Monday, November 5, 2007

Should libraries be in Facebook?

Maybe not libraries, but definitely librarians - it is a useful way to network.

Should we try to offer our library services there? I wasn't so sure in July 2006, when I wrote:

Our younger users are definitely there. The question is “should we be there too?”. Or would we come across like a little kid following the big kids around, yelling “wait for meeeee?”.

I guess it’s a bit like blogs. If there is a need for them, then they are great tools. A couple of times recently I’ve heard of organisations considering starting blogs “because there’s an expectation”, but without really knowing what they’d post. Same applies with some of the social web sites. If there is a need that they fill and we enjoy using them, then we should do so. If we are just doing it to join our users on their own turf, I’m not sure it is a good enough reason, and that we won’t come off looking like prats.

Today I would answer the question "Yes - we should offer services there" - but the operative word is OFFER - not coerce, demand, stalk, or invade. This doesn't necessarily mean setting up a "library friends" group (unless users want one) or even using a Facebook profile at all. I'm much more interested in offering a starting point to our library content, which users can install or ignore as they want.

Since August this year, it has been possible to create small applications that Facebook users can choose to add to their profile. There are currently over 5000 on offer. It is easy to create a small application with a searchbox for the library catalogue, a searchbox for the library portal and a link to the "Ask a Librarian" service.

If staff or students spend a large amount of time hanging out in Facebook and prefer to search our library from an application they have chosen to add to their profile, then it is a win/win situation. They are in control and can choose instead to go straight to the library web site, or straight to google Scholar.

I remember the debates that librarians had about whether we should put our library catalogues online - it wasn't just "How soon should we divert resources and do this necessary thing?", it was "Should we be online at all ? Is this really space that it is appropriate for us to occupy?".

Last Thursday google announced OpenSocial, where google gadgets can now be embedded into other social sites like Open Social partners Orkut, Ning, MySpace, Friendster and LinkedIn. This is aimed directly at weakening Facebook's market share - users can now embed these cool little aps at other places where they hang out, not just inside Facebook. Google gadgets are easily created by the layperson who knows a bit of html.

The implications of these little aps is that successful web sites will morph into successful web presences.

I agree with Karen Coombes who is the Head of Web Services at the University of Houston Libraries, who had this to say in The future of Web Services isn’t the Library website:
meeting your users where they are isn’t about making them come to the library website. In considering our long term virtual presence plans, the library website is a given. People who come to the site know we exist and want to use our services. To truly be successful we have to get our content into the path of the people who wouldn’t walk through our door (physical or virtual)...

...[some issues with potential website redesign ]....would be resolved if users had alternate ways of accessing our data. Does the typical mobile user want the library website or a specific piece of information or tool from the library site? If faculty could do their searches without coming to the library site would they? I think the answer is yes. Focusing on content rather than look and feel will allow us to provide these different types of services. It will also allow different types of users to potentially selectively access content.

No comments: