Monday, July 18, 2011

Lewis Library Facebook Page

After a period of long debate, Lewis Library finally has its own Facebook page! In addition to the various LaGrange College academic department pages, the college is also represented on Facebook by such campus groups as Student Activities and the Career Center, not to mention the more than 1,000 (and growing!) number of students, former students or employees of the college who currently have personal profiles. If you have a Facebook page of your own, you can link to the library's facebook page using the Facebook icon on the top right of this page. There are many advantages to the library having a presence in an online community such as Facebook. Some of these advantages include enabling the library to relay important updates to students, faculty & staff, share basic information about the library and its hours, and to market and advertise library resources and other library related news with the library's patrons in the place where the patrons are: facebook.

In case you haven't been keeping up with social networking sites like this one, or if you're feeling a bit skeptical about the library having a presence on a social site like this one, please consider the extremely large number of libraries, colleges and universities that are already utilizing this wonderful tool to better communicate with and serve their patrons. My very first graduate library science course through Florida State University (fall 2010) was Digital Media for Libraries. During the first two weeks we covered the benefits of libraries using Web 2.0 technologies, and studied the pros and cons of the most popular social networking sites used by library patrons and information organizations. The following is a brief synopsis of what that course taught me about Facebook, and connecting with patrons where they are (which is online!):

Many adults and students alike actively use social networking sites on a regular basis. There are currently more than 120 million Facebook users and millions more using Myspace or other social networking sites such as Friendster , Hi5, Bebo, etc. With the implementation of Facebook applications such as JSTOR, LibGuides, and Books iRead, academic libraries have started exploring different ways to use Facebook and various applications to promote library services and assist students with their information needs.

Social Networking
Social networking sites can be defined as, “…interactive websites designed to build online communities for individuals who have something in common- an interest in a hobby, a topic, or an organization- and a simple desire to communicate across physical boundaries with other interested people” (Carter, H., Foulger, T., Ewbank, A., 2008, p. 1). A few of the most popular social networking sites are MySpace and Facebook. Becoming a member of a social networking site is generally very simple. Most often the user only needs to create an account and profile, and then search for friends/groups/organizations that they wish to link their profile to. In addition to creating/viewing user profiles, many social networking sites allow users to chat, share files, send e-mails, upload photos/videos/music, etc.

Facebook is one of the most popular social networking sites with a community of more than 120 million active users (“Facebook Factsheet, 2008). Facebook was founded in 2004 by Harvard student Mark Zuckerberg and since 2004 Facebook has grown to include over 700 employees and has offices in Palo Alto, CA, Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Detroit, New York, Venice Beach, CA, Dublin, London and Paris (“Facebook Factsheet”, 2008). Facebook was originally restricted to users with an .edu e-mail address but today anyone with a valid e-mail address can join Facebook (“Facebook Factsheet”, 2008). Users must be 13 yrs of age to join Facebook and there is no fee to join. Members can join networks based on their geographic locations, school affiliations, etc. and can locate friends both new and old.

Examples of Libraries and Applications

Today, many public and academic libraries have a presence on Facebook. They have achieved this by creating library and staff profiles.

Academic Library Facebook Examples:

  • LibGuides: If the academic library uses LibGuides subject guide maker for libraries, then their subject guides can be displayed on the library’s Facebook page. If searchers click on any subject, then they will be taken to their library’s subject guides.
  • JSTOR Search: This application can be added to a library page or an individual user’s page which makes it possible to search for articles within JSTOR.
  • WorldCat: This application allows users to locate items at libraries near them.
  • Contact information, links to library resources, catalogue searches, IM services, hours, upcoming events, and discussion can also be included on the library pages

The Changing Role of the Reference Librarian

Whether libraries/librarians agree or disagree with using Facebook to connect with users, they cannot deny that the new technologies have played a major role in redefining reference services. With these new technologies come new expectations from users about what types of resources a library should provide and also what types of knowledge reference librarians should be able to provide. While the reference inquiry/process will always remain essential in libraries, the physical boundaries of the reference desk no longer exist and therefore new opportunities to assist users should be explored in virtual environments such as Facebook.

Stephen Abram, VP of Innovation for SirsiDynix explains how the role of the reference librarian has changed:

“ Librarian 2.0 strives to understand the power of Web 2.0 opportunities and has learned the major tools. S/he combines e-resources, visual media, and print formats and is container- and format agnostic. S/he is device independent and uses and delivers relevant results to everything from laptops to smartphones and iPods. S/he combines nontraditional and traditional tools invisibly and seamlessly in the interests of clients. Connecting people, technology, and information is context, s/he leverages the long tail and miscellaneous. S/he is an integral part of client in-person and virtual social networks, touching everything with the communication mode of their choice- telephone, Skype, IM, SMS, e-mail, virtual reference, and more” (Abram, S. 2008, p. 47).

In order to become Librarian 2.0 as Abram has described him/her, many librarians feel they should embrace new technologies such as IM, social networking, Twitter, tagging, Second Life, etc. As more and more users immerse themselves in Web 2.0 technologies and culture, reference librarians will be expected to understand users’ information seeking behavior and meet their information needs accordingly.

Why are Academic Libraries using Facebook?

Many academic libraries have opted to join Facebook to promote library events and services because they feel that it is a great tool to reach students. A study done by George Washington University library system found that:

  • “As of 2006, 55% of all teens who use social networking sites have used Facebook or MySpace, and 48% visit daily or more often.
  • Students use Facebook for academic purposes including - communicating about assignments (68%); arrange study groups (61%); and communicate about academic interests (47%)
  • 60% of students wanted to see study suggestions on librarian FB profiles.
  • 55.7% of students were interested in tips on accessing library resources" (Bietilla, D., Edwards, E. 2008).

These points illustrate why many feel that using Facebook to communicate with students about library services/resources is a good idea. Since so many students are already using Facebook, then it makes perfect sense to try and assist the students in an online environment they are comfortable with and that they frequent daily or often. Having a library presence on Facebook would make accessing library services more convenient for students and could potentially allow librarians to reach students who would perhaps not normally visit the library. Also, since a Facebook profile costs nothing to create, many libraries feel that even if their library/personal profiles aren’t used, there really isn’t any loss to the investment.

One Perspective

Steve Poppino is a reference librarian that has been with College of Southern Idaho for twenty-five years. When it comes to using Facebook in academic libraries, he feels that Facebook can be a great way to promote library services. He commented that, “By posting information about the library and displaying useful links and contact information there, we might catch the attention of students who don’t use the library home page.” This is a benefit to using Facebook: reaching students that don’t generally come to the library or use library resources/services.


With millions of existing users, and thousands more signing up every day, social networking sites are more popular than ever and they continue to change the way that people all over the world interact with each other. Academic libraries have the opportunity to utilize social technologies and reach students in an environment where students are comfortable. There are concerns within academic libraries that using Facebook for outreach would infringe on the privacy rights of students and some librarians see Facebook as solely a recreational site that has no potential to be used in the academic world. Despite these concerns, the benefits of using Facebook cannot be denied. Having a presence on Faceook will make accessing library services and getting assistance more convenient for students. A Facebook profile costs nothing to create and the potential benefits of using Facebook to reach students is well worth that investment.

By: Rachel Evans, Graduate Library Assistant