Going through the Bloglines this AM and immediately after reading Meredith's great, thoughtful post on social networking I ran across this post on the LJ Tech blog about a group of our fine congressfolks wanting to force libraries and schools to block social sites and chatrooms. Here's an idea: let's just turn off the Internet everywhere anyone might get offended by anything (or watch Primeline CBS) and be done with it. LJ linked to a good article from Cnet about the absurdity. To quote Stephen Colbert, that's the craziest _______ thing I've ever heard.
But anyway, I never got around to talking about library presence in social sites in my previous MySpace post. Putting up library info in social sites can be a great marketing/ outreach tool if, as Meredith points, it's done well. Her examples of good sites are a great model for anyplace looking to communicate with your users that way. I'm not really sure it's right for MPOW though, for a couple of reasons.
First, the issue that has gotten raised in these discussions several times about the number and transitory nature of popular social sites. If you go down the social site route, you'll really need to put your information on every site that's out there to reach all your users. That means all the ones we know about today and the next big thing that folks who are waaay cooler than me are probably using under the radar now. Once a site gets too popular, something new is going to come along and draw off the early adopters. And those might be the folks who are more comp savvy and maybe more likely to use your services in the social arena. It just seems to be too much to keep up with.
Second, I'm not convinced that social site users are going to communicate with an institution through them. If your library has a MySpace page and it is getting added and used, that's awesome. But from my experiences with our students I don't see it happening here. It could be another way to market our services and events but not really a place where learning will take place. Plus we already market in 100000 other places and I really don't see adding another 10000 (see first point).
Buuut I think they may be open to communicating with an individual. So a better route for me might be to put a personal page on Facebook and (hopefully) answer some reference questions. Sure its just one site, but judging from the number of students who are browsing it during LI sessions and on our library comps that's where most of our students are.
I don't think I'd feel comfortable doing the level of procative outreach that Brian Mathews descibes (although I don't necessarily find what he does intrusive), but I do think that students are at least somewhat likely to interact with me there. I already get all kinds of informal (ie not in the library or classroom) questions from students in the student center and walking around campus. Mostly at assignment time, but they have no problem with privacy boundaries when I'm eating lunch or heading the call of nature so hopefully it wouldn't be an issue the other way around in an online environment.
On the privacy issue, I think its a combination of "younger people" having less expectation of privacy and less understanding of the consequences of privacy related issues. Meredith said:
"...I wonder if they really believe that parents, teachers, administrators, potential employers, etc. won’t find them there. I wonder if they have a false sense of security."
I'm not sure I would call it a false sense of security, but a lack of understanding that not everyone shares or values the openness that social sites tend to bring out. That posting half naked drunk pics of yourself when you're in college might somehow effect your life when you're trying to get a job. But maybe that's what a false sense of security is!
So the personal Facebook route might be what works for my library as far as social networking presence goes. Or at least it seems the best route to try.
And for some strange reason there are more people in here asking questions the day after finals than there were yesterday! Go figure.