Facebook: Hey kids, do you like libraries?

In my continual effort to understand at least 1% of all the Library 2.0 tools out there, I decided to take a look at Facebook, the social networking site predominately populated by students, alumni, etc of various educational institutions.

It is my understanding that the principal behind the push for academic libraries to have a presence there is to find another outlet to reach, inform, converse, etc. with their student population. I support this line of thinking, given that as the use of digital collections continues to rise, more and more students are becoming disengaged from using the physical library and consequently there are fewer opportunities for us to interact with our users.

But as they say about the material used to pave the road to hell, these good intentions are being met with a number of stumbling blocks. A source of frustration for a number of libraries last year was that the profiles they had created were suddenly disabled. This issue, covered here, here and here , highlight the Facebook policy that stops “organisations” from creating their own individual profiles. Now libraries must create a Facebook “group” in order to maintain a presence there.

While I haven’t had time to learn all the ins-and-outs of Facebook, this rule stops individual students adding the library to their list of “friends” which is the most useful way to forge the virtual connections in Facebook.

A very interesting case of a librarian taking steps to perform outreach in Facebook involves Brian Mathews. As outlined in his article in the May 2006 issue of College & Research Libraries News, he made an effort to promote library services to students at his institution through his Facebook profile. His method of reaching out to these student involved emailing them to introduce himself.

Unbeknownst to him, this quote-unquote marketing method violated Facebook’s policies. As you can read in his most recent and previous posts about his experience with Facebook, he feels that his, “objective of appearing in their space has ultimately failed” (See comment below for clarification about his conclusions).

If someone of his obvious knowledge and enthusiasm came to this conclusion about the overall value of making an effort to have a presence in this space, I must admit that I am in no rush to push for making the plunge at our library. But it would be a mistake to say that our library has no presence in Facebook. I did come across a group created by the students who work in the library. As for the content found there, let’s just say I hope our students aren’t coming across it and thinking it is the official Facebook voice of the library.

His experience brings to mind a theory I sometimes get about those of us who work in libraries and our efforts to provide the best service we can. I think we often fall in to the trap of assuming our patrons think about the library (our collections, our services, etc.) as often and with the same passion as we do. My experience poking around Facebook indicate to me that it is a place where students go to unwind (including bad-mouthing professors, expressing desire for physical relations with their fellow students, etc.) with their peers, and not a place where they want to hear about the wonders of federated searching.

I also get the impression that it is not a place where an official “school” presence is always well received. The growing number of cases like this will make them even wearier.

I beleive a more effective route to meet the goals of reaching out to our users is to continue to find more effective ways to integrate our services with the course management systems at our schools. These are the places where students spend time when their minds are on scholastic matters and where they would be more open to learn about the library.

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Hamilton: City of the future?

McMaster Library in Second Life

Anyone keeping their eye on library & education technology trends in Canada can’t help but notice the innovative and forward-looking developments at the twin beacons of education in Hamilton, Ontario: McMaster University and Mohawk College.

The most obvious developments are their forays into Second Life. This article from the Hamilton Spectator provides more details.

McMaster is being led by new University Librarian Jeffrey Trzeciak. In a sign that the university is fully behind his vision of the future of academic library service, he recently outlined the job descriptions for 4 new librarians they plan to hire. The most intriguing being the so-called, “gaming librarian”.

If Second Life is part of the future of libraries I figured I needed to understand it better so I downloaded the software and created an avatar a few weeks ago. My previous experience in a rich multi-user environment like SL was the not-so-productive year or so I devoted to the game Asheron’s Call. I can now proudly say I can run, fly, sit, etc. in SL. I must admit missing the ability to launch fireballs and kill ice monsters like in Asheron’s Call.

The times I have dropped by the McMaster Library, no one was there but I got a chance to interact with the terminals they have there which describe the services available. They provide links to services like the library catalogue.

Recent articles like this one from the New York Times and CNET discuss the investments schools are making in environments like SL. Theoretically, I can see how having virtual classes in SL would provide a more personal touch to students enrolled in on-line courses. They may help overcome some of the issues in student interaction and colloboration that can be a challenge in a more text-based environment. On this concept of leveraging the SL environment for educational uses, here is some information about the Sloodle project for those throwing off the shackles of Blackboard/WebCT for Moodle.

Mohawk College in Second Life

Mohawk does not appear to be very shy about their investment in SL. Instead of the modest one-level structure of the McMaster library, they have purchased an entire island and replicated an entire building on their campus. As you can see in the picture, they even have recycling bins.

Virtual environmentalism at Mohawk College

At this point it appears that they are only using their location in SL to promote the school and provide some basic interaction. But given the fact that they have their own island I would think they have grander plans. I am sure this will include the library, given that they are one of the more innovative college libraries around. Their BRAIN blog and Library Research Skill Instruction Blog are some of the better examples of 2.0 outreach and service. It is kind of odd though that one blog is made with WordPress and the other is made with Blogger. (Update February 25, 2007 they have decided to switch their BRAIN blog to the WordPress team)

To help keep abreast of developments in the educational side of SL I’ll try to keep my eye on the SimTeach Wiki.

So a salute to those in Steeltown helping to push the envelope, and I won’t even make a joke about how a virtual trip to Hamilton is far more pleasant than the real thing (I’m the son of a Hamiltonian so I can get away with saying that).