By Meredith Farkas | May 22, 2006
Since posting about social networking software almost 2 weeks ago, I have been corresponding with Oceana Wilson of the Crossett Library at Bennington College. They are the library that has been soliciting feedback from students on Facebook about what materials they’d like the library to order. Oceana and I are both curious about the policies libraries have developed regarding the use of MySpace and Facebook for marketing and outreach. Or if you don’t have policies, how do you handle sticky ethical issues that creep up? Oceana has done some really interesting outreach via Facebook which reminded me a great deal of what Brian Matthews did with his Ubiquitous Reference Model.
So I asked Oceana if I could reproduce an e-mail she sent me, both in an effort to get feedback and to show some of the potential policy issues that can come up when using these tools:
I was thinking yesterday of the ethics of it all. I’m curious to know how others are handling it. I made 2 rules from the beginning (honestly not intensely thought out – mostly gut instinct) and it has worked so far.
1. I never ‘invite’ students to connect to the library profile – I only accept invitations (not that it would necessarily be unethical to invite students – I’m just not entirely comfortable doing it)
2. I don’t really read (and definitely don’t look at photo albums!) of the student in my ‘friends list’ with the exception of one thing – after I accept their invitation I look at their ‘favorite movies’ and ‘favorite books’ list and I check it against our catalog. Often I’ll find some great things we don’t have – so we order them and I send the student a quick email typically saying something like -hey – your book list is really interesting – the library didn’t have x, y, z but we’ve ordered them – let us know any time if you ever think of things you want us to have – thanks! The responses back have been positive and some have gone on to request more materials.
I still haven’t really figured out rules about accepting invitations to groups. I did get one invitation to join a group that was formed to protest an administrative decision regarding housing. I ended up accepting based on the somewhat shaky logic of looking at it as a collection standpoint –library is neutral – it tries to represent both sides – I would accept an invitation as well from a group supporting the administrative decision. Oh god – the things they don’t teach you about in library school. I’ve decided to do it on a case by case basis – automatically ruling out illegal, unethical, or generally mean-spirited groups. Thankfully none of those cases have come up yet.
How is your library handling issues like getting invitations to groups and inviting students? Have you received any inappropriate comments on your profile? Have you had to de-friend anyone? Whether or not these issues have come up, it’s important to know ahead of time how you would handle them so that you don’t make decisions arbitrarily.