Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Article note: On student opinions of academic libraries using Facebook and MySpace for Outreach

Citation for the article:

Connell, Ruth Sara, "Academic Libraries, Facebook and MySpace, and Student Outreach: a Survey of Student Opinion." portal: Libraries and the Academy 9.1 (2009): 25-36.

Read via Project Muse. 

Right away, this article is starting to show a bit of age. Facebook (FB), in particular, has changed so fast since this article was published that some parts of the article are not as applicable. That is the problem overall in LIS literature trying to cover online social networking: by the time the article is written and published, a year or two have gone by, and that is a long time in the online world. However, that aside, there are some things worth considering in this article.

The article reports on a small study of first-year students done at Valparaiso University. They were asked "how they felt about libraries having a presence on social network sites and using that medium to contact students" (25). In the literature review, Connell discusses some approaches that other libraries have done from active solicitation of students to become friends of their FB profile to simply promoting the profile and letting students find it. Personally, I am not too keen on the idea of active solicitation. Yes, online social networks do have a lot of potential for libraries, and I think we need to go where our users are when it comes to service. However, being to aggressive seems like borderline spam to me. We do what Connell mentions that Penn State does, that is, "they recommend mentioning one's Facebook account in library instruction sessions and reference interviews and then letting students find that account" (28). I also mention it when we do outreach events. I usually ask students if they have an FB profile, and if they do, tell them the library has a page and ask them to consider checking it out.

Already in the literature review, the article is already showing some age. FB has pretty much moved organizations to create pages (here is ours, for instance), and it pretty much has closed down groups. And while the article does mention librarians having their own profiles, this distinction seems to get a little lost in the discussion. In addition, FB has done a few changes to their privacy options, sparking some controversy in the process. Additionally, a good number of the articles that Connell considers in her literature review were written when FB was a closed garden limited to college students. This is no longer the case as FB has expanded to become a very open ecosystem, with all the good and bad such implies. At any rate, the important question that the article raises is whether students are accepting of these uses. We have heard a lot in the library literature about libraries using online social media (I have looked at some examples from the literature here, here, and over here), but how do the students feel about it? This is what Connell is trying to answer. Let's look at the method and findings then:

  • The sample is of 366 students out of 721 enrolled in what the school calls the Valpo Core (a sequence of classes all incoming students take) and first-year honor students.
  • The study found a good degree of acceptance. According to Connell, "some participants, (63 or 17.2 percent) were very open to the idea and said that they would be proactive and invite the library to be their friend if they knew about the account" (31). In addition, the majority said they would not seek out the library, but they would accept if the library friended them (31). 
  • The acceptance is dependent on the quality of the interaction. If the library offers useful information and updates, it is more likely to be accepted by the students. 
  • A conclusion: "What was apparent from these results was that a one-size-fits-all model does not work when it comes to using social network sites for library outreach" (33). I would say that this boils down to getting to know your students and community. I would add that if you develop rapport with the students in person, they are more likely to check out and add your FB page to their favorites. 
  • Connell urges librarians to create profiles for outreach; well, she uses the terms marketing and publicity (34), but I would like to think there is more than just marketing and publicity. I like to use our library profile for reference, for providing useful information, and once in a while to provide something interesting. The idea of librarians on FB and other online social spaces by now is a given. I think it is very rare to have librarians totally react against the idea. Some may choose not to participate, and that is ok, but I  think, at least based on my reading and observations, that the idea of us being in those spaces is accepted. Whether some take it too far is another question. And as side note, I do have a personal profile on FB, which I use a bit for professional use (I have student and faculty friends for instance, so I do some outreach that way), but it is also for personal use. As a result, I do avail myself of distinct privacy settings as necessary; also, my personal use is something I do reflect upon every so often. This is especially significant given that nowadays current and potential employers can use your profile against you if they find something they dislike (regardless of whether it is relevant to the profession, the workplace, or to put it  plainly, whether or not it is their business). So I walk a fine line of balance. 
  • Another conclusion from the article: "Students made it clear in their responses that they do not want their time wasted" (34). 

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