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.

academic library 2.0

Camus was once asked about being an existentialist and he claimed that he wasn’t—that he was a humanist. That’s sort of how I feel about the ‘library 2.0’ movement. Granted, several of my ideas, approaches and guiding philosophies could easily be grouped in that movement, but I don’t necessary wave the L2 banner.

That being said, here is my podcast on Academic Library 2.0

I am a little embarrassed because it was composed and recorded while I had strep throat—but here are the main notes:

What it really boils down to is have flexibility and adaptability, rethinking everything, physical space, virtual space, service points, policies -- it’s about creating a community of users, or a community of learners, who participate and interact with each other as well as with the library. It’s about examining what we’re doing, how we’re doing it and questioning the validity and effectiveness. Just because something’s always been done a certain way doesn’t mean it has to continue in that manner. So to sum it all up, to me, library 2.0 is about knocking down barriers, or at least lowering them, and trying to improve the library for our current patrons, while trying to attract new users to our services.

Other topics:

  • Information Literacy is very Un-Library 2.0 (the ‘proper’ way vs. your way)
  • “Being where they are” pros and cons on the trendy topic of online social networks
  • Commercial Library Catalogs Suck. That’s the next big challenge. Can we merge Netflix with Amazon?
  • Information / Learning Commons and some GT examples
  • LibQUAL+ is cool—seriously, it is.
  • Administration – get more vertical! and hire the right staff, people outside the profession.

The Conclusion: Academic library 2.0 is all about change—constant change, a culture of change. It’s about being aware of opportunities and taking advantage of them. I don’t think there is really a specification that says, if you do this and that, than you’re officially library 2.0. It’s more about always striving to improve and constantly adapting. It’s about listening to your patrons, and interacting with them, and getting outside of the “I am the librarian and you are the patron” mindset—it’s about community and participation and the library being a showcase for learning. It’s about letting go and not micromanaging the user’s experience, but allowing them to create their own experience based upon their needs… with maybe with a little guidance from us.

I don't feel there is anything really new or shocking here-- stuff we've been talking about for years, but there it is.