Social Networking and the Academic Library

I read an interesting article for my Reference class this past week: Quality Through Improved Service: The Implementation of Social Networking Tools in an Academic Library by Cecilia Penzhorn.  I found it extremely useful for use in the Academic setting, so I thought I would comment and share:

Open access is becoming more and more popular in this digital era with the onset of Web 2.0 and all of its offerings.  Many people are already a part of Facebook or Twitter for either recreational or professionalpurposes and many of these social networking sites are just now making their way into the academic library.  The function of these different tools aids in professional collaboration, question queries, and open discussion of various topics.  Whether from blogging or information sharing on the web, people are becoming less interested in validity of resources and more interested in working together through ideas on topics via commenting and RT (reTweeting) to solicit response.

Penzhorn suggests that in order to effectively implement these services in the library, particularly academic libraries, librarians (namely reference) must be knowledgable on the inner workings of such sites.  She offers the idea of a training session where “experts” of this “new media” come together and show librarians functionality and aid in teaching them the possibilities of utilizing what Web 2.0 has to offer.  For example, the article describes how after the information sessions, librarians were given 4 months to use the social networking sit of their choosing and put it to work in any means they feel fit.  From that experiment, many different departments in the library had Facebook pages for outreach purposes as well as blogs where students and other members of the academic community could collaborate and share ideas.  Along with that same notion, many parts of the library decided to start their own Wiki page that offered much discussion for reference questions and answers.  In a sense, a cluster of FAQs. The Wiki pages are also helpful for questions that may be morally interesting to explore and see what others may think.  It would also be helpful if the question is particularly challenging and perhaps the librarian would want comments from others in the field who may have had a similar dilemma.  However, the article never really full discusses this possibility but merely that the Wiki would function as a question-answer page.

What I found most interesting in the article are the steps that a library can take to help impliment these different sites into their library:

* The use of social networks, specifically FaceBook. Many students and possibly even some of the academic staff may be unaware that there is a subject specialist in their discipline. A large number of reference staff have created personal profiles on FaceBook. Those who have not yet done this should do so. By developing a “public self” [Horizon Report 2007] contact with clients is initiated and affords an ideal opportunity to advertise reference services that are provided [Bell, 2007; Reichardt, 2008].
* Blogging offers a valuable tool for getting clients to engage with reference staff [Bell 2007]. Various “experimentations” with blogs have been undertaken in libraries elsewhere and studies show that respondents take greater ownership when answering questions within their own blog [Lankes, 2008]. Reference librarians could set up subject-specific blogs advocating their use for scholarly discussions and commenting on research findings.
* Wikis have become a powerful tool for scholarly communication in the academic environment [Bell, 2007; Cohen, 2007]. Reference librarians can approach their knowledge base in a Wikipedia-like manner where the reference questions, for example, serve as starting point for a collaboratively developed knowledge base (Lankes, 2008).
* Second Life is increasingly being explored as a library education space. Second life Library (SLL2), for example, started with the idea of taking libraries and librarians to the users in this new online environment [Hedreen et al., 2008]. Info Island has now expanded into an “archipelago of educational and informational islands” [Hedreen et al., 2008] which includes a wide range of different types of libraries and many services including reference.
Examples of the use of Second Life for general information literacy training have already been set in the university library — subject specialists could use these programmes or become involved on a subject specific basis. Their personal experiences with this tool can also serve as encouragement and support for clients who may want to implement the tool in their teaching.
* Google groups — at the time of writing the author is not aware of reference librarians using Google groups although such a staff group was formed for general discussions and exchange of information regarding Library 2.0. For reference purposes Google groups offers the feature of being able to upload documents which cannot be currently cannot be done with FaceBook.
* Connotea, a free online reference management tool where researchers can save and organize links to their references and can share references with their colleagues, is already advocated on the UP Library 2.0 wiki. Reference workers should take note and familiarize themselves with the tool in order to recommend it to researchers.
* The current Skype facilities could be expanded for use in reference work. As it provides a free multifaceted seamless user experience [Booth, 2008] it could be worthwhile to investigate its use as a virtual reference service.

In regards to these different steps, I have found that I have never experienced or even heard of Second Life.  It sounds interesting in that it provides a place for learning for reference librarians in an environment that may be new.  In my own experiences, I have found that the use of Facebook is particularly good for services such as outreach and program planning.  The same goes for Twitter.  When I was an undergraduate student at Millersville, I interned in the outreach department and whenever we had a special event such as Game Night or our annual Library Fest, promoting on Facebook seemed the easiest and solicited the most response as opposed to a campus-wide Email.

However, I have found that blogging seems to be the most helpful in Reference usage because many students and even professors are blogging about nuances and it is an interesting way to get started on finding information.  I think that it helps if you are a reference librarian to be knowledgable about different blogs that could potentially be useful for students and other staff and faculty in facilitating open access resource sharing (as long as they are reputable blogs, of course).

In conclusion, I found this article extremely useful and would be something good for academic libraries to look into.  I have found that with the budget cuts, the training sessions would have to be adjusted and could perhaps be taught by a student-worker or even another colleague that utilizes these tools, such as the outreach librarian.  It is important for reference librarians to keep up with the different changes on the web in order to stay current with students needs and wants.  We are in the age of the here and now and students (including myself) want answers NOW and don’t have time to necessarily wait around for an article to come from ILL.  So, if I can make my research easier by starting from a common knowledge base and working from there, AND help a student along the way, then it is important.

Penzhorn, Cecilia. “Quality through improved service: the implementation of social    networking tools in an academic library.” IATUL Proceedings 26 Feb.      2010.   text.pdf

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