The meaning of social network sites for libraries

I haven’t studied the literature about social network sites much and libraries but I stumbled on this article: Academic Libraries, Facebook and MySpace, and Student Outreach: A Survey of Student Opinion by Ruth Sara Connell in portal: Libraries and the Academy, Vol. 9, No. 1 (2009), pp. 25–36.

The Valparaiso University Library, outside Chicago, surveyed 366 first-year students during January-February 2008: “…to discover their feelings about librarians using Facebook and MySpace as outreach tools”. Here’s a conclusion extracted from the article abstract:”Most indicated that they would be accepting of library contact through those Web sites, but a sizable minority reacted negatively to the concept. Because of the potential to infringe on students’ sense of personal privacy, it is recommended that librarians proceed with caution when implementing online social network profiles”.

The students were asked if they had a profile on Facebook (338 out of 366) and MySpace (151 of 366). 190 had Facebook but not MySpace and 145 had both. They were asked if they would add the library or librarian as a friend. The majority of respondents (211 or 57.7 percent) said that they would not be proactive about it, but if the library friended them, they would accept the friend invitation.

The were also asked: “how would you feel if the library tried to send you announcements and communicate with you via Facebook and/or MySpace?” More students (156 of 366) answered that they would be more receptive to information received in this way than any other response. The second most commonly given answer (134 or 36.6 percent) was that “I would not pay attention but not mind this communication.”

Other comments from the survey, negative and positive:

“I think this is a really good idea because students check Facebook and MySpace before Groupwise campus e-mail system…”

“It’s probably not worth your time unless the library does new and exciting things”.

“Facebook is to stay in touch with friends or teachers from the past. E-mail is for
announcements. Stick with that!!!”

Beside of the Valparaiso survey the article is a nice review of some of the literature within the subject. Here is some extracts:

“Students are far less concerned with privacy than many librarians assume they are”. Source: Daniel Mack et al., “Reaching Students with Facebook: Data and Best Practices,” Electronic Journal of Academic and Special Librarianship 8, 2 (Summer 2007),

“A big difference exists between being where our patrons are and being
useful to our patrons where they are. A profile should be designed to offer something
to patrons, so they will keep coming back to it.” Source: Meredith Farkas, Social Software in Libraries (Medford, NJ: Information Today, Inc., 2007).

When reading this interesting article I thought of the very small survey we made the Umeå University Library in spring 2007, before the Facebook-fever outreach, asking library visting students randomly about their thoughts of the library website building their own web 2.0 services like recommendation tools, forums, private profiles etc. (like the pioneering web 2.0 library at the public library of Umeå).

Nearly every respondent, it was a VERY small survey though, didn’t see any meaning for the library to build their own web 2.0 applications, though some kind of personalization was appriciated like save my search history, my journals and databases.