Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Week 3 Assignment: Social Networking Tools

Caveat: I'm still a recent graduate who is not yet employed at a health sciences library, although that should be changing soon :)

I have to admit laughing when I saw our class assignments for this week involving Facebook & LinkedIn. I finally joined Facebook two months ago when I realized the networking possibilities to stay connected both with old classmates and new colleagues vs. adding more email addresses to my address book that may not work with a job change or my frequent typoes. I was invited to LinkedIn by my best friend's mom several years ago but only updated my profile there and started reaching out to others again last week.

How can social networking be used by the Medical Library Association (MLA) to connect members?
This is an excellent question because, from my perspective, the majority of MLA members are resistant to participating in social networking. The MLA groups we have on Facebook don't seem to be utilized much, if at all, although there are plenty of connections between MLA members as friends.

I believe there is a perception that social networking is one more thing to add to an already overloaded plate, with frequent mention of 'I can't manage my email, how can I handle this?' For a contrast as a new graduate, I'm currently reluctant to join many well-established listservs in our field because I don't want to add to my inbox deluge.

I see social networking (RSS feeds too) as a way to reduce email volume and be more open to communication with users where they are at and point them in directions they may not have considered otherwise (i.e. the library's online catalog). This requires staying on top of new technology and communication channels, but isn't that what we as information professionals are supposed to be doing in the first place to understand the flow of data and our users' information needs in society? Several innovative UW librarians (Lally & Dunford) sought to integrate the digital collection with Wikipedia with very positive results several years ago, and I'm curious for an update on this project in addition to learning more about UW Libraries' web 2.0 presence below.

Should your library have a Facebook or MySpace page?
As a collective UW whole (not specific to the Health Sciences Libraries), we already do. I took the same picture as the group's profile shot from a slightly lower angle in the Suzzallo Reading Room several years ago and won second place in a photo contest. I love that room! It looks like the Facebook page has been there a while but is (as of this week) starting to be updated again, which is great and I hope the trend continues with current events, news, etc. along with some outreach. There are other fragmented UW library-related Facebook pages that don't appear to be run by UW library staff but I could be mistaken.

Are there privacy concerns for individuals when using social networking sites?
Goodness, yes. I'm actually somewhat surprised that extensive privacy filtering options were not available on Facebook until a week ago! There is definitely a need for appropriate education on how to set social networking profiles and application information to be beneficial yet safe for comfort levels, and I'd love to see MLA address this as part of the curriculum from the start instead of encouraging the use of false profiles for its members to try things out. I do understand that even covering web 2.0 technologies with MLA members is a big first step which is appreciated though.

What did you like or not like about your experience with Facebook or MySpace?
I have really enjoyed learning more about my colleagues' backgrounds (regions, education, employment, groups, etc.) in addition to what makes us all human, like seeing what others are reading and who else likes the same obscure music and movies I do. In my opinion, the interactivity of Facebook and other online game applications (such as Scrabulous, both Scrabble & a private chat board for a game with 1 or multiple other players) serves to strengthen these interpersonal connections in much the same way as staff retreats, but in an asynchronous fashion that doesn't require time off work or registration fees.

I'm hazy on how connecting with users on the same level as colleagues would work (thus group Facebook pages pointing to resources vs. personal librarian pages may be best for now), but who knows what concepts of networking the future may hold. I certainly didn't envision the platforms we now take for granted when I poked around in online bulletin board systems (BBS) & internet relay chat (IRC) last decade!