Friday, July 10, 2009

Article Note: On Libraries Deciding to Use Facebook for Outreach or Not

Citation for the article:

Fernandez, Peter. "Balancing Outreach and Privacy in Facebook: Five Guiding Decision Points." Library Hi Tech News Number 3/4 (2009): 10-12.

Read via Emerald.


Since I recently set up and implemented a Facebook page for my workplace, this article caught my eye. The decision points that Fernandez presents are very relevant, and they were points that we had to consider here in one form or another during the set-up process. If your library is looking at setting up a page on Facebook, then this article is necessary reading. Personally, the article made me think about about my own use of Facebook. My personal experience with Facebook is something I have pondered a few times. For example, here, where there are links to some other posts as well. My use of Facebook is something I have to constantly monitor for balance in terms of issues like professional appearance and ethical behavior. There are certain things I keep out of my Facebook profile just to avoid certain questions and hassles from certain people. Then again, the same is applicable to my blogging as well, but we can ponder that some other time.

In addition, the article asks some useful questions for reflection and discussion. As usual, let me make some notes and comment. I will make some connections to my experience operating the library's Facebook page, in the hope, infinitesimal as it may be, that someone may find it useful for their situation. Plus it helps me do some assessment on what is happening now.

  • "Doing so in an ethical manner requires that libraries have a firm understanding of how Facebook works, and what kind of presence they want to have within the framework it creates" (10). I think at times libraries, in the rush to be where their patrons are, may jump in without fully thinking things through. This can also be exemplified by the many library blogs out there that are now defunct or at least moribund. You need to think about how Facebook works, and this takes some time and effort, and what exactly you want to accomplish. For instance, in our case, we mostly wanted to use it as a tool to keep our students and patrons up to date with what is going on at our library. Simple enough, but that does mean you have to think about the image you are putting out there. And as librarians, we also think about issues of privacy.
  • A consideration: "At the same time, interacting with Facebook sites involves putting library content on a third party website, which is run by companies who have historically demonstrated a different conception of privacy than librarians might prefer" (10). For a good discussion on the third party website reliance issue, once again I point my three readers to Ms. Farkas's recent post on 2.0. For example, here we do put some photos of library events on the Facebook page, but you can bet that we do have multiple copies of those photos. So if something goes kaput, we still have the content. The Notes application on Facebook for our library page is set to pull the feed from our library's blog. Granted, our blog is on a Wordpress.com blog (i.e. a free online application). However, when things like budgets and technical power are in small supply, you do what you can with what you have. And you do back up everything. Unfortunately, this is not a perfect world, and for various reasons many of us will continue to use third party applications for content, like me using Blogger here. Just keep such issues in mind. And then there is the issue of privacy in those third party sites and services. Facebook has had issues with privacy, in large measure because what they think is good practice is not what their users think it is or should be. From the recent debacles in rolling the newsfeed feature to their gradual move to be more like Twitter, we often see Facebook and users coming head to head over what is ok or not in terms of privacy. Let me put it in another way: you have to keep in mind that, at the end of the day, Facebook is a for profit company, and they will do what they think will bring them a profit. Whether that is totally ethical, or ethical in the eyes of their users, that is a separate question. And that is not just Facebook. Pretty much any online service will follow that routine. When it comes to these third party services, you get it "free" because advertising pays for it. That's their angle and interest. So letting you get too private is not in their interest. Think about that for a moment.
  • "Facebook does not give its users access to a neutral space, and its tools and the types of content it allows are designed to influence users to adopt an informal, revealing tone" (10). See my remark above about where Facebook's interests are at. This is something that I also struggle with when it comes to my personal Facebook profile. Between Facebook's structure and the applications, it can be very easy to reveal just about anything about my life. Since I do believe that some things are my business and private, I have to stay on my toes. However, for Facebook, the more you reveal, the more information they gather for their advertisers. For a casual user, being a little revealing is probably not a big deal. For someone like me who has to keep a certain image, it is a big deal. I know potential future employers, my current employers, and all sorts of people see some form of my Facebook profile. Although I have tightened my privacy dramatically, so pretty much mostly friends see most of the stuff, it is something I have to keep maintaining. For a library page, this very important as well since a library does have to project a certain image. And yet, to use ourselves as example, in an academic library, you do want to be professional but also accessible and humane. Same thing for a librarian's profile, which is why I do have a few things that are more on the playful side in my profile. I am a human being; I have a sense of humor, and I am a fairly normal dude, and I want my students, friends, and family to know that. Personally, the way I see, if some potential employer thinks that is a problem, I probably do not want to work for them in the first place. There are plenty of open-minded and progressive places out there.
  • This is a problem: "However, once a personal profile has been created and associated as the primary administrator of the institutional page, there is no way to undo this relationship" (10). I will say that I struggled a bit with that when I was creating the library's Facebook page. Do I want it attached to my profile? I took the risk anyways and did it. These days, you should be able to make a page without having to make a profile for yourself. As for the attachment, it is unclear how to do it, but I think I could add someone else as administrator, then remove myself, which would be what I would likely do if I were to change jobs in the future. Facebook's Help section is not very forthcoming on that issue; I know; I looked.
  • And what about the other librarians? "Should the library administration encourage librarians to link their profiles to the libraries Facebook site?" (10). My two cents? I say you can encourage, but you cannot require it. A personal Facebook page is exactly that, personal. That is a choice every individual librarian needs to be comfortable making.
  • And then there is the issue of how you will handle certain things. "Facebook interactions raises a host of questions for libraries from how to handle potentially hateful speech, to relatively simple things, like what to do if patrons post false, or otherwise problematic information to the site" (10-11). I spent a bit of time reassuring my boss and the powers that be that we would monitor the site. But I also told them that, yes, there is always the risk that someone will post something that we may not agree with. Now, disagreement is fine. Hateful speech is not. In essence, you have to give some thought to how much monitoring and moderation you will have to do. What I have found, so far, is that things are not as bad as we may think they could be initially. Don't get complacent though.
  • Just remember: ". . .most libraries using Facebook will want to keep their settings relatively open, or risk creating barriers for potential patrons who visit the site" (11). And while we are talking about barriers, let me say that the Facebook line of not allowing me to set up a vanity URL for the library page because my fan numbers are not high enough is a load of male bovine solid waste. Their excuses of preventing spam or squatters simply do not amount to a hill of beans, especially for small organizations like my library, or other campus organizations here with Facebook pages facing the same barrier.
Fernandez emphasizes, and I will concur, that having a maintenance plan is important. You do have to monitor the Facebook page as well as keep it up to date. You also have to add new content to it in order to keep it fresh and keep your fans coming back. In the end, I think most libraries can take the chance, but they have to go in informed and with some degree of planning.


Update note (same day): A few additional items I have seen on the topic. Jotted them down on the scratch pad.

1 comment:

Pfernandez said...

In case you don't have access to Library Hi-Tech News, the content of the article can also be found here:

http://works.bepress.com/peter_fernandez/