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.

DIY Facebook Applications

Ever since Facebook opened up their platform to outside applications I have noticed that a number of services have developed tools for us non-programmers to create Facebook applications.

The one I read the most about was Dapper. ReadWriteWeb has a good post and short video about the service.

So I thought I’d give Dapper a try (also, I didn’t have time to commute to Stanford). I decided to create an application using a basic RSS feed from Google News. I tried to think about what ongoing news story I would want updated stories about in my Facebook profile. Of course I thought about the upcoming Rambo movie. So using the Google News feed I followed the simple steps laid out in Dapper’s AppMaker. A few minutes later I had created and published my first Facebook Application. At this point two strangers have added this application so I consider that a success. However you can’t officially add your creations to Facebook’s application directory until you have at least 5 users.

rambo1.jpg

After I got this basic one out of the way I thought about how to create a library-themed one. Since I can’t create a technical wonder like the University of Alberta’s search application, I thought about a tool I would have appreciated during my periods of unemployment, a one-stop RSS feed that brought together the library technician job postings from various job boards.

The problem in creating such a tool is that few job boards provide an RSS feed. Again Dapper came to the rescue. All you have to do is enter in a URL and it can distill which content you want to track and create an RSS feed for.

Then I took the 6 different RSS feeds I had for library technician job postings and entered them into a new Yahoo Pipe. While creating a basic Pipe from multiple feeds is simple, the problem was that without filtering the results in some way, I was getting a final feed that included jobs for librarians, unrelated technical jobs and other off-topic postings.

The solution to this was to use the Filter tools provided. After much trial and error I ended up with the following Pipe:

libtechpipe.jpg

Considering the fact that I was pulling out content from very different types of web pages I am quite happy with the final result. In order to track and continually refine this tool I have created a new page on my blog which will detail my progress and provide links to the Canadian Library Technician Jobs Facebook application and a separate RSS feed.

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.
mainpage1.jpg

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.
pageviews1.jpg

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.

demo1.jpg

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?

Library associations and 2.0

Marge: Homer, it’s very easy to criticize…
Homer:
and fun, too!

The idea of writing this post has been percolating for some time but a recent post by Meredith from Information Wants To Be Free has given me a push to put my thoughts to virtual pen. In her post she comments about how one of the tenets of the Library 2.0 movement is the effort to end the “but we’ve always done it this way” attitude. She goes on to describe that while this idea is beginning to take root in the libraries we work in (though that’s a post for another day), it’s not always the same story with the associations we belong to and represent us.

I can only speak about the organizations I am or have been a member of, but each of them vary in how much of a push they have made to use emerging technologies to communicate with and involve their members.

As a caveat I will say I didn’t bother looking for any presence of these organizations on MySpace. For one thing, I despise any web site that starts playing music when I visit it (let me decide if I need to be blasted with the new Avril Lavigne single), but the garish designs, clunky photo slide shows and endless posts of, “thanks for the add” remind me of the millions of wack looking Geocities sites created in the mid-to-late nineties. As the creator of a garish Toronto Raptors tribute page back then I’m as guilty as anyone. I find that services like Ning (see the Library 2.0 network) to be more promising.

CLA
Since they offered a cheap membership rate to students I became a member a few years ago. When it comes to print publications, I find that most editions of Feliciter have several articles of interest to me.

In terms of electronic communication, they do send out an e-mail newsletter every week or so, but from a design point of view it is in a font that is not easy to read on a computer screen and the spacing and layout scream, “I was designed for print and simply cut and pasted in to an electronic format.” (UPDATE April 20: Wow, a week later I get my first edition of a redesigned, graphic-rich version of the newsletter. I won’t assume my critique had anything to do with this…)

There is a CLA presence on Facebook. There are over 100 members there now with some ongoing discussions and Wall posts. Counter this with the state of the discussion boards found in the members only section of the CLA web site. There are a couple un-responded to posts but it is mostly a ghost town. This leads me to be even more convinced that well designed social networking tools like Facebook provide a forum for casual and serious interaction and the top-down control, silo-like structures that have been the method of choice for organizations like the CLA need some loosening up.

The only blog I have seen associated with the CLA is Re:Generations, which is dedicated to new academic librarians and those who want to “re-energize” academic librarianship. I guess I should not be surprised that it is the new and forward-looking members of the CLA who pushed to get this blog up, though the fact that it is the only one proves that some organisations embrace change at a more glacial pace.

One thing I notice on the CLA Facebook page and other library focused ones is that the pictures of the members seem to indicate that the participants seem to run counter to the overall demographic makeup of the profession. The 8Rs Canadian Library Human Resource Study found that nearly half are currently 50 years of age and older. It’s not surprising that the younger members of the profession would be quicker adopters of new technology but I hope it is also a sign that the voices of this portion of the library community is having its voice heard in their workplaces.

I’m not sure I will continue as a member of the CLA in the future. As a Library Technician a lot of their focus is not on issues that effect my day-in day-out work but I do like supporting a national voice for the profession.

OLA
I also joined the OLA when I was a student. Their magazine is heavily weighted towards public and school libraries so there are not many articles I find of interest in it. On the other hand there are several blogs (from OLA and their divisions) that make it easier for me to feel in the loop: OLA Headline Stories, InsideOCULA and InsideOLITA.

While their various discussion groups are not exactly hives of activity, I think the OLA and its various divisions are providing quality access points for those not on any official committees to sense they are still part of a vibrant organization. The activity on the OLA Facebook page is also very similar in level of activity to the CLA one.

OALT
The OALT is the organization that brings together my hard-working Library Technician brothers and sisters (well, since the 8Rs study found that 9 out of 10 paraprofessionals are women I’ll say mostly sisters).

I was a member for a short time while in school but I did not feel a strong incentive to renew. Unlike the CLA or OLA, the OALT does not have a prominent role as advocates for library issues in the broader society. Given the organisations smaller size and lack of prominence when it comes to much of the public’s discourse on library issues (want to confuse someone on the street, ask them what a library technician is) I don’t think it would be a good use of the organisations resources anyway.

I think that at its best the OALT functions as a central hub and meeting place (physically and virtually) for library technicians to discuss the issues they face in the workplace, share knowledge about various technologies and create a greater sense of camaraderie and community.

Even without being an official member I am able to be part of the OALT discussion group. This is a fairly active group with over 200 members. There have been questions from new graduates about how to land jobs, and a variety of other discussion topics. There is also a Library Technicians in Canada Facebook group created by OALT members. Again this looks like an ideal method for creating a broader community for those of us in the profession.

I find it unfortunate that there has not yet been a blog created by the OALT. Their current official method of disseminating information is a standard print newsletter with various news about the OALT and the profession. Like any volunteer organization finding staff to write, compile, publish, etc. is a tall order. Maybe asking one or two people to take all of this work on is not the best approach. Perhaps a blog where the ability to write postings is open to the broader membership is a better approach in terms of getting out information in a timely way. In 2007 I question the overall value of a publication arriving 3 times a year with some of the information fairly stale by the time it arrives on the doorstep.

Conclusion
In the day-to-day grind of our jobs, the machinations of our various library associations may not see to be a big deal but it’s important to recognize the work done by those in our profession who put in the time and effort to better support libraries, their users and their workers. But as technology transforms our libraries and shift our user’s expectations we should ensure that the organisations we join and speak for us also evaluate their structures and methods so they can take advantage of the amazing tools becoming available.

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.