Traditional reference service is dead--- or dying. This blog will focus on new approaches toward providing library assistance to patrons... or whatever else I feel like rambling on about.

Friday, May 12, 2006

In defense of social networks

This is a comment I made on Paul’s blog regarding Thoughts on privacy and libraries and social networks This sort of sums up my feelings on the topic.

The big issue I have is the librarian mentality to formalize everything. To create a committee, to create guidelines and policies, to actually read the Terms of Service. Seriously, social networks are all about organic growth and individual expression. It’s about reaching out to friends and strangers and making informal connections.

If librarians, or businesses, go in with a “spammer” mentality of “hey you need my help—the library is cool, see we have a myspace account” then you’ll fail. Libraries are NOT cool. I mean, we think they are: we have sexy computer labs, and cafes, and DVDs, but so what?

I would not say that using Facebook or MySpace is a “waste of time” anymore than trying to provide library instruction sessions on using the catalog to freshmen composition students.

You have to approach it with sincerity. If you just go in trying to push your agenda and services, students could view it as intrusive. I only show up when there is a clear information need, like this one:

“I'm ready for school to be over, but that means working on my massive research paper. We had to turn in preliminary topic ideas/a short essay on preliminary research we've done. Mine was pretty much shit and I'll probably have to rework a lot of my ideas, or choose a new topic altogether. It has the potential to be a lot of fun, (did I really just say that about a research paper?) if I do it correctly. I've been inside the library at Georgia Tech a total of 6 times in the three years I've been at Tech. That number is about to grow geometrically in the next few weeks methinks.”

I’m sure that eventually this student would come to the ref desk, probably close to the deadline—but by using my approach I was able to interact with the student and get him the info he needed. This also helps to spread the “value” of the library via grassroots outreach—since his roommate contacted me later with a similar need.

It’s sort of like if you get a flat tire and someone pulls over and offers to help—you’re there when it’s appropriate, when they need you.

That’s why I favor student blogs over student spaces, like myspace--- on myspace you essentially setup a library front—sure, you’re a little closer to them, but it’s too passive. With the blogs I’m in the trenches with them rather than standing around on the sidelines.


Blogger Andy McDermott said...

Here's a real world story - I am heavily involved in applications that sort and index a wide selection of text-based information. Whenever we meet with a company that has a coproprate librarian we immediately know we will be off down a rat hole basically attempting to convince them that these types of tools are actually an ENHANCEMENT to their function and not a threat. But they almost never get it! They are like some kind of Luddite cult...which is a great pity because I basically think librarians do heroic work!

8:14 PM

Blogger Brian Mathews said...

My vibe from corp librarians is that it's all about saving money rather than enchancement--- sorry you've had bad experiences.

9:50 AM

Anonymous Cindy said...

Brian, I heard a presentation by a colleague of yours yesterday. (He gave a plug for your website, too!) The overall workshop was entitled, "The Future of Reference." I have heard several speakers and have read on blogs about librarians entering into MySpace and Facebook. I appreciate your take on this issue. (I have wanted to ask at each event/blog, "Do you think kids really want us in their 'space'?") I wholly support social networks, and our familiarity with them. I am just not sure that students really want us there? Seems like an invasion of their territory, though I love how you were able to find a GT student's rant and help him at his "point of need."

11:47 AM

Blogger Brian Mathews said...

Hmm, was that Tyler?

I am putting together a longer piece on this topic. But email or IM me and I'll share my thoughts.

Overall, I am anti-MySpace and pro-FaceBook, but it depends on how you use it.

As for the journals-- as long as I comment when they need help, everything works great!

3:03 PM

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