Monday, April 23, 2007

If they like me, it's ok. If not, it's cool too.

This is mostly some more thinking and follow up on things I've written about before in terms of Facebook and social networking (see here and here). The post by Steven Bell was something I gave some thought to when it came out, and then I saved it to my clippings for later. It seemed like a good time to look it over and write my musings.

The posts and articles I will be referring to are:

Much of this I've known already, or I've learned along the way by trying things out. When you go into student territory, there is some risk. However, I say you should just plunge in like a normal person. Academics who seem to fret over presence in places like Facebook or MySpace seem to forget that we are human as well and as social as the next person. True, I think we (librarians in academia at least) should be mindful how we present ourselves online, but that is common sense advice to anyone using a social network online. Sure, we should be asking some of the questions in the articles for that is part of engaging in a reflective practice. At the end of the day though, there's no sense in getting the jitters over whether students like us or not. Be yourself; relax, and it will work out.

Mr. Bell in the March 19 post (the "Authority Figures" post) points out the need to have personal relationships. I certainly agree with that. I don't think students will find and add you out of the blue if you just make a profile and do nothing else. The few add requests I've had so far in Facebook have come from students I have met through BI sessions or consultation. I work on making personal contacts and building trust, something that takes time and effort. When we say we want to develop a working relationship, you have to remember the word "working" in that phrase.

This also boils down to trust. I recently read a small post on "trust requires a relationship" over at the Anecdote blog. This deals with people getting to know you, getting to know your character. If you come across as an authority figure, you won't get much trust. You come across as someone honest, open-minded, willing to listen as well as helpful, you will be building and gaining that trust. This is why students flee from advertisers or keep them at bay in their online social networks; students know the advertisers are out to sell something, so they act accordingly. This is also why they stay away from any college administrator and most professors. The last thing they want is another parental or authority figure invading the spaces they see as their own.

From the "Students Comment. . ." article:

"I know I have a friend on Facebook who works at the college and every once in a while she'll send pictures I put up to my mom or tell my mom what kind of comments I get, and personally, I just find that a bit strange and unprofessional."

Unprofessional indeed. A clear example of killing any possible trust building. Sure, a profile is public, but the visitors to the profile should still have some manners at the very least. From other student remarks in the article, it is clear students do have some awareness of possible repercussions for posting certain items online. However, some more education is needed. The comment that made me smile was this:

"Professors and faculty are seen as our 'elders' that we are to look up to, and they should not be trying to be like us or relate to us through the internet."

I have two words for that student: tempus fugit. Some day, you will be that 'elder,' and young students will say the same about you. Overall, I would say to readers looking at the article to take the student comments with a grain of salt. The truth is somewhere in the middle. Also, if you look at commenters to Mr. Bell's post, there seems to be some anecdotal evidence that some student reactions to academics in places like Facebook may be positive. It could be a matter of who you ask. But it also comes back to trust.

On a final thought, I need to explore a bit more the possibility of using Facebook to announce some library events and news. There is still some learning to do for me.

Update note: Or rather, an additional musing, but sort of optional reading for visitors here. I wrote a small comment on another Facebook posting (this one about faculty being cranky over excessive concern about using tools like Facebook) over on the scratch pad.

Another update note (4/27/07): Heather, from the blog Inspyration, has another take on librarians being in Facebook. She takes the "hey, I am a person too, you know?" approach. She writes, "I’m probably a bad academic librarian for saying this, but I don’t really care what the students are doing in Facebook. The fact is, I’m addicted to it myself as a social networking tool to keep me in touch with colleagues I’ve worked with, conferenced with, or met in virtual meetings all over the country." No, that does not make you a bad academic librarian. As much as I like my students, and I do, I don't really care much about what they do on Facebook. Did they have a big party and are now hung over on Monday morning? I don't really need to know that. Snark aside, I figure it's their space just as my profile is my space, which they are welcome to visit if they wish. And hey, Heather, so going for that futon in the office? I was hoping for a cot since I get that a lot when the evening librarian tells me, "oh, kids were here looking for you at 9:00pm." I may have to upgrade to a futon now. And by the way Heather, thanks for the link. Best, and keep on blogging.

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