Sunday, December 9, 2007

Friend or Service?

Well, it's been a tough week, weather-wise. Route 79 is a really nerve-wracking drive when the roads are snow covered. And tonight they are ice-covered. So I've been having more time than usual in the car.

And it occurs to me, I'm someone who likes libraries enough to regularly risk life and limb to work in them, but I'm a little dismayed at the idea of the library as a friend on these social networking sites. I understand, academic libraries are doing their best to remain relevant (and not just glorified study halls), and they're trying to push into the spaces of patrons who might use library services even if they never step inside the building. But still, c'mon. I'm on facebook now, and even I wouldn't add the library as my friend. I did consider it -- librarians gotta stick together here -- but I remember wincing and thinking no. And I've never heard patrons clamor for more libraries on MySpace. Not because it's unexpected, but in part because what's the point? Obviously for libraries the point is additional exposure online, but what's the point for users? Are they really going to check what the library's plans are for this Friday night? If the answer is yes, aren't we already connected to those people? I can't believe facebook is going to bring additional people to the library. It's possible it would connect with the same group of regulars it already serves, but I thought the point of doing it would be to reach out to a different audience.

There's a pre-facebook/myspace Seinfeld episode where Jerry's on a rant about libraries:
"It reminds me of like this pathetic friend that everybody had when they were a little kid who would let you borrow any of his stuff if you would just be his friend. That's what the library is." Doesn't this sum it up beautifully? 

So frankly I'm a little dubious about libraries that have profiles on MySpace and Facebook. It's a happy idea, but really the library is not your friend. At least, there's a difference between your 'in group' and the library. The library on Facebook is there in the same way the advertisers are there -- it's hoping you'll use its services.

Services are different from friends, and libraries are more the former than the latter. Services online are mostly commercial entities, and maybe that's what the problem is here. The library is a service but doesn't want your money; or at least, not directly. (It'll take it through tuition or the government. It is an institution, after all.) So while it needs your patronage to survive, it is unlike most other customer/provider relationships because no money changes hands. 

I don't have a conclusion here -- I'll probably continue to think about this for a while. In the car. As I try to avoid snow drifts. 


  1. So I guess you wouldn't be interested in creating a TC3 presence on FaceBook? Just kidding. I tried it at Morrisville with both Facebook and MySpace. It was met with a resounding silence. It is more important to be there as a person than as an institution.

  2. Hi, Robin,
    Thanks for sending me access to your blog. Great idea! I'm wondering about your new job - do you work in two different libraries, hence the triangle?
    In addition to your iPod, you may want to listen to books on CD. My commute is about 20 minutes a day, yet I still manage to finish an amazing number of books. I'd be glad to loan you some!

  3. Hi, Olivia,
    I have no idea why I said "Hi, Robin" in my last comment! I think it's because I had just finished reading Robin's comment in response to your first message. Sorry about that!

  4. Hi Terry! Yes, I'm working at TC3 and at BCC.

    I've been meaning to download some free audio books on iTunes but haven't done so yet. Through iTunes University, the University of South Florida has a great collection of classics, including some Jane Austen and Mark Twain. Unfortunately you may have to access them through iTunes -- at least I couldn't find them directly from the university. But once I burn through those I may come a'knocking! Thanks for the offer!