02 March 2009

I can Haz Facebook?

In addition to worrying over what my dad thinks of my latest facebook status update (yes, my dad is the kind of dad who is on facebook), I now have to worry about potential employers looking at my profile. Many of these potential employers not only have individual social networking accounts: entire libraries have their own pages. I’m an adult; I suppose it’s time for me to stop posting fart jokes on peoples’ “walls”. This week I “friended” a few area libraries on myspace and facebook. Their profile pages looked great--professional but trendy. The content on their page was great, too: announcements, upcoming events, recaps of past events, and library photos.

I was happy to see that Evanston Public Library had over 300 myspace friends. “Gee,” I thought, “Think of all the great publicity they’re getting! And they’re probably drawing in so many readers!” So I scrolled through EPL’s friend list, and I realized that the majority of friends were other libraries, other media outlets, and author and book pages. I was happy to see that kind of networking going on, but it made me question the purpose for the site.

For those of you who work in libraries with social networking pages, why do you social network? Is it to draw in patrons? Recruit new patrons? Chat with patrons you’re already familiar with? Is it to spread the word to “peer” organizations like other libraries, or advertise to teens who would actually be using these services? Is it to give information or receive information? Do you check your friend’s pages for updates to their programs? Is this a sort of professional development tool? I’m sure it’s a mixture of all of these things.

I guess what I’m really asking here is, what are your (your library’s) motives behind social networking pages? Whose idea was it to get one, who maintains it, and what sort of information do you gain/give? Is this primarily a tool for patrons or librarians? What differences are there between your personal pages and your library pages?

Has anyone had good or bad experiences with library pages? I work in the children’s department--the oldest patron I see is maybe five. They can barely work scissors, much less internet explorer. I’m wondering how other people feel about social networking through the library. How do you promote your page? Do you ‘friend’ people/organizations, or do they ‘friend’ you?

For those of you with teens, or with access to teens, do they see it as cool that your local library has a facebook account? Or do they think it’s lame? Are we “poseurs” in their minds for setting up a page? I asked my fifteen year old cousin, and she thought it was a good outlet for reference questions, similar to email or live chat, but she reported never wanting to be online “friends” with the library. Giving a library access to your profile opens your page up to criticism and judgment from adults and authority. Of course, officially as a library, we couldn’t really judge someone, but from a teens’ perspective, they would be exposing some potentially scandalous information to a public authority.

This leads me to ask, will teens ‘friend’ a library regardless, because they see the library as a safe place without judgment? Or do they avoid “friending” libraries, teachers, etc, in order to escape the watchful eye of authority? How can we appeal to the secretive teens? To be totally honest, I still avoid ‘friending’ certain people or organizations simply for fear of looking unprofessional. I’m in grad school! My instructors are often peers! They’re not big scary authority figures (sorry, Carol), but I’m still wary of showing them my silly side (And my album titled Casa de Cat, which features dozens of simply adorable pictures of my cats sitting around doing nothing). Should we be teaching teens to avoid creating unprofessional pages? I’m not advocating Girls Gone Wild style profile pictures, but I’m all for letting people wave their facebook freak flag.

As librarians, do we see social networking sites as a positive tool for communication, or a distraction from more important studies? In many high schools, students are blocked from visiting such sites. How do you all feel about this as a teacher? A librarian? A school media specialist? A parent? A student?

Perhaps the move from facebook as a college-student-only outlet to an open-enrollment, all-ages free-for-all has legitimized social networking sites (I know myspace has always been all-ages, but facebook somehow seems more professional, and it’s what I use, so this is what my focus is). Will this lead to greater participation between the Everyteen and professional organizations online? Will online profiles move from bulletin boards to network on to virtual spaces for teens to hang out, feel comfortable, and chat? I hope so. In the meantime, I’m slowly friending authority pictures, though I have yet to un-tag myself from my cleverly named new album, “Cat Crazy”.

1 comment:

  1. Maggie, you bring up lots of good points and tons of questions. I'll give you my perspective about a tiny piece:
    "As librarians, do we see social networking sites as a positive tool for communication, or a distraction from more important studies? In many high schools, students are blocked from visiting such sites. How do you all feel about this as a teacher? A librarian?"

    I will never feel okay about blocking student access to potentially useful resources. Schools where the internet is banned (they exist!) or certain sites (like Facebook, MySpace, YouTube, etc.) are filtered are really doing a disservice to their students. Haven't we learned that the best way to pique a teen's interest is by banning something? They’re using it; we know they are, and they know we know they are, but we may not be connected in that way. I say, instead of banning Facebook, let's embrace it and teach our students how to use it safely and wisely and even if we don’t “friend” each other, we’ll at least know that they now know how to stay smart on Facebook. After all, school librarians (teachers, administrators, and parents) are concerned about internet safety (https://listserv.illinois.edu/wa.cgi?A2=ind0903A&L=ISLMANET-L&T=0&I=-3&P=8521), and, well, someone has to step up and do the teaching.

    I think the easiest way to educate students (middle/high school) about Facebook is to have a personal or library Facebook account and project it up on a board/wall/screen for the students to observe. Then, play with the settings. Show them how to set their privacy options (http://www.allfacebook.com/2009/02/facebook-privacy/). Add and remove pictures, tags, applications. Do the things they do, but show them how to do them better.

    If you don't know how, then you first need to figure Facebook (or whatever the new trend is) out. We can't always have our students teaching us about the "hip" technology of the times, not if we want to keep them safe and informed. Did they know that Facebook recently changed their Terms of Use to say that any content you uploaded or posted to the site would be their property indefinitely, even if you deleted your account? (http://consumerist.com/5150175/facebooks-new-terms-of-service-we-can-do-anything-we-want-with-your-content-forever) Well, some people did, and they were outraged, which made Facebook take a few steps back. (http://blog.facebook.com/blog.php?post=54434097130) Staying informed is our job, in my opinion, and especially when it comes to the tools that our students use every day.

    On to the first part of your question, is Facebook (or something like it) a positive tool or a distraction? I think it is what you make of it. Where I work, students can get on Facebook on any of the school computers, as long as that computer is not needed by another student for schoolwork. We often get students clustered around one computer in the library playing Facebook games, from Scrabble to geography games. As long as they're not loud and bothering anyone else, I don't mind. First of all, games are educational. If not in content, they at least can teach about strategy and involve higher order thinking skills. Second, students need that kind of social time together. I think of it this way: we offer fiction, magazines, and narrative nonfiction in the library to support students' interests in reading for pleasure--why not allow the same online? Why does the internet have to be restricted to academic use only?

    But there are ways to use social networking tools in an academic setting, if you’re so inclined. Today, I had four students rush into the library asking to borrow headphones. Initially, I handed them over, but when another two students came in asking for the same, my curiosity got the best of me, and I followed them upstairs to their classroom to see what they were working on. These freshmen students were in biology class, each or in pairs huddled around a laptop computer, looking up YouTube videos for some sort of research project. I didn’t stay to get the details, but it’s obvious that this teacher found some value in YouTube’s content and wanted his students to explore it. Were they on task? Yes. Were they excited about using YouTube at school? You bet!

    Finally, touching on some other points you made about using Facebook personally and professionally, I think that Facebook has become a popular tool for all to use, from peers to potential employers, and it is difficult to find that balance between what’s private and what’s public. Facebook makes it easier with its advanced privacy settings (see above), but then it can feel like your sectioning off your life, letting people see only bits and pieces. Sometimes, that’s okay. I just got on Facebook this year and already have such a wide variety of friends: family around the world, family I see all the time, GSLIS friends, old high school friends, and even students. As a rule, I don’t friend students, but will accept friend requests from them. I figure, if they want to be my Facebook friend, then maybe they want to get to know me without asking all the personal stuff at school, and I’m okay with sharing that information. I don’t put anything on Facebook that’s questionable, and I don’t mind students seeing pictures of me with my family and friends or what books I’m currently reading or music I like. These are things you normally get to know about people anyway, and Facebook just speeds up the process, in my opinion. If there were things I didn’t want certain people to see, I could always block their access to it, simple as that. But that’s just me personally and how I react to friending students, as a personal Facebook user, not representing the library itself.