Is Facebook Really The Point?

A post to Web4lib alerted me to this U Mich survey about libraries in social networks (blog post) that finds 77% of students don’t care for or want libraries in Facebook or MySpace.

the biggest reason being that they feel the current methods (in-person, email, IM) are more than sufficient. 14% said no because they felt it was inappropriate or that Facebook/MySpace is a social tool, not a research tool.

This isn’t bad news. It’s worth remembering that 23% of the respondents said they were at least a little interested in connecting with libraries in social networks. But that doesn’t mean we should ignore this opportunity to question the push to put libraries into those spaces. And the first thing to ask is if we understand them.

I doubt the patrons of an average bar would welcome libraries if we tried to set up shop there, and not just because we’d get nitpicky about the weekly trivia games. Bars and libraries are both social spaces, but that doesn’t make them equivalent spaces. Whether libraries belong in Facebook anymore than they belong in my local bar is still an open question in my mind (one major factor is that FB is working to make itself a social applications platform, something that should have all of us paying attention).

That doesn’t mean Facebook and other social applications don’t matter. Quite to the contrary, so let me say it again: Social Applications Still Matter To Libraries.

One giant lesson we can take from the entire history of the internet is that social matters. There have been blips and bubbles where we lost sight of it, but the internet spread because of social applications like email and chat. And more than Ajax and rounded corners, web 2.0 has been all about Social. And now we find it everywhere. Flickr defines itself as a photo sharing site, but it only works because of the social features there. And though Facebook allows image sharing, the different purposes of the two sites are clear to all who use them.

It is essential that we build social features into our libraries. Comments, easy linkability (short, sensical URLs), and findability in search engines are must haves in our systems. But that isn’t enough. We also need outstanding librarians to breath life into them. Librarians who can speak in a post-Cluetrain voice, and be accepted and respected in Facebook, Second Life, and in the comment threads in our own libraries.