Harnessing Social Networks in Libraries

Harnessing Social Networks in Libraries.  Watch Marylaine's Ex Libris site for a new column about utilizing social networks in libraries called “Who You Know Still Counts.” Here's an excerpt:

“I've been reading a couple of books which I may tell you more about in subsequent issues,* and though one is about  information entrepreneurship and the other about organizational culture, each of them makes the point that  the internet and full-text databases have not changed a fundamental human instinct: when we need information, we ask somebody we trust.  Indeed, in one study, people were five times more likely to approach friends or colleagues for information than to use a database or library….

It also suggests the vital importance of our mental or physical files of contact people and local experts (one of those books mentioned that when executives were asked what they would rescue from a burning office, virtually all of them said they'd grab their rolodexes first).  We all have such files of experts; my question is whether we consolidate them with those of our colleagues and keep that composite file available on the reference desk.

It suggests that when we construct topical pages for our web site, with key resources for accounting and social work and such, we should make sure that we include networks for sharing personal knowledge in those subject areas:  association web sites, listservs, usenet groups, and bulletin boards.

It may even suggest that we should emphasize the human connection side of what we do.  We might let a little personality leak through on our web sites, even create quirky individual personas, like instant messenger screen names,  for librarians staffing the virtual reference desks (TechWoman? KnowsAllSeesAll? Biblia, the Warrior Librarian comes to mind). 

We might even bring our library staff out of the shadows or professional anonymity and introduce them on our web pages and library newsletters as living breathing people with specific educational backgrounds and hobbies and special knowledge areas.  Kids might look at us quite differently if they knew we were fans of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, or that we, say, signed our e-mails with a rock music quote of the week.

It may well be that  our users who are flocking to the net instead of to the library are not exhibiting a new behavior at all; it's just that the technology has made it a little easier for them to ask somebody, or to find somebody to ask.

We may need to make it a little easier for them to find, and trust, us when they go hunting.”

Great stuff that we really should be discussing in our profession. If I can get blogging started acrossing Illinois libraries, that might be one way to start viewing connections (think neighborhoods). And the new distributed directories feature of Radio would certainly have some applicability.  [The Shifted Librarian]

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