Monday, November 12, 2007

Libraries and Social Networks

There's been a lot of conversation online about the new report from OCLC, Sharing, Privacy and Trust in Our Networked World (.pdf download, 280 pp.). There's a lot to digest, but it's plenty interesting.

The report studies the way that Internet usage has evolved and matured, focusing on
...four primary areas:
  1. User practices and preferences on their favorite social spaces
  2. User attitudes about sharing and receiving information on social spaces, commercial sites and library sites
  3. Information privacy; what matters and what doesn’t
  4. Librarian social networking practices and preferences; their views on privacy, policy and the potential of social networks for libraries
And it comes to conclusions which some may find reassuring, but others see as concerning. The good folk at the Libraries Build Communities blog note the following highlights:
  • this data shows the distinction between “digital natives” and “digital immigrants” to be almost non-existent; we’ve all been online for long enough
  • the shift from users simply reading the web (in 2005) to authoring it (in 2007) is startling; library web site use decreased by 33% during this same period
  • people who use social networking sites (drum roll please) read more than people who don’t. HA!
  • social networking is qualified by interaction; social media is qualified by content creation, publishing, and sharing - more than a quarter of the general pop surveyed had used either (28%), making them more likely to participated in the social web than to have searched or borrowed from a library web site (20%)
  • people participate in social networking for interaction; users believe that it helps maintain current relationships (42%) or develop new ones (47%)
  • the general public (13%) and US library directors (14%) generally don’t think there’s a place for the library in the social web; when they do, they think we should host book clubs.
What does this mean for our future? As has been said before, books are our brand. Will library websites always be marginal in the social web? Is the community conversation in libraries essentially limited to face-to-face, though virtual elsewhere? Is this a problem or an opportunity?

Part of the report's conclusion notes:
Brand creates an important and useful set of expectations of what the organization should deliver, and conversely, brand often puts boundaries around what users believe an organization can deliver.

The library brand has put boundaries around the expectations of libraries on the social Web. Overwhelmingly, neither the general public nor librarians see a role for libraries as providers of social sites. Offline, libraries are vibrant social spaces. They are hubs of community activities and provide a venue for open exchange and dialogue. Yet, neither users nor librarians can
see such a role for libraries online.
Are we self-limiting or wisely recognizing our capacity and role? Some may read this with relief and others with sadness. This report deserves to be widely read, and we should consider the conclusions as we plan our websites and online catalogs.


Anonymous said...

Hey Terry, you think I'm good folk? Thank you!

I'm very pleased that the social networking report is starting some good discussions. Thanks for your post.

Terry Dawson said...

While I don't know Chrystie Hill personally, she seems like good folk based on her work at WebJunction and especially the Libraries Build Communities blog.

"Libraries Build Communities" is one of the new Laws of Library Science, IMHO, and I appreciate those who are exploring the dimensions of this idea.