So… I spend a bit of time each day telling the boys in my school library to get off of FaceBook. I used to feel justified in making that request given that the library is for academic use and checking in with your girlfriend or getting the deets on the weekend party was not generally considered academic work. Usually, this kind of activity would generate a gathering of other boys checking out the girlfriend’s latest picture and commenting loudly enough to be heard in the pool on the other side of campus. Besides, the drool was shorting out the keyboards. As often as not these days, the boys are using Facebook to connect with a school team or get a homework assignment from buddies. If not strictly academic, the use is certainly school related. Occasionally, I even see assignments being done on FaceBook as a collaborative work space.
Where does that leave social media in the library? My perspective is based in a high school setting (all boys if you were thinking that I was being blatantly sexist before.) This means that there are some special concerns that may not apply directly to all library spaces and clientele, but the principals are the same. Social media is networking. How do we use that to our best advantage?
Social media as a means of professional development is an incredible asset to any librarian in this day and age. Whether it be blogging, or hanging out in a group on FaceBook or LinkedIn or becoming a Twit (or whatever you call a person who Tweets,) the removal of the limits of geography from your social networks makes keeping up to date with the profession (any profession) so much easier and more exciting. My personal favourite is Twitter and it was a retired librarian who showed me the light. I’ve had a Twitter account since 2008, but it went largely inactive until last Fall. My original impression of the platform was that it was FaceBook without all the added functionality. Simply a status line so that everyone could keep tabs on everyone else’s’ life. Couldn’t see how I needed that in my life, really. Once I learned about hastags, lists and how to search the Twitterverse, I saw the light. I now how a steady flow of links to all sorts of online resources from some of the most connected technologists, educators and librarians on the web. Can I keep up with it all? No. Do I post original material daily? No. Can I pop in at any time and be inspired, provoked or educated? You bet. Do I share this with those that follow me? You bet.
In terms of professional development, I see blogs and Twitter working hand in hand. Much of what is said on Twitter is a link to a more full discussion on a blog somewhere. There just isn’t that much you can say in 140 characters or less, but there are other uses for Twitter as well. It has become the norm these days for conferences to have there own hashtags. Couldn’t make ALA in New Orleans this year? I know I couldn’t. But you could follow what was going on through the hashtag as people sat in sessions and reported on and reflected on the presentations. As good as being there? No. But at least you can then follow up if there are things you need to know more about. There are also daily meetings that go on on Twitter to talk about issues in various fields. For example, #libchat meets every Wednesday morning (8-9:30pm EST) according to Cybraryman to talk library. There seems to be an open agenda and people simply discuss library issues on Twitter using the hashtag #libchat. A quick search of Twitter for the #libchat gives you the transcript of the last meeting!
Professional development is a very personal use of social media, but what about our patrons? How can they use social media to gain understanding and knowledge? The fact is that the manner in which people present their knowledge today is as varied as the topics that they discuss. It used to be simple: need to know something? Look it up in a book. Today, if I want to learn how to replace a timing belt in my car, I’m more likely to go to YouTube to find a video showing me exactly how to replace it as I watch someone else do it. There are a myriad of social sites, like GoodReads, IMDB, AllMusicGuide, which specialize in specific areas of knowledge. If I need to know who played on what track of a certain album, my first stop is AllMusicGuide. Even though the content is user generated, it is usually pretty accurate. For my purposes of satisfying curiosity, it is excellent. Sometimes, our patrons are looking for personal opinion. Shopping for a new digital camera? You can wade through plenty of tech specs on the manufacturers web pages, or go to FaceBook groups about digital photography, find an appropriate hashtag and ask the question on Twitter or go to Quora and ask for recommendations there. Sometimes the specs online tell half the story! I think that it is imperative that we, as information professionals have a handle on what social media tools are current, what their strengths and weaknesses are and how to best use them if we are to properly serve our patrons. I guess in September, it’ll be less “Get off FaceBook!” and more “have you looked on social media platform x?”