Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Some lessons I have learned about social networking sites, some the hard way

This is the third in a series of posts prompted by Steiner's article (see previous here and here). This time I will go over some lessons I have learned over time when it comes to using social networking sites (SNS). Some I have learned the hard way; others are common sense. I am not trying to be prescriptive. These are just some things I have learned over time.

  1. You use what works for you. The service solves a problem and/or meets a need. It fits in with what you do already. If it is something new, then it integrates easily into your routines. It's not a chore or just another service to mind.
  2. You need to discard anything that does not work for you. If you are no using it, if it is not relevant to you, if it just does not work for you, delete or deactivate the account. Personally, I think that unless it is something that has some value if left online, say a project's blog, then it is time to take it down. Back it up if you need to, but then delete. I think leaving debris in the Internet, such as a blog you started for a class assignment, then wrote three posts (likely because someone made you do it), then never used it again, leaves a bad impression. Clean your tracks.
  3. Don't feel like you have to open yet another account. Just because the "cool kids" are doing it, it does not follow you have to do it. The old adage your mom probably used on you of "if everyone else jumps off a cliff. . ." probably applies here. As I have said before, feel free to experiment but do so judiciously.
  4. Take it seriously. This is specially applicable to libraries. If you decide to make the jump and set up a blog or a presence on an SNS like Facebook, take it seriously. It is not the thing that the geeky librarian on your staff does on the side when he or she has time (as if he or she has spare time given that he or she is already likely overworked). SNS for libraries are extensions of their services in addition to being an impression you make on your patrons online. Why would you treat it less than seriously? This means commitment not only from the staff working with the SNS, but it also means clear and unequivocal support from the administrators. It also means you give some thought to what you are doing and make sure it fits with your service goals and strategic plans. The worse thing an administrator can do is treat it as just something the librarian working on SNS does on the side, or worse, think he or she is goofing off.
I don't pretend to have all the lessons. These are just lessons I have learned over time that stick out right away. I am still learning and discovering.

Monday, August 24, 2009

A further look at the utility of social networking sites for libraries

Looking back at the Steiner article, I made some notes on the specific sites mentioned in the article. So, here we go.


Facebook (FB) has become a constant use tool for me. I have been using it personally for a while, and it has forced me to reflect on the idea of boundaries between my professional and my personal profiles online. My three readers know that I have a professional blog (this one) and a personal blog (see here). The basic goal was, and still is, to keep my professional writing and reflections separate from my personal musings and opinions. FB blurs that boundary quite easily. When I started using FB, FB was still a closed system just for college folks with a .edu e-mail address. FB back then was something I started so I would maintain a semi-professional profile and so I could do some outreach and reference work. I say semi-professional because I did include some small personal details in the profile. After all, you still want to come across as a human being. Once FB opened the gates, the borderline blurred a bit more as old friends and family joined the site and could find me. I found that I really had to learn how to tighten the privacy settings. I had to be extremely selective on what third party apps. I installed or even displayed. Some of my friends and family members love those little apps., whether it's some quiz or passing a virtual drink. That is fine for them, but in a setting where not only do students see me, but also colleagues, some administrators, and potential future employers, one has to be careful and somewhat restrictive on some things. Some degree of self-censorship has to be exercised; it's the price of having an online presence. I could go on, but we have other things to cover at this time.

Recently, I created an FB page for my library (I don't have enough fans yet to get the vanity URL, another peeve. Anyhow, just use Google to find it if you wish to see it; MPOW itself is linked on the right hand column of the blog). The purpose is to use it as an outreach tool. We make announcements. We post our events. We put photos of the library and what we do. I also linked the library's blog to the FB page so the blog's posts show up on the FB page newsfeed, a feature I like. We did a soft launch during the spring, and we are formally announcing it when the fall begins. So far, it is working out pretty well.


I was never too keen on MySpace for starters. However, in the interest of experimenting, I set up a MySpace profile (it is linked on the right side column of this blog). After some time, I can say that I am not impressed. MySpace is extremely cluttered and clunky. It's value to me personally is minimal and questionable. With my presence in FB, MySpace seems redundant. Given its poor features, I am seriously thinking about deleting the MySpace profile. One thing that might make use MySpace more is if it was more present in sharing options. As many folks out in the Internet know, many sites and blogs offer a form of "share this link" for social networking sites. FB tends to be pretty prominent, and it allows me to do a bit of microblogging where I share a link and make a brief comment on it. MySpace shines by its absence in this regard, and even in the very few instances where MySpace has a share option on a site, it is clunky to use, assuming it even works. So I rarely bother for MySpace. Bluntly, FB pretty much ate MySpace for lunch in this regard.

As for library use, unless my director gives me a direct order of making a MySpace profile for the library, I am not even considering it. While we do have some patrons who are MySpace users, there are not enough of them to justify the effort plus the overall lower quality of the site itself means it is not worth the effort at this time.


I have a Ning account, and I joined a couple of librarian-related networks. However, the networks were not active enough to hold my attention or interest. I don't miss them. I do see value in Ning as a tool itself, useful to build a social network for a group. This is something that could be explored further, but there is no urgency at the moment.


I have not used Twitter, and at this point in time, I am not interested in setting up an account. I don't say "never" because I know the only certain thing is change. However, I have no use for it at this moment, and I just don't have enough stuff to post in order to justify having it. For following things, my feed reader works fine for now. Besides, you really don't want to know what I had for breakfast, do you? What little microblogging I do gets posted on my FB feed. In essence, at this point in time, Twitter does not solve any problem or provide for any particular need for me. I have noticed a good number of the librarian celebrity bloggers use it, but that is not an incentive for me either.

In terms of work, my director did ask about Twitter and whether we should set up an account for the library or not. The university at large has one here. I can see how it can work for our Campus News and Information folks. At this point in time, I just don't see a need for the library to do it. We are still learning our way in Facebook, and keeping up the library blog is substantial work. As I've stated before, things could change, but I am not recommending implementation at this time.

In the next post, I will go on and discuss some of the lessons I have learned so far.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Article Note: On the utility of social networking sites for libraries, and some additional thoughts

Citation for the article:

Steiner, Heidi, "Reference Utility of Social Networking Sites: Options and Functionality." Library Hi Tech News Number 5/6 (2009): 4-6.

Read via Emerald.

This started out as one of the usual article notes I write for the blog, but it kept getting longer and longer as I kept thinking about the topic. So, I have decided to turn it into a series of posts. This is the first part, which mostly looks at the article, with two other parts in the next few days with my observations and comments.

I have been using social networking sites (SNS) for a while now. I have had a thought or two on the topic like this post. I have pondered use of SNS, even if I am not as vocal as some of the librarian celebrity bloggers. I have used them both for personal and professional use. The article I am discussing in this note deals with the use of SNS for reference use.

My three readers know that I rarely discuss my workplace, except when I can draw a general reflection or lesson, or when something goes really well, and I want to highlight it. This other article via MarketWatch I recently read provides some of the reasons for my approach; I may not agree with all of the article, but I know the reality of our profession. I also know that it is a very tight marketplace. Whether we like it or not, we do some amount of self-censoring for the sake of professional appearance. Reflecting on that is a separate topic. I am leading to a point, so bear with me a bit. As of this writing, we have one open reference librarian position. We are currently in the process of phone interviews. One of the questions we are asking the potential candidates is the following:

"What software/Web 2.0 technologies are you familiar with? How would you use them in this position?"

The question is pretty good; maybe it could be slightly better phrased. For now, I want to look at the question itself in the context of Steiner's article.

Steiner basically looks at four SNS applications--Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, and Ning-- and looks at their potential for reference work at a library. I would like for some of the candidates as well as library school students in general to read the Steiner article. While Steiner's article is pretty basic in its overview, I think it can spark some substantial conversations. The article could also make good reading for libraries that are considering a jump into Facebook or Twitter. Innovative libraries are continually looking for ways to make Web 2.0 work for them. With so many services available, and many more emerging, the challenge is knowing what to choose and asking does it work for your particular situation. Steiner puts the question very well:

"As the number of social networks grow, it becomes harder for libraries to determine which services are appropriate for their users and doable given the library's mission and goals" (4).

The last part of that statement is crucial. What can you do given your specific and unique mission and goals. A lot of libraries rush to create SNS profiles or pages, often due to the cool image concern, without thoughtful regard to mission and goals. If you add a lack of commitment to this equation, you end up with a dead site once the initial interest is lost. The resulting debris leaves an impression that is worse than not setting up that profile in the first place. The point is to experiment but do so judiciously.

Steiner looks at the advantages and disadvantages of each service, and she does compare between services. In her conclusion, she some good points. First, the key to successful use of SNS is promotion. Second, you have to make your SNS use known on your library website. Third, use signage at the desk to let users know about your SNS presence. And finally, updating is important (6). I would add the following: once you choose an SNS application, you are making a commitment. I am not saying it is permanent, but you are making the commitment of time and personnel. The library use of the applications should be treated seriously. I am not saying you can't have some fun with it or be playful. What I am saying, and this goes specially to administrators, is that use of SNS is not an afterthought, just something your geeky librarian does on the side, or simply slacking or goofing off. By the way, those are statements I have personally heard at one time or another. Use of the SNS should be part of the library's strategic plans for service and outreach and treated accordingly. After all, you are using those tools to better reach and serve your patrons. So you should put in the time, effort, and a positive constructive attitude when it comes to implementation.

This is now getting a bit long, and I still have more to say. I also want to add some personal notes on specific SNS use and lessons learned. I will do that in my next two posts. So my three readers, and everyone else out there, is invited to come back later in the week.