Tanin's Blog

December 3, 2009

UW Libraries on Facebook

Filed under: Academic Libraries — tanin @ 8:35 am

Compared to the two public libraries I previously observed, the University Washington Libraries seem to make even more efforts to participate in social media. There is “Bookmark & Share” that I’ve seen before on the Seattle Public Library homepage as well as four widgets with links to Facebook, flickr, Twitter, and YouTube.

Today my focus was on Facebook. I first have to mention this:  One of the pleasant memories I have of the University of Washington (where I did five years of graduate work) was the UW Libraries. Everything about the libraries—catalog, the services of the librarians and staff, collection management, etc.—was excellent, and everyone I met at the UW agreed with me.

But the UW Libraries do not seem successful in becoming popular in the world of Facebook, especially in comparison to the two public libraries that I previously observed.

This does not mean its fans are fewer. It currently has 1,043 fans out of its 42,127 students. Proportionately, in terms of population, this percentage larger than that of the SPL, or the MPL. What I interpreted as evidence of the lack of popularity of the UW Libraries is that the way not many people respond to its posts.

Here are some snapshots of what one might find on the Facebook pages of the SPL and the MPL:

People respond and interact with the librarians. They even leave love notes to them.

On the other hand, the typical Facebook page of the UW Libraries seems to be like this:

People respond and interact with the librarians. They even leave love notes to them.

On the other hand, the typical Facebook page of the UW Libraries seems to be like this:

I don’t think the UW Libraries are doing anything wrong. Based on my graduate school experience, I can list a few possible reasons why a university library might not be welcomed in Facebook (or other social media) by students.

  • Libraries are associated with instructors and schoolwork (and academic librarians are faculty members!), whereas Facebook is associated with friends and relaxation. If I saw someone on my Facebook account speaking the way the UW Libraries do—for example, saying “Do you need research help?” or “South Asian Oral History Project-first attempts to record pan-South Aisan immigrant experiences in PNW as oral history”—the next thing I would do is to suggest I might “unfriend” him/her.
  • If I’m not mistaken, most of the messages posted by the UW Libraries on Facebook are duplicates of emails that students receive from their department and some whatever connections they have at the university. At least that was what I experienced. Even if one has a particular interest in intellectual stimulations through participating in lectures, events, exhibitions, concerts, etc., it gets really annoying to receive too much information about those activities, partly because it is not possible to find the time to participate in most of them while in school.

I think The Other Librarian is precise in pointing out the problem of an academic library on Facebook: “In the end, the reason students will say they do not want to see librarians and educators on Facebook is that the culture of libraries clashes with the culture of Facebook.”

How about public libraries and Facebook? How come the patrons of public libraries are relatively more engaged with their libraries on Facebook?

I think it is because, between the public library and its patrons, there is a more genuine connection, and because the connection is based upon a mutual agreement between the librarians and the members of the local community. Am I exaggerating too much if I say the patrons of a public library sees their librarians as their friends and the library as a pleasure place? At least I did while I was working full-time. The MPL was my refuge from work stress.

So what can be done about the UW Libraries on Facebook? Honestly I don’t know the answer, and I do not want to say “delete the accounts” again (I’m somewhat regretful of having said that on November 26th).  I’m just curious what the UW librarians think about this issue.

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