Friday, January 18, 2008

So, social networking and libraries may not be such a big deal

If I was posting this over at the unruly cousin's place, who has tags set up (something I need to get around doing here), I would probably label it under "Department of the Obvious." However, since this is not just snark, here goes. To be honest, it is the sort of thing I usually let the Mount Ubertech dwellers deal with, but what the hell. I was not planning on living forever anyways.

The finding from the University of Michigan survey that a majority of students would not respond to a library presence in a social network should not come as a surprise. This is not a new finding; it simply validates what a few brave librarians who don't go "ga ga" over every 2.0 shiny gadget already knew. Heck, I already knew it. Just in case I did not know it from common sense, my own experience in Facebook (see a sample here) would have confirmed it for me.

The people who won't give up will say that there is still about a fourth of users who would respond. Actually, it is 17% that would not respond, and 6% said maybe. That is not quite a fourth. And "maybe" can boil down to a 50-50 chance they may or not respond, which is not exactly a ringing endorsement. The point is that 17% is not exactly great return on the investment (or ROI for those who like to use business jargon). I am not saying we neglect the 17%, but the evidence shows this is not a groundswelling wave of users needing or demanding our presence in places like Facebook. It is not popular to say something like that. The dwellers of Mount Ubertech would be very displeased, and I am sure one or two are already making excuses or saying something along the lines of "just because the number is low. . . ."

However, I am willing to step back a bit. This is only one survey. There are anecdotal accounts in the library sector of the blogosphere claiming some degree of success. Some of those places should conduct surveys of their own and get some actual evidence. Would that new evidence replicate the Michigan finding? I would like to know, but I'll say that, at the moment, the evidence is telling us that social networking is not the hot frontier for libraries it has been made out to be. It's nice, but it's not such a big deal.

By the way, I actually went ahead and read the whole Michigan report, all 33 pages of it. Hey, it actually has a lot of charts, so it can be read quickly. I made some notes for me, which I will post next time as there are other things of interest in the survey. Hey, the thing about social networks is the 20th question on the survey. There are other things worth looking at. I will look at them next time I post.

A hat tip to the Librarian in Black. Some of the comments on her blog are worth a look too.

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