What Does Facebook Matter To Libraries?

Lichen pointed me to this Librarian’s Guide to Etiquette post about new technologies:

Keep up to date with new technologies that you can co-opt for library use. So what if no one will ever listen to the pod casts of your bibliographic instruction lectures, subscribe to the RSS feeds from your library’s blog, send your reference librarian instant messages, or view your library’s profile on facebook.com? At least you did your part to make all these cool technologies a little bit lamer.

Point taken, and it’s a reasonable caution. The same rush to embrace trends that has us putting coffee shops in our libraries might also push us into trying to setup shop in online forums like Facebook, but who’s to say we should go there? After all, people have been gathering in bars for years, but the we don’t see branches opening in Cheers or libraries offering Irish coffee in their new coffee shops.

But there is something to learn from these new technologies. I just saw numbers that suggested Facebook (an optional service) gets about the same usage by our students as our university portal (which students are required to use, even to check email). Match that with the growing number of stories I’ve been hearing of students using Facebook to collaborate on class projects, and we have to conclude that something interesting is happening.

I’m going to avoid the question of whether libraries should be trying to offer services inside Facebook, and instead ask the question of how well our existing services work for those using Facebook. If students are collaborating, they’re likely sharing URLs, but our OPACs and databases often aren’t bookmarkable, making it difficult to exchange links to those resources (and instructions like these don’t help either). And if somebody blogs about one of our items, our catalogs don’t support comments or trackbacks, making it a one-sided conversation. Facebook and other online services are important to our patrons, and we would do well to think about how information is exchanged using those technologies. We would do well to build services that interoperate with the internet that people are using.