Facebook and GW Librarians

My custom Google News RSS feed picked up this story from the George Washington University student newspaper:

Gelman finds a new book. Librarians make resource out of Facebook

The article talks about an effort by GW librarians to promote their profiles on Facebook and make themselves upon to interacting with students in that space.

There is an anecdote about a student needing last second virtual reference assistance. She did not have the particular IM software (AOL) the library uses installed on her computer. She also mentions a lack of enthusiasm for email as a form of communication, saying she does not check it that often (those wacky millennials aren’t ‘down’ with email). So she got in touch with one of the GW librarians on Facebook and got the help she needed.

You can see on the article an image of the poster they use to promote the service. I tend to fall on the side of the fence that finds library staff trying to “friend” students a little creepy. But, the connection to the librarians grows out of the fact that students in a course at the school are assigned a personal librarian so there is a personal connection to start with.

There is not a lot of evidence of promotion of the service on the libraries web site with the Ask Us part of the site providing information on the conventional ways to contact them. However, this librarian provides a link to his Facebook profile on his blog.

It looks like they are taking time to evaluate how to evolve their services using tools like Facebook. They are asking for student feedback via an online survey.

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Facebook Fan Pages & Libraries

The Globe & Mail had a story today about universities setting up Facebook Fan Pages.

Universities

Libraries have been trying to find their place in Facebook and as I wrote about earlier, they have been stopped from the traditional avenue of creating a Facebook Profile and were left with creating a Facebook Group which is not as powerful a tool for interacting with an audience.

In the last few weeks the blogs have been starting to fill-up with information about various libraries setting up one of these Fan Pages.

Libraries

As a test I created a Fan Page for a fictional library, the Happytown Library.
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The Fan Pages provide a lot of options for the type of content you can present. You can add any of the applications created for Facebook. I added the “My Feeds” application and I was quickly able to upload entries from my blog which I think a library with a separate news blog would find quite useful.

One of the most interesting aspects of the Fan Pages is the information that can be gathered about the “Fans”. Facebook created this ability with the goal of getting you to buy targeted ads for your company but the data is useful even if you don’t plan to create an ad.
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Unfortunately, I don’t have enough fans to see just what type of demographic data is provided but I imagine it would be sex, age, network affiliation, etc.

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From a quick scan of the various Fan Pages there does not appear to be a lot of activity but since they are so new and I’m not sure the various libraries/schools are actively promoting them yet, this is understandable.

Of course this again raises the question of whether libraries will create a Fan Page just to be “current” and “hip” or will they take advantage of the opportunities it provides.

This article does a good job of describing of how companies should use Fan Pages, with the point being that it makes no sense to just create another page where your users can get the same information they can from your web site.

The author says the whole goal is to create a “conversation hub”. But when I look at the page for the University of Toronto they have eliminated the Wall and the Discussion Board. It is a very one-way space for communication.

The University of Victoria Library on the other hand has their Wall and Discussion Board up and running (even if it is mainly the library posting comments at the moment). As well they have already integrated the JSTOR Search application and a search box for their catalogue.

It will be interesting to see these Fan Pages six months to a year from now to see if they have really grown in to places where users ask questions , provide feedback, etc. I suspect users will be much more open to “Faning” a library as opposed to “Friending” one given all the personal information you are liable to share with your Facebook friends (no one at the library needs to see a students’ pictures from the beer-bong showdown in the dorms last weekend).

Can school libraries have their own Facebook profiles now?

At the risk of reporting something that everybody already knows, I came across something new to me regarding Facebook.

In one of my blog feeds from a university affiliated research body there was an invitation to add them as a friend.

This invitation came as a surprise to me since I had been reading stories over the last year of librarians trying to create profiles for their libraries within Facebook in an effort to reach out and connect with their users and being told that only individual people can have profiles not companies/associations/departments, etc:

I saw another example of a college with its own Facebook profile (not a Group or Network). What they had in common was that their URLs are structured like this:

http://somenetwork.facebook.com

Does this mean that as long as the non-human profile you create is within a registered Facebook sub-domain (not a standard http://facebook.com URL) that you are free from fear of the Facebook police coming in and deleting the profile you are creating for your school or library?

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.