Gone are the days when a library can rely on patrons physically coming in the door and using their services with the attitude of, “you need to come to us if you want help with your research.” There is this thingy called the internet and it has revolutionized the information profession. This is the information age and library patrons no longer only need information in the physical library. Patrons are consuming information outside the library walls via the Web and are congregating on social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace.
These and other social networking platforms present libraries with a new frontier to interact and provide services to their patrons.
As Mack et al. points out in their article Reaching Students With Facebook: Data and best practices, there are a number of good reasons for libraries to create a presence in and provide services via Facebook. These are platforms and communities that our patrons are already familiar with and librarians need to go meet patrons on their terms. Going out to where our patrons are will make our services more convenient and result in libraries maintaining their relevancy. Also, having a presence in one of the major social networking platforms allows libraries to provide contact information to their users in another format, not requiring them to hunt and peck at the library’s Web site for the information. What Mack is talking about can be regarded as opportunities as well and they are unique to the social networking communities.
Each community offers different ways for an organization to promote itself. Facebook offers fan pages and group pages, where each has its pros and cons. These different ways of promoting the organization offer unique ways of interacting and engaging patrons in those communities, where the organization would not otherwise be able to create this experience for their patrons in another way.
This is where the opportunity lies for libraries to take advantage of the technology for their purposes. For instance, the library can use their Facebook fan page as a landing page for all their other social technology accounts. The other accounts would be used to draw patrons to the Facebook fan page where the patron could be provided with library services and not ever synchronously interact with a librarian. This is the beauty of social networking for libraries, the patron interacts with library content and information on their own terms, consuming only that information they choose. Ultimately, it is an opportunity to broaden the libraries reach on the Web and increase the number of patrons it serves and interacts with.
These opportunities should be seized immediately or as soon as the library can convene their social networking task force or committee and start the discussion. I cannot say how many times I have engaged coworkers on this subject and many of them have dismissed social networks with regard to libraries as a ‘fad’ or ‘a waste of time’. I find it short-sighted to think that libraries do not have a long-term stake in social networks or the other Web 2.0 technologies that are being developed every day. These technologies enhance and engage our patrons consumption of information, libraries most certainly need to entrench and embed themselves in it and use this technology to innovate, especially in these times of evaporating budgets. Libraries provide many services and the reasons mentioned above are why libraries should have a presence online, however the most important one I can think of, considering all the adversity that lies ahead, is to maintain our visibility and relevancy in the eyes of those we serve and those that will hold us accountable.