Tag Archives: Social networking in libraries

Flying Over to the Reference Desk in Stilleto Heels: Libraries in Second Life

Library of Congress display on the Declaration of Independence in Second Life. Image owned by John E. Lester and used with permission via Creative Commons.

Kathryn Greenhill, in her blog Ten very good reasons why your library should be in Second Life likens virtual libraries to the early days of the Web, saying that just like librarians had to learn how to use the Web to their advantage by first actually learning to use the Web before users were ready to access library web sites, so too is Second Life a useful tool that librarians first have to master before it can be useful to users. She goes on to say that success in SL depends on creating social networks within the virtual world. Among the benefits of using Second Life that Greenhill sees are:

Learning a new interface (SL has components that may be more what the future of Web interaction will be); Getting to interact with librarians all over the world (including having a community of experts to draw on and share with); Increasing coding skills; It’s free; and, it’s fun!

However, Greenhill writes in her blog Six very bad reasons to have a library branch in Second Life, that while there are lots of great reasons to have your library in Second Life, there are drawbacks as well, including: thinking you should because “that’s where the users are” (not exactly); Everyone’s there, including Nike (huh?); It’s easy (not so much – still takes time to maintain); and because it’s Library 2.0.

If there is one over-riding theme here at librareegeek, it’s that Library 2.0 technologies should be used to compliment and enhance existing library practice, and not just for the sake of trying to be modern.

San Jose State University’s Library and Information School (SJSU SLIS) currently has over 1800 distance students from around the world; SJSU SLIS uses Blackboard and other platforms for learning and instruction, and this video is a survey of their Second Life campus, part of the Info Island Archeplego:

For kicks, I started up a Second Life account myself so I could investigate some of these places first hand. It was really easy – it took about five minutes to enter the pertinent information and download the software. Your avatar appears instantly in the tutorial, so I got my bearings while walking (and flying!) through the tutorial. I chose to check out San Jose since it is one of the schools I actually turned down to come to SLAIS, and so I spent a fair amount of time on their website when I was putting my application together.

Once I figured out how to move around a bit in Second Life, I typed “SJSU SLIS” into the search field and was teleported to their virtual campus, where I walked around, clicking on posters to see URLs, and even opening up a digital version of the Book of Kells. Professors at the school each had rooms in the campus, and I checked out the reading lists for their courses by clicking on the books on the bookshelves, where a URL would appear with information about the book.


A screen capture of my new avatar looking at a book about taxonomy at SJSU SLIS's virtual campus on Second Life. Click to enlarge.

The SL technology is a bit clunky (sounds are not always synchronous with actions, for example), but pretty fun actually. At first I was worried that I would run into another “resident” there (What SL calls other avatars, which are representatives of actual people who are in the system in real time), but then I started to get kind of creeped out that I didn’t see anyone there. It was sort of beautiful, serene and tidy with nice architecture, furniture and landscaping, but also eerily lonely. There was, however, fun music like Bobby Ferrin and the Talking Heads that popped up periodically as I wandered about. I do actually feel like I got a sense of the school that I couldn’t get from their website alone. I also imagine that if I had ended up “going” to San Jose, it would have been nice to meet up with some fellow students in this space.

Flying up above the campus, I look around and land on an exhibit on Africa, put in Second Life by Stanford University, complete with pictures and links to websites for further information.

I can see how it would be useful for a library to have a presence in Second Life, and actually how fun it can be. But I can see that one of the big challenges is that not everyone uses Second Life. I can also see it being a hard sell for most people. Like Barton Spencer, writing in the Spring 2008 edition of Mississippi Libraries journal (available from UBC Library), says: even though the client tells you that millions are subscribed, the space is actually pretty sparse sometimes, and those that are logged on are rarely in search of a library.

That having been said, sometimes a virtual library can be just what a patron is looking for, especially if there is a question of a sensitive or personal nature. That is exactly the experience of Samantha Thompson, writing in the volume 51, no. 2 issue of the Reference Librarian (available from the UBC Library):

On the virtual reference desk, I’ve been asked many questions that most people would consider very personal in nature. These have ranged from LGBT issues […] to political questions, psychological questions, and even personal medical issues. These topics could have been any topic sensitive to the two individuals. What they had in common was that the topic was one of great delicacy. The difference in this case, and many others, is that the individuals seem to be more comfortable asking these personal questions in the virtual world, but why?

Thompson is writing about two very different experiences with the exact same topic, one being asked by a man in the public library, and the other being a woman in Second Life. The fact that the Second Life patron was confident in asking the question and the in-person patron was mortified, is more than enough argument for the value of virtual libraries for Thompson. I tend to agree.

But, as I have opined in every post on this blog, the tools of Library 2.0 contain possibilities, but are not answers in themselves. As with any technology, if the tool is serving the community’s needs, then it’s a good thing.

Africa Exhibit

Another screen capture from my virtual library adventure, this time my avatar is checking out the Africa exhibit from Stanford University, on Info Archipelago, Second Life. Notice the window with URL information that popped up when I clicked on the map. Notice also that I can't figure out how to get rid of the bag I'm carrying. Click to enlarge.


Wik Wik Wack: Libraries that Wiki

Libraries that use wikis are not really wack, but actually pretty smart.

In fact, I’ve drawn on wikis as a rich source of information for this blog, using lists made by librarians on various topics in Library 2.0 including wikis listing libraries using blogs, libraries using Twitter, libraries using MySpace, and yes, even libraries that wiki. By compiling resources on a single topic into a central place that can be edited by other librarians and information professionals, others can do a focused search, without re-inventing the wheel. Check out the links to the right for library wikis that I’ve used in my research for this project.

According to Tom Stafford and Matt Web in their article What is a Wiki (and How to Use One in your Projects), a wiki is

“a website where users can add, remove, and edit every page using a web browser. It’s so terrifically easy for people to jump in and revise pages that wikis are becoming known as the tool of choice for large, multiple-participant projects”.

This short video by Ramit, available on YouTube and also via Creative Commons, provides a nice summary by various people who are using wikis:

So while wikis can be useful for collecting and finding data, they are ultimately a collaboration tool. LibraryWikis lists four ways that libraries are collaborating using wikis:

1. Collaboration between Libraries (45.7 percent);
2. Collaboration between Library staff (31.4 percent);
3. Collaboration between Library Staff and Patrons (14.3 percent);
4. Collaboration between Patrons (8.6 percent).

Let’s look at some examples of how real libraries are collaborating this way.

The most common type of wiki used in libraries, are wikis used for collaboration between libraries. Library Success: A Best Practices Wiki, a “collaboration between libraries” wiki, allows collaborators from libraries all over the world to share their successes with the library community, for the benefit of all. The wiki is arranged into various library practice subjects, some small (with just a definition of the term) and some larger (with definitions, links and blog posts from information professionals). For example, on the topic of “radical reference”, there is a link to the Radical Reference website, as well as blogs on the topic, and links to journal articles on the topic. Another “between libraries” wiki example is the Yukon Library Association wiki, where members share information about courses, workshops, legislation and social events.

The second most common way wikis are being used in libraries is between staff of the same institution. The University of Minnesota Libraries Staff Website is a wiki where library staff of that institution can share links to information on Occupational Health and Safety (OHS), upcoming events, Human Resources FAQs and links to emergency procedures.

Less common are wikis for the purpose of libraries collaborating with patrons. This wiki from the Doucette Library at the University of Calgary contains lists of popular web pages on various subjects. Other than that, there is not much going on with this site. It’s very bare bones, and looks like it is either just getting started or it has been abandoned. This lovely page from Loudon Public Libraries offers many possibilities for patrons to collaborate with library staff. I noticed that most of the posts were from one person; I’m assuming that person is the librarian. Still, this is a nice example of a clear and easy-to navigate wiki that is managed by a library for the purpose of collaborating with patrons.

Least popular are wikis that are created for patrons to collaborate with each other. There are very few examples on LibraryWiki’s page on patron-to-patron library wikis, and most of them are defunct. One that is not defunct is Biz Wiki, managed by Chad Boeninger, Reference & Instruction Technology Coordinator at Ohio University’s Alden Library, and also the Subject Librarian for the College of Business. While this site is great, and has the potential of being a collaborative space between patrons, it really functions as a reference and subject wiki for students, that is maintained by the Librarian.

All in all, I think wikis are a great tool for collaborating and managing projects collectively. They are free and relatively easy to learn how to use. There are a few wiki software programs to choose from, so once again, do your research to see if and how this can be applied in your library.

team work

It's all about collaboration, baby! Image by Budzlife for Creative Commons.

What’s your status?

Is your library the baddest thing to hit the scene since the gangsta lean, (to quote MC Lyte)? Probably not. But that’s OK. You can get on board with Facebook or MySpace, or any number of social networking sites to connect with your library community. My advice is, just don’t try to be cool. Social networking can be one extra tool in a library’s outreach plan but it must also be created and maintained in a way that is somewhat organic and real, and not forced.

MC Lyte is cool. You don't have to be. Photo by Travis Hudgons/PictureAtlanta.Net available via Creative Commons.

Let’s back track a bit. For those who don’t know, ODLIS (the Online Dictionary for Library and Information Science by Joan M. Reitz) defines a social networking as:

An electronic service (usually Web-based) designed to allow users to establish a personal or organizational profile and contact other individuals for the purpose of communicating, collaborating, and/or sharing content with them. Most services allow members to restrict the visibility of their profile information to registered service members only, people on an established list of contacts, or particular groups of service users. Examples include Bebo, Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, and Buzz from Google. Synonymous with social network service.

Like any Web 2.0 tool, libraries need to proceed with intention and purpose. Sarah Houghton-Jan, in her LibrarianInBlack.net blog offers a few tips for those considering incorporating social networking into their library practice. The first and foremost is that you need to do your research; look at all the features available, check out a few different sites and see how other libraries are doing. Also, keep the posts current; you work hard to build up a following and you want to give your followers and friends something interesting to engage with. Houghton-Jan points out that it’s great to have lots of friends, but the real reason for being there in the first place is to serve your clients; in other words, don’t collect friends for the sake of trying to look popular! And finally, don’t forget to have some fun.

There are lots of libraries using MySpace. You can find a list of libraries using MySpace to target their teen audience here. It’s difficult for me to assess the usefulness of these sites since I’m not a teenager. I also don’ t spend a lot of time on MySpace. I hope that they are reaching their target audiences by posting favourite books, event notices and pictures from the library. And while it may be true that the point is not to collect friends, of the library social networking profiles I checked out on MySpace, none of them had very many followers, and that has to say something. Even if relatively few followers were actively engaging, that would be a good sign but this did not seem to be the case. Oak Park Public Library’s MySpace is a clean page that is easy enough to navigate. My perusal of the comments on the page reveals that most of the followers are other libraries and authors of Young Adult novels. Some of comments are from young people who love libraries, but no one asked any questions or offered up suggestions other than for people to read a book that they had authored personally. This may add to existing presence for a library in a community, but is hardly an outreach plan on its own.

I would be more inclined to friend a library on Facebook, since I do actually spend time on that site. I “like” pages that I’m interested in hearing news from. (By clicking “like”, you essentially become a follower of that organization’s page and any news generated from them will go into your personal news feed.) Going to the Vancouver Public Library’s profile on Facebook, I see that there is much more activity than on the Oak Park Public Library’s MySpace page. For one thing, they have almost 1,500 followers. Posts are updated frequently (every few days) with interesting and dynamic content including event invitations, links and pictures. Perhaps most importantly, followers are active in engaging the forum and each other in conversations via commenting on links. In terms of what works for clients, I guess it depends where you go; friending VPL on Facebook works for me since I’m already on the networking site and interested in VPL goings-on.

I never would have heard about VPL’s screening of this film if it weren’t for the event on their Facebook page. Trailer available on YouTube.

What are you Doing? Libraries That Microblog

Libraries that wha….? Don’t be afraid. You remember how the word “blog” is a contraction of the words “Web” and “log”. Well, a microblog is just a small (micro), focused, daily (or twice-weekly, or more, or many times a day) journal about what’s going on. But let’s face it: we’re really talking about Twitter. Twitter, according to their website, is “a real time information network” using “small bursts of information called tweets”, messages only 140 characters in length maximum.

In their book Twitter: Tips, Tricks, and Tweets, McFedries, Paul Cashmore, Pete Mcfedries explain the concept of Twitter as simply an answer to the question: What are you doing? Whereas libraries can use a blog like a newsletter, letting patrons know about what’s going on in the library, offering reviews of books and events and the like, a microblog like Twitter lets libraries and librarians offer short, to the point answers to the question, What are you doing?

Libraries can use Twitter like anyone else, to share information about what’s going on to interested subscribers, and to follow other libraries and organizations to stay in the loop within the information field.

Fog horn

What is your library broadcasting? Image by Cardiff Council Flat Holm Project, used with permission via Creative Commons.

Check out this Twitter page from the Broken Arrow Library in Oklahoma: Not only does the Library offer invitations to events, notify of holiday closures and point subscribers to library workshops, but they also provide links to event pages, tutorials and booklists that people can easily click on to be transported to tools and other interesting stuff.

Homework NYC is a Twitter site geared towards teens that also makes announcements about events, such as this tweet from November 10, 2010:

Brooklyn Public Library has a wonderful exhibition called Drawn in Brooklyn showcasing the work of 34 children’s book illustrators.

And links to homework help such as this tweet:

Dial-A-Teacher App Launches http://homeworknycbeta.org/2010/11/dial-a-teacher-app-launches/

I especially like seeing who libraries are following themselves, since you can click and link through some interesting pages and see what other people are up to in the library world and beyond. It was through this meandering that I found the microblog for Central Park, which is kinda cool.

However, as Sarah Milstein points out in her article Twitter for Libraries (and Librarians), Twitter is not just about broadcasting what you are doing, in a one-way manner for people to receive information about YOU. If the point is to actually connect with people, then Libraries must also be open to having a conversation on Twitter. Milstein recommends that Librarians take the time to respond to questions and otherwise engage with patrons. She also advises that before any library starts microblogging, it is important to first take a few days to get to know Twitter, seeing what people are doing and using the medium with intention.

As with any 2.0 technology, and tools in general, the point is to use them to your advantage and not just for the sake of using the latest technology. This wiki article by 2008 Florida State University LIS student Lindy Brown lists the pros and cons of Twittering for libraries. Briefly, the bonuses of Twitter include that it’s free to use, relatively easy to update, it’s collaborative and has at the core of it a value of providing customer service that targets the library users. Brown includes among the drawbacks: that it’s one more thing to update, a lack of support from library colleagues who may not understand its usefulness, a potential select audience, and the fact that it is brief (140 characters or less) may detract from communication.

Do your research. Will Twittering work in your library? Is there enough interest from library colleagues and patrons? Who will be responsible for updates? Will you be filling an information need, or just creating another project for staff? For more information, check out some of the links on the right.

Join the conversation. Last Conversation Piece, Image by cliff1066. Used with permission via Creative Commons

Social bookmarking: what’s it all about?

The quick and dirty definition of social bookmarking, courtesy of Educause Learning Initiative:

Social bookmarking is the practice of saving bookmarks to
public Web site and “tagging” them with keywords.

While bookmarking (in the Web world, anyway) refers to saving a link that you want to return to by bookmarking it on your home computer, social bookmarking is about sharing favourite links. Social bookmarking is as much about tagging, if not more, than just saving and sharing links, and it doesn’t end with the person who saved the link in the first place. As users sift through and discover links from other users, they can add tags too.

How is this working in libraries? In various ways, on either of the reference desk.

Librarians can use social bookmarking sites like Delicious for organizing their own web reference tools, or collecting sites targeted towards specific users groups and having patrons contribute to the collection. This page illustrates all of the sites that have been tagged with the word “webcomic” at the Nashville Public Library’s Delicious site.

At The University of Pennsylvania Library , tags associated with library items form a word cloud, with the most popular tags appearing largest. Visitors to the site can click on any tag and be linked to all of the items associated with that tag. This is a far cry from the traditional way of searching library catalogues by subject searching. For one, the subjects are juxtaposed with titles and other useful information on the face of web sites and pages where patrons already are, and removes the need to go to the catalogue, choose a subject search and then think of words in your topic. For another, classification is no longer solely the domain of the cataloguer. Whereas librarians are classifying items according to authority systems, a user can just click on the topic that interests them and be taken to all of the items with that tag. It also allows for interactivity since users who have read a particular book are able to then go in and create tags they think are useful for future students. Tagging, in its most ideal form, takes advantage of the hive mind, the collective consciousness and shared wisdom of the community by tapping into and building upon individuals’ knowledge.


Are many bees smarter than one bee? Depends on the bee. Wild bee hive, image by Carly & Art, courtesy Creative Commons.

But wait – “in its most ideal form”? That doesn’t sound ideal… Of course things are not so cut and dry.

Tagging, the folksonomy that it is, is just that: named by the folks. And according to Pew Research Centre, almost 30% of us have tagged Web content at some time or another. The good thing about it is that it is democratic and subverts more traditional, hierarchical and sometimes alienating, systems such as the Dewey Decimal System. The ease with which normal people can tag books, websites and products with meaningful labels means that information is accessible to more than just knowledge experts.The bad news is, tags put in by patrons can be uncontrolled, and have little to do with anything other than an utterly subjective interpretation of something’s “about-ness”. I mean, does that mean that we don’t need structured classification systems anymore?

For example, check out this example of customer tagging of Amazon.com of one of my favorite books, Maus I: A Survivor’s Tale: My Father Bleeds History by Art Spiegleman. I’m not sure of the usefulness of the tags “Spring 2004”, “spouse”, or “stuff i lost” in defining or classifying this item.

The solution for libraries then seems to be to strike a balance between organizing information in a structured way that maintains a universal order, while allowing for interactivity and accessibility through methods like tagging. I think tagging’s usefulness comes into play when users interact with it; not only do they create their own tags and search others’ tags, but they get to know other taggers within sites that they like, and the information comes from that kind of interaction. It’s like getting a recommendation for a movie or book from someone: do you share that person’s taste? That makes all the difference in whether or not you will find their descriptions useful.