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 Six.Degrees.com. 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.
Aharony, N. (2012). Facebook use in libraries: an exploratory analysis. Aslib Proceedings, 64(4), 358-372.
Retrieved from: http://search.proquest.com.proxy.lib.wayne.edu/docview/1022667877?accountid=14925