Librarians Face Online Social Networks
Breeding, Marshall, Computers in Libraries
An important part of life is developing social and professional networks. It's not something we necessarily think about overtly, but we each live in a fabric of relationships of family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, and professional colleagues. Opportunities increasingly present themselves to interact with those networks through online social networking sites. The natural early adopters tend to include two groups: the millennials that gravitate to all forms of media and communication and those with techie tendencies. In the last year or so it seems that online social networking has suddenly exploded beyond these groups to the mainstream, attracting Web users of all generations.
Online social networks have been a common fixture of the Web for quite some time. Sites such as MySpace, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Friendster rank among the most popular. Many sites focused on other types of content sport social networking features. Flickr, for example, while devoted to sharing photos, embodies the full spectrum of social networking features.
Facebook.com, originally established as a site for college students, has recently burst beyond its roots and captured broad interest. In its brief history [Editor's Note: See the Facebook feature, page 21.], Facebook has expanded from a network for a few schools in the northeastern U.S. to all colleges and universities, to high schools, and is now open to everyone. As of July 2007, Facebook claims more than 30 million active members and now ranks as one of the top Web destinations in the world. This installment of The Systems Librarian takes a closer look at Facebook and explores some of the ways it might make a difference for those of us working in libraries.
In academic libraries, Facebook plays a part in the lives of almost all of our student clientele; with high school students now joining Facebook in droves, it's also a factor for public and school librarians. As social networks become more ingrained in the lives of our younger patrons, it behooves those of us in the library profession to learn as much as we can about them.
It's more than an abstract interest. Many in the library profession have discovered that Facebook is well suited as a tool for developing their own social and professional networks online.
The best way to learn about Facebook is to join and explore it for yourself, but I'll sketch out some of its basic features here to help spark your interest.
In Facebook, members have Profiles, they make Friends, they belong to a Network, and they create and join Groups. Each member has the opportunity to set up a Profile that provides information to other members. Your Profile can contain as much or as little information as you choose. Some choose to provide only a few basic facts, while others flood their Profiles with full details of their activities, personal preferences, and their personality. While my Profile currently lists only scant information (the city where I live, where I work, and where I went to school), more expressive users include their interests in books and movies, hobbies, travels, favorite sayings, and the like.
Facebook centers on the concept of Friends. Becoming Facebook Friends involves two steps: one member sends an invitation, and the other has to confirm the invitation. This mutual process goes a long way toward preventing unwanted intrusions into your online social life. Since accepting a Friend request also provides access to view your Profile, those concerned with their online privacy will want to be a bit selective.
Unlike many other online environments, in Facebook a member's online presence usually reflects his or her actual person. On sites such as MySpace, members often create virtual personas quite apart from their own demographic. Such isn't the case with Facebook, where almost all members use their real names and include photos that don't misrepresent their age, gender, or species. …