Task Force on Social Networking Software

Medical Library Association

Discussion Post: 5 points to ponder about social networking

Filed under: discussion post,TF — Molly Knapp at 6:47 pm on Monday, October 29, 2007

Discuss ButtonSocial 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.

  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 “being where our patrons are” and “being USEFUL to our patrons where they are.” 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.


Comment by Bart Ragon

October 30, 2007 @ 2:37 am

Great post Molly, this is certainly a lot to think about. Here are my thoughts.

Point 1: It’s where the patrons are, right?

In my library we have chosen not to have a Facebook presence. Consider that the students may actually resent us invading their space. The USEFUL point above is a good one. I spend a lot of time in Facebook because I see its potential, however so far I haven’t chosen to deliver any services in FB because I’m still looking for that ‘useful’ app.

Point 2: Where do hospital libraries fit in?
I can’t speak for the hospital libraries, but I would like to look out for the hospital librarians. It’s a secret goal of mine to build a social network like Facebook for MLA. However, this can’t be in Facebook or MySpace. It would need to be build under the MLA domain to give all members a justification for participating and the reduce the likelihood of being blocked by restrictive hospital networks.

Point 3: There’s simply not enough time in the day
Great point! I feel intimidated everyday by emerging technology. Luckily we have bloggers like Michelle Kraft, David Rothman, and countless others to help us stay up-to-date. I enjoy lurking and scanning blogs while on the desk.

Point 4: The technology disconnect
I look at librarians as the voice of reason here. We are the enablers and the protectors of information.

Point 5: Multi-tasking vs. critical thinking
Funny point here. I was at the Harvard Leadership Institute for Academic Librarians in August and they prohibited laptops and other technologies so that we could concentrate on learning. The problem is my laptop is integral to my learning process at this point. So is the Internet for that matter. I enjoyed the course very much, but believe that the lack of technology worked against my learning process.

Comment by Gabe_Rios

October 30, 2007 @ 3:38 am

Good and relevant discussion Molly.

I 100% agree with Meredith! I am a strong proponent of being where the patrons are, however Meredith drives the point home by saying that we also need to be USEFUL. We do not have a Library Facebook policy but several of the librarians and staff have individual Facebook profiles. We also have a Facebook catalog search applet with a link to ask a reference question. I think that the next step is to set up a Library Facebook Group but as Bart mentions, the ‘useful’ app is elusive.

RE: hospital libraries?
I do think that hospitals accessing these applications will be an ongoing issue. As Bart mentions, we can create our own construct to allow interactivity for the hospital librarians but in a way it defeats the purpose of those hospital librarians using/learning social networking services to meet patrons where they are. I am not sure that we are going to have an easy solution for this issue.

RE: time in the day…
Tell me about it! There really are not enough hours in the day for ‘playing’ with a purpose. I would stick with Molly’s advice and pick out a couple of sites that you find interesting. I have a several passwords for services that I rarely use. However, I will point out that by setting up these accounts, I was able to find services I really like to use. So… with that said, I would encourage you to find some services that are ‘fun’ for you even if you do not see an immediate work application. It will give you some familiarity with how social networking works.

RE: technology disconnect
In addition to the privacy and policy issues, I think the most libraries are having trouble with the “seamless integration of web-based services.” How many times have you gone to a library blog only to find that the interface/navigation is vastly different from the library’s main site?

RE: multi-tasking vs. critical thinking
I might be little more opened minded with this issue. You can find research that supports and opposes the statement that millennials multitask better than those of us with more years of life experience. I would just rather not impose my own limitations on others.

I think we are only at the beginning of the realizing the potential of what social networking services can do to CONNECT us with our users.

Comment by Mary Piorun

October 30, 2007 @ 1:02 pm

A few comments:

Technology Disconnect: Yes I think my attempts at protecting copyright law interfere with the social networking. Each time I e-mail an article around I feel duty bound to include the citation and instructions on how the user can access the article themselves. I also like to make sure the user has access rights the article to begin with. This slows everything down.

Multi-tasking vs. critical thinking: Being a graduate student for the past three and half years I have only benefited from using a laptop to take an exam using word or excel. I often find I wish I had my laptop because I didn’t fully prepare for class; I want to look something up that I didn’t think of before, or look for the definition of a word, check a company website. Other times I just want to check my e-mail and find out what is going on outside the classroom. I see students shopping for cars, checking the score of the game and texting in every class I attend. If the teacher cuts the network connection in the classroom, students go to their handheld devices. I will admit there is a difference between a 2 hour class and an 8 hour class. My experience tells me the multi-tasking usually takes away from the class discussion. There have been times when a student would come up with something from the web that supports what is happening in the classroom.

Comment by Molly Knapp

October 30, 2007 @ 2:40 pm

re: multi-tasking/critical thinking
I’m 50/50 on this. On one hand, laptops can give me the instant gratification of any definition/formula/whim, and it can be a great way to introduce added content to the classroom. OTOH, who hasn’t wanted to scream & throw things at students happily playing yahoo games while you’re trying to conduct bibliographic instructions on how to find a research article? I wonder how much of a crutch a laptop/handheld could become in the future, especially as the Millenials make their way through higher education. After I got a cell phone I couldn’t remember phone numbers anymore…hope this doesn’t translate to future physicians when it comes to brain surgery!

Comment by Julie Kwan

November 2, 2007 @ 1:31 pm

Re: Point 2 – Where do hospital libraries fit in?

I think it is a mistake to focus at this point on using SNS to help hospital librarians connect with their clientele. It would be much more helpful to think about how to connect them with each other. Hospital libraries are frequently staffed with one or two people. We need to build connections between them and their colleagues to make it easier for them to do their jobs. We need to build connections between members of this “invisible college”.

Facebook released APIs several months ago and Google announced two days ago that it is going to do this as well. Orkut has the ability to distinguish between groups of friends.

I think we need to start developing software requirements for a system similar to what Bart mentioned in post 1187. My question is: how separate must this system be?

Comment by Bart Ragon

November 6, 2007 @ 5:48 pm

Thanks for your comment Julie. Ideally what we need is a system that tracks my information like institution, degree, AHIP, CE, etc and is smart enough to help me make connections that I don’t even know are there. For example, if I am a new member it would ‘push’ me to resources for new members or if I am a hospital librarian it would connect me with members with similar interests.

It’s interesting that Facebook doesn’t do much for me as a medical librarian, but it sure has helped me stay connected with other members this year.


Comment by Darin Blanchard

November 28, 2007 @ 5:19 pm

Thanks for the mention of Pronetos here. While Pronetos is by definition a social networking site it is really much more than that as it allows users to collaborate and share ideas much more easily than a traditional social networking site. If you don’t see your community listed just sign up and create it – it’s that easy to get started!

There are several new features on Pronetos and we have a very aggressive schedule to introduce even more features, but here are the latest:

Document Versioning: Now, after getting feedback from your peers, you can upload a revised version of the original document, thus reducing the confusion of posting multiple versions of the same document.

Open Peer Review: Based on five factors, you can now have peers in your field review your submissions with more than “comments.”

Improved Profile Pages: Tell people more about yourself and your research! On your profile page, click “Edit your profile” to add “About Me,” “Current Research,” “Outside Interests,” and more.

We hope you and your colleagues will stop in, sign up and contribute. Remember, it is your site and your contributions are what make Pronetos great!

Darin Blanchard
Community Manager, Pronetos

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