Saturday, January 20, 2007

ALA Midwinter Meeting - 1, Social Networking for Libraries: Best Practices

This session is presented by Jasmine de Gaia of OCLC and included a panel presentation and discussion.

Jasmine started by defining social networking and its relevance. Content, community, and collaboration: the whole is greater than the parts (systems theory!). More than 50 million Americans create web content. There's great potential for libraries to make that content and the results of the collaboration to library patrons.

Panel: Jenny Levine (from ALA), David Lee King (Topeka-Shawnee County Public Library) , Lisa Janicke Hinchliffe (Coordinator for Information Literacy Services and Instruction at Univ. of Illinois at Champagne-Urbana).

Each panel member gave a short presentation about the ways they're using social networking in their libraries and in their jobs.

Lisa Janicke Hinchliffe works primarily with undergraduates. Lisa remarked that social networking is not a new concept noting that academic libraries, for example, often place subject library branches within the department that they serve. Their primary communication tool is their course management tool (WebCT) where they're placed a link the library and its services like their ask-a-librarian service. They've created a library toolbar for both IE and Firefox. It includes search capability for their library collection as well as the state library collection.

They have a myspace page,, where they take a passive approach, not going out and befriending all of their students. However it seems to be a success because they have over 500 friends. They also have a Facebook site. They get reference questions as well as pleased surprise from student users who find them. They market via downloadable flyers as well as an ask-a-librarian business card with their MySpace and Facebook links.

UCIC uses Trillian for their ask-a-librarian service which is integrated into their reference desk where they do f2f, phone, IM, and email reference. The point is that they've integrated social networking into their reference services.

Here's an interesting link: is a "SecondLife" virtual space that they have tried to use to extend their undergraduate library "space".

David Lee King, introduced himself via a history of his computers since 1982 in photos. He is Head of Digital Services. The public library where he works has outgrown their physical space so he was hired to expand services via a digital space. He is starting by defining and explaining a digital branch to both patrons and library staff.

David's 4 Things to Remember when planning a digital library project:

1. don't plan to death, technology is moving so fast that it will have passed you up by the time you finish planning
  • start with the end result rather
  • figure out who will do the work
  • make sure it's customer focused
2. training staff, train often and using different techniques
3. inviting participation
  • you need at least two people to communicate
  • why not invite customers to participate?
  • either passively by requesting comments
  • or actively
4. top-down and bottom-up
  • administration and front-line staff

Jenny Levine works for ALA who wants to develop an online community for librarians. Talked about her own development as a social networker. She talked about generational differences in communication. In particular, the parts she gets and the parts she doesn't get. She enjoys social networking but she doesn't get why she enjoys it. One of the things she has discovered is that it has become mobile. For example, in FaceBook you can set you status, minute by minute to share with your friends.

She thinks that the difficulty for libraries with social networking is not understanding how to or even why but it's spotting the opportunities. We don't have to go find information today, it comes to us. For example, using RSS feeds to push particular bundles of information, sending information to the places where the users are. She talked about a virtual space for a parenting group where a library could push articles from EbscoHost using an RSS feed, post a collection of parenting books, and advertise library activities for children.

The next part of the presentation was a panel discussion that was structured around some questions that Jasmine posed.

There was an interesting discussion about marketing library services that caught my attention because most of the examples included allowing library patrons to create and market library services that are relevant to them. This sounds a bit like an action research project (one of my classes this semester is Action Research).

One of the values a library has to offer is qualifying content, what are your thoughts about how libraries can market that? Lisa said that they enjoy a high level of trust at UIUC but that most studies show that undergraduates base their decisions on speed and efficiency rather than trust. Jenny agreed that it is a good idea to develop the idea of librarian as expert. David added that a library develops a reputation for being trustworthy and should consciously develop that reputation.

What are the best way for libraries to distinguish their services and allow patrons to create content? David reminded us that even though our sites are available to people world wide on the Web, our users are generally local. Lisa talked about teaching faculty to use tools like RefShare to create annotated bibliographies to students.

A member of the audience asked how the panel would suggest connecting patrons with the wealth of information contained in print in the library. David commented that students today don't care whether something is in a book or on the web, in other words, they're format agnostic (which a number of scholars describe as a characteristic of the Millennial Generation), he's more focused on connecting the patron with the content.

Here's an interesting side observation: of the three panel members, two were using mac laptops and one was using a pc.

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