Meeting Students Out on the ‘New’ Frontier

Gone are the days when a library can rely on patrons physically coming in the door and using their services with the attitude of, “you need to come to us if you want help with your research.”  There is this thingy called the internet and it has revolutionized the information profession.  This is the information age and library patrons no longer only need information in the physical library.  Patrons are consuming information outside the library walls via the Web and are congregating on social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace.
These and other social networking platforms present libraries with a new frontier to interact and provide services to their patrons.
As Mack et al. points out in their article Reaching Students With Facebook: Data and best practices, there are a number of good reasons for libraries to create a presence in and provide services via Facebook.  These are platforms and communities that our patrons are already familiar with and librarians need to go meet patrons on their terms.  Going out to where our patrons are will make our services more convenient and result in libraries maintaining their relevancy.  Also, having a presence in one of the major social networking platforms allows libraries to provide contact information to their users in another format, not requiring them to hunt and peck at the library’s Web site for the information.  What Mack is talking about can be regarded as opportunities as well and they are unique to the social networking communities. 
Each community offers different ways for an organization to promote itself.  Facebook offers fan pages and group pages, where each has its pros and cons.  These different ways of promoting the organization offer unique ways of interacting and engaging patrons in those communities, where the organization would not otherwise be able to create this experience for their patrons in another way. 
This is where the opportunity lies for libraries to take advantage of the technology for their purposes.  For instance, the library can use their Facebook fan page as a landing page for all their other social technology accounts.  The other accounts would be used to draw patrons to the Facebook fan page where the patron could be provided with library services and not ever synchronously interact with a librarian.  This is the beauty of social networking for libraries, the patron interacts with library content and information on their own terms, consuming only that information they choose.  Ultimately, it is an opportunity to broaden the libraries reach on the Web and increase the number of patrons it serves and interacts with.
These opportunities should be seized immediately or as soon as the library can convene their social networking task force or committee and start the discussion.  I cannot say how many times I have engaged coworkers on this subject and many of them have dismissed social networks with regard to libraries as a ‘fad’ or ‘a waste of time’.  I find it short-sighted to think that libraries do not have a long-term stake in social networks or the other Web 2.0 technologies that are being developed every day.  These technologies enhance and engage our patrons consumption of information, libraries most certainly need to entrench and embed themselves in it and use this technology to innovate, especially in these times of evaporating budgets.  Libraries provide many services and the reasons mentioned above are why libraries should have a presence online, however the most important one I can think of, considering all the adversity that lies ahead, is to maintain our visibility and relevancy in the eyes of those we serve and those that will hold us accountable.

6 thoughts on “Meeting Students Out on the ‘New’ Frontier

  1. Hi, Brian. I found my way here via twitter. I get frustrated by colleagues who don't see the impact or value of social networking, too, which brings me to ask this question: is it necessary or beneficial for libraries to have a formal social networking task force?

    We've been going at twitter and the WSU Libraries facebook page with an informal group of interested volunteers, and I often wonder if we'd be better off or worse if we had more recognition and bureaucratic structure.

  2. Hi Erica! Thanks for you post and good question. I think, for WSU Libraries, it makes more sense to have an informal group of interested librarians maintaining it's various social networking efforts and brand only because integrating more people into the decision making process at our large organization would bog down your efforts, the down-side.

    On the other hand, the benefits of having a slightly more bureaucratic structure could be the development of an official social media strategy and campaign, including some structure regarding the libraries' branding efforts. The one caveat to this would be that the administration would need to be on board and willing to support these types of efforts.

    Disclaimer: I am not completely familiar with WSU Libraries' efforts or of its administration's attitude toward social media strategies, I'm definitely speaking from a rhetorical position. 🙂

  3. I think the fact that Facebook has remained relevant (and grown even more so over the past couple of years, at least) lifts it out of the realm of “fad”. You certainly cannot put Facebook in the same category as yellow polyester bell-bottoms… I also agree with your call for libraries to thoroughly develop and agree upon their potential gains from entering into the social network environment and what their image/message should be. Unfortunately, public libraries are extremely strapped for resources, money, and staff to do this as effectively as possible. This is unfortunate as the best way to get more attention from the community is to promote yourself, but without the means of promoting yourself you're left unknown. It's a sad cycle. However, I do believe that it's necessary for libraries to understand that Facebook should be considered a useful tool in their arsenal to build their relationship with their patrons and their community.

  4. M. Clark makes an excellent point regarding the funding and staffing required to properly maintaining a library’s presence in online social forums. I’ve also explored this challenge in my posting this week. Advocacy seems to pose a constant hurdle for many libraries, and though certain media forums may offer services for free, the time and staffing required internally to properly maintaining their presence in these realms is an important consideration. As much as I see Facebook as a powerful tool for libraries to reach their communities, I also see the importance of libraries making sure they are able to do it right before diving into it, rather than make a poor impression due to lack of institutional preparation and support. Thanks!

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