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Nov 14 / Kimberly Mason

Libraries and Facebook

Written By Joanna L. Sturgeon

Most libraries today make some attempt to establish a social networking presence. Many recognize the advantages of such a presence, including outreach, public relations, information dissemination and other benefits. According to author Aharony (2012), social networking began in 1997 with the creation of Various social networking technologies followed, gaining steady popularity. However, libraries did not typically enter the social networking space until the popularity of Facebook became apparent. Created in 2004 as a social networking space for Harvard students, Facebook quickly surpassed all other social networking tools and was steadily adopted by professionals in various organizations.

However, Facebook did not become an area of interest to library and information science researchers until 2007 (Aharony, 2012). Perhaps this is because Facebook use can create risks and uncertainty in libraries and organizations. Some risks are more applicable to libraries, such as privacy concerns regarding patrons who post to the library Facebook page. Some libraries, particularly academic libraries, have mixed feelings regarding the use of social networking tools. These libraries may feel that Facebook is outside “the scope of professional librarianship” (Aharony, 2012). Some academic libraries may feel that the tool should be reserved for student use or may have concerns regarding the quality of information available on Facebook.

Aharony (2012) acknowledges the legitimacy of these concerns but feels that with careful implementation, public and academic libraries can use Facebook to help further organization goals. In a study of public and academic library Facebook usage patterns, the author discovered areas where libraries could improve and gain more benefits from the social networking tool. For example, both academic and public libraries use the Facebook wall and information section, but make limited use of other Facebook sections. The author suggests that libraries use these sections of Facebook to offer more value to patrons in the form of “diverse search tools and modules…” or virtual shelf plug-ins. (2012).

Aharony (2012) argues that academic librarians use Facebook in a more limited fashion than public libraries. This may be due to previously mentioned concerns or resulting from inadequate staff available to maintain and update Facebook sites. Therefore, the author argues that academic libraries should appoint professional staff responsible for “maintaining, marketing and updating the Facebook site” (Aharony, 2012). Using the Facebook platform, academic libraries have the opportunity to introduce students to helpful materials. This goal can be difficult to achieve for academic libraries, who often fail to use the simplest Facebook features effectively.

For example, in an analysis of public and academic library Facebook post categories, 35.54% of academic Facebook posts were categorized as miscellaneous (Aharony, 2012). In contrast, public libraries filed only 12.8% of posts in the miscellaneous category (Aharony, 2012). Failure to categorize Facebook posts in a meaningful way makes it difficult for the user to find relevant information. Finally, the author points out that neither public nor academic libraries use Facebook to create a dialogue between users and libraries (Aharony, 2012). Rather, both types of libraries use Facebook more like a static content page to promote services, advertise programs and so on. Libraries should consider the unique channels of communication that Facebook may offer.

In conclusion, both academic and public libraries can take steps to improve their social networking presence. Concerns about privacy, professionalism and staffing may result in a less robust Facebook presence. Some libraries feel conflicted about what role social networking tools should play in a library setting. Libraries may also feel some residual concern about the longevity of specific social networking platforms. However, social networking and web 2.0 technologies can hardly be ignored in a world where “social media marketing” is considered the new standard for promoting products and services. Improving social media presence offers libraries the opportunity to utilize more communication channels to advertise events, inform users of services and perhaps most importantly, create a unique dialogue between the library and user.

Bibliographic Reference:

Aharony, N. (2012). Facebook use in libraries: an exploratory analysis. Aslib Proceedings, 64(4), 358-372.
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One Comment

  1. Isidoro Alastra / Nov 17 2013

    While social media and web 2.0 are powerful technologies with features that can potentially be very valuable to public and academic libraries, I think that using them for creating dialogue between patrons and the libraries runs some very serious risks. For one thing, any exchange between a librarian and a patron through Facebook is going to be publicly available or much easier to access through Facebook’s privacy policy than any library’s. The Diaspora social networking platform may have been perfect for this if its promises of privacy were adequate.

    The other big concern is that the library cannot control what the users are going to post in the Facebook comments section, and the comments are very public. There’s always the concern that users could link to piracy web sites, copyright-violating materials, or viruses. The library, not Facebook, would likely be held accountable for the damages these actions may cause to third parties or library patrons who access these links through their Facebook page.

    I do think it can work. But setting it up in such a way through policies to guarantee the library would not be held liable for any violation of a patron’s privacy would require very careful management and a significant financial investment for overhead. Whoever maintains the Facebook page should not be a librarian, and would need to have the time to screen all comments like a hawk. In the best case, it would be managed by a third party unaffiliated with the library but working for the library’s best interests. And people who join the group would need to be told that although the library does not collect personal information, Facebook does. The library would also need to construct its own robust Facebook policy to address the necessity to moderate comments and remove itself far from Facebook’s privacy policy. If I were responsible for setting this up at any library, I would definitely try to consult with a lawyer after writing the policy to make sure that we couldn’t get sued in worst case scenarios.

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