing to:
- Support the user’s affinity for self-paced, independent, trial-and-error methods of learning?
- Create opportunities to make library information look and behave like information that exists in online entertainment venues?
- Explore alternative options for delivering information literacy skills to users in online environments and alternate spaces?
- Apply the typical user’s desire for instant gratification to the ways that libraries could be using technology for streamlined services?
- Redefine administrative, security, and policy restrictions to permit online users an online library experience that rivals that of a library site visit?
- Preserve born-digital information?
Well, what is your [medical] library doing? We’d love to hear your comments.