Friday, August 27, 2010

The Social Web – A tool to be utilized by libraries

Over the past two months, I’ve been traveling heavily (thus the reason for the lack of posts on this blog) and meeting with many librarians from coast-to-coast. It’s been enlightening and encouraging to see the change that is underway and how some institutions are dealing with it. Certainly, one thing I’ve seen is the interest, and in many cases, the movement of libraries and librarians towards having a presence on the social web.

Why is this happening?

The statistics serve as a foundation for that answer. On July 21, 2010 Facebook announced they’ve surpassed 500 million users. As a collection of people this ranks it as big or bigger than many nations in this world. Other impressive facts can be found here including:
  • 50% of Facebook active users log in any on any given day.
  • People spend over 700 billion minutes per month on Facebook.
  • There are more than 150 million active users currently accessing Facebook through their mobile devices.
  • People who use Facebook on their mobile devices are twice as active on Facebook than are non-mobile users.
Why are so many people connecting on Facebook and similar social networking sites?

Because it’s personal. The Web is vast, far-reaching and often, largely anonymous while at the same time a great equalizer (whether that is good or bad can be debated, depending on what information resource you’re using). However, social networking allows us to create identity and to help people understand who it is behind those thoughts, words, opinions and ideas. As individuals we trade in our privacy so we can share pictures, thoughts, political views, the groups we belong to as well as personal relationship information including whom our friends are and who is following us. In a way, we do this to establish our authority. It is empowering because it establishes us as a persons on the web and it is empowering for those who connect with us as they use all this background to evaluate that which we share.

Why is this important to libraries and librarians?

For libraries, librarians as well as organizations and companies serving them, social networking offers a powerful new tool for a variety of reasons. First it extends the reach of libraries across the nation and across the world because close to 70% of Facebook users are outside the United States. Second, it allows us to offer up that which is unique to our libraries to a much larger community of users. Third, as libraries, organizations, and vendors, we all want to be where our users are spending their time. Clearly, from the stats above, social networks are the place-to-be. Not only that, it is a place to listen, to learn, and to interact with users. As a result, many libraries have started launching Facebook pages.

We’re joining you

Recently we announced that we too have launched a Facebook page and you’ll find it here. This supplements our already existing Twitter account (Just search and follow “ExLibrisGroup” You’ll be joining some 954 other people!). Like libraries, we’re making sure we’re plugged in to what our users (you) are thinking and what you’re saying. At the same time, we want to make sure we’re providing value for those visiting our Facebook page, so we’ve created a place to engage in conversations with visitors (the Wall tab and Discussions link), share info (the Info tab), links to YouTube videos we’ve prepared (the YouTube tab), and photos (the Photo tab) of us and our customers so that they and visitors can put faces with names and better visualize the people they deal with at the company.


All of this is ultimately about streamlining communications and building/working with communities who can provide quick feedback, can help build, and refine new ideas quickly and discuss new challenges and approaches.

However, all of this only works if you take the time to engage. Some people create a Facebook page, but then don’t use it. Some complain that it can easily take up too much time. Others don’t feel comfortable exposing their thinking in such a public fashion. These are understandable concerns, but totally manageable.

Facebook is a new experience for a lot of people and it is definitely a unique one for many of them. Thus you do need to approach it with both an open mind and a determination to learn how to use and manage this new tool and just as important- how to enjoy it.

In many ways it is no different than TV or a cell phone in that it can be time consuming, if you allow it. But like those other tools this can be managed. Set at least a time every day or two to check into your Facebook account and see what is going on. If you need to do so, set a specific amount of time to limit your use. Engage in what is going on during that time you’ve set aside.

Sharing your thoughts openly will subject you to other points of view, criticism and sometimes-uncomfortable moments. But you’ll also learn how this new tool can be used to refine and develop your and others ideas as a result.

If you haven’t already set up a Facebook account, do so. Then search for the Ex Libris Group Facebook page and join it by clicking the ‘like’ button. Join in the conversations and learn about this aspect of the Social Web. We’ll talk to you there.