Friday, August 8, 2008

Reference Renaissance - Session IIB - "Okay, This is Just Too Weird:"...

"Okay, This is Just Too Weird:" Identifying Outreach Opportunities in Facebook (Panel)

Christopher Bloechl, Gelman Library, The George Washington University, Washington DC
David Bietila, Gelman Library, The George Washington University, Washington DC
Elizabeth Edwards, Gelman Library, The George Washington University, Washington DC

On Facebook, the fastest growing demographic is those 25 yrs & older; with universities now having so many older students makes this a trend that the panelists cannot ignore! Mr. Blochl, Mr. Bietila, and Ms. Edwards studied their students’ use of Facebook, created individual librarian’s profiles on Facebook, and made recommendations for other libraries regarding Facebook.

In 2006, 55% of teens who use social networks have used Facebook or MySpace; 48% of those use these sites daily or more often. Is this a way to reach out to our library users?

The George Washington University Library is a major social hub for students on campus. They currently utilize Instant Messaging (IM), Email, and Web learning modules.

In 2007, they implemented “The Librarian is Your Friend” campaign on Facebook. Most library instruction is done in conjunction with a freshman writing program. Those students were encouraged to friend the library liaison working with their section.

Research Questions
• What role does technology play in our students study habits?
• What role does Facebook play in students’ lives in general?
• What can the library do with Facebook?

Research Team
• Two librarians
• A recent anthropology graduate student (thesis on Facebook). The graduate student was able to get less biased answers and helped them gather better questions.

Part of their interview questions asked students how their recreational use of Facebook affected their study habits and academic life.
• What sort of information would you expect/want to find on a librarian’s profile page (social or practical)?
• How would you feel if a librarian “friended” you?
• Under what circumstances would you feel comfortable “friending” a librarian or accepting a librarian’s friend request?

Literature vs. reality (150 survey respondents)

Literature told them that students use institutions sites/portals because they have to – but spend time on Facebook because they want to.

• Most of their students are members of Facebook, MySpace, and LinkedIn.

• 78% use Facebook more than once daily

Literature told them students use Facebook to maintain existing relationships or friends they cannot see in person.

Literature told them ‘when asked if Facebook serves any academic purpose 54% said that it did not’.

• Students said that they communicate about assignments (68%), arrange study groups (61%) communicate about academic interests (47%).

• Students see Facebook as a break time (reward or distraction) from studying.

Literature told them students recognize that it is easier to communicate with professors electronically but they are hesitant to do so for a variety of reasons.

• Students aren’t really interested in communicating with the library through social site.

• “If you needed help with your research or had a question about the library, would you feel comfortable communicating through Facebook with a staff member about it? Most didn’t really have a good view on this. The students felt better about communicating with librarians than with faculty.

• “How do you feel about university staff having Facebook profiles?” Most students were either comfortable, or didn’t care about library profiles. Most did NOT like the idea of having faculty on Facebook.

Literature told them that individual librarian profiles lets students identify their librarians as approachable individuals.

• “What features on librarians profiles would interest you?”
o Student responses: 60.6% - study suggestions & research advice;
o 55.8% - information about and access to library resources;
o 26.9% information about the librarian as an individual;
o 15.4% - librarian’s social interaction with other members through wall posts;
o 13% had no interest in librarian profiles.

• “How would you respond if a librarian friended you?”
o Student responses varied, but most participants expressed varying degrees of discomfort.

Literature said that librarians could be on Facebook to be where their users are.

o Most students can find librarians or faculty on Facebook to be creepy/intrusive.


• Recommend creating an institutional, formal-looking library fan page that students and librarians alike can join.
• Strike a personal/professional balance: include picture and subject expertise; however, don’t clutter page w/too many applications.
• Friending: students are much more likely to friend librarians if they interact with them in person. Use research appointments and reference desk interactions as resources for building Facebook relationships.
• Many students said they were inclined to use Facebook’s library applications. So putting these things out there can let your users see them – and they even might use them!
• The panelists are creating an application to let study groups schedule a reserved place in the library for their study session.
• A book recommendation application on librarian’s profiles appeals to many students; it occupies a middle ground between professional and personal spheres; and it fits into students’ common expectations about librarians.
• Many students are unaware that librarians are on Facebook: most students who were aware of the program at Gelman University had seen signs; successful advertising will play on things meaningful to students.

Avoiding Facebook Faux Pas

• The Wall (don’t post things on your own wall!);
• Notes (use for mini-blogging);
• Messages (personal);
• Poking (don’t poke students).


• Talk to your patrons
• Your own research will have the most applicability for you.

Epilogue – Up to the present

• Research was done at a particular moment, while Facebook continues to change
• Changes in Facebook: new interfaces for web and iPhone; changing demographics (older users increasing, 17-25 are still preponderance of users); greater commercial saturation of Facebook (marketing tactics for use of Facebook have been codified; more outside organizations making themselves known)
• Dynamic environment (may become more friendly to librarian involvement; libraries may be able to make their presence the norm).

David Bietila –

Elizabeth Edwards –

Gelman's Facebook Fan Page

Some questions asked by conference attendees:

Why duplicate your library’s website with a Facebook Fan Page?

• Panelist’s Answer: The RSS news feed feature, more exposure can be good exposure, ability to implement features through the use of applications – features that are harder to get onto your website (e.g. Meebo, other widgets), 99% of their undergrads are on Facebook – but not 99% of those students visit the library website.

Fan pages? What are they?

• Panelist’s Answer: More of an informational page as opposed to a profile page. They are available through the advertising feature at the bottom of the page.

How do you market your fan page?

• Panelist’s Answer: They have not marketed it yet; in the future, however, it will most likely be built into the context of other marketing.