May 25, 2007

Social networking, what's it all about?

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I’ve been investigating the likes of Facebook, Ning, Bebo and Second Life recently. Fascinating stuff, but time consuming, too.

Should the library be using social networking software?

It depends on what we’re trying to do there. Students make comments about the library on Facebook, so should we be responding on there, rather like we do with the You Say, We Say board?

No: Facebook is a space that the students seem to own, and if students make negative comments about the library on Facebook then at least we can see them. If we intervene, they may just go elsewhere for privacy, so I am inclined not to try to get involved.

Would having a Facebook profile improve the library’s image, showing that we are up to date with technology and social trends?

Probably not: we might just look like we were trying too hard and didn’t really get the point of Facebook. The way students use Facebook is very much about informal connections with their friends: they often make throw-away comments and affiliations with groups that are ironic and flippant on Facebook, rather than seeing it as a way to make useful connections for their studies or career.

By having a Facebook profile we might look like we’re trying too hard and we don’t really belong, so it wouldn’t improve our image, but there are so many students on Facebook, and we could use a profile as a way to get a message out, even if many students choose to ignore it. As long as we’re not interfering with the way that students use Facebook, I don’t think that it would do any harm. Facebook might change in the way that it is used by students, too, especially in the light of recent media articles about permanant records of flippant remarks that might affect career prospects in the future, and I think that there is much to keep an eye on. Certainly we should not ignore a space where so many of our students can be reached, and where three is so much potentially useful functionality, eg inviting people to events, sending messages to members of groups, etc

What about staff having profiles on Facebook? There is a powerful potential for Facebook as a tool for colleagues to network with each other, across departments. I’m not sure that Facebook itself is the right social networking tool to use in a work setting, but it would not hurt to experiment on there a bit. I think that the problem is how informal it all feels, so it doesn’t present the most professional image. This could impact on the way students see us as well as the way colleagues perceive us.

So Facebook could replicate actual networks between colleagues, but is that really what Social Networking software is all about? I hope not! It has the potential for us to make new connections and expand our networks.

I am enjoying Ning’s Library 2.0 community at the moment, where I am meeting other librarians who are investigating Web 2.0 technologies in the library, from accross the World. So librarians can use social networking software for professional development.

What about Second life? Well, it’s early days in my investigation. Certainly I can create a profile on there and make “friends” who I exchange discussions with, etc, but if that’s all you want, then Second life would be overkill. I’m exploring Info Island at the moment, but I hope to find more, and perhaps to attend a lecture or seminar on there, to see how it feels.

Can we engage students who don’t come into the library on Second Life? I suppose it depends on why they don’t come into the library – if they don’t want to in real life, then they are not likely to in Second life, surely! But there may be barriers in real life that prevent them from using the library, that are not present in Second Life. What is Second Life good at, in an educational setting? I aim to find out…

- 2 comments by 2 or more people Not publicly viewable

  1. Eleanor Lovell

    A big question is how many students actually use Second Life? To me it seems to be talked about more than it is actually used by people but i’m not sure how accurate this is.

    25 May 2007, 15:29

  2. Jenny Delasalle

    Could we recruit new students through Second Life? I have no idea how many of our students are on there, and if they are, they might not want to be identified by their real life identities anyway.
    The University of Hertfordshire have a campus in development on SL – I was just there. Apparently the buildings are the same as in the real world. That might help new students for orientation, but it might also help to raise the profile of Hertfordshire.

    Today is the date of a SL conference on best practice in education on SL, it seems, although it’s very early in the morning still in SL…

    25 May 2007, 15:45

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