Andrea Mercado and Kate Sheehan have both written insightful posts about the importance of librarians being aware of the culture of the social technologies they’re getting involved in for outreach purposes.
It’s easy to become enamored of social networking sites and Web 2.0 toys to the point where they seem like a panacea for everything that’s wrong with your library or your job. Slap a wiki on it and call me in the morning. The most successful uses of the newest tech tools have recognized that they’re just that: tools. Midwinter has me revising that to add they’re tools with their own cultures.
Whenever I speak on the topic of social software, I emphasize culture. How and why a specific audience uses something is more important than how you want to apply it, essentially. Case in point is the session I blogged from Saturday morning for PLA on social networking and reference. In their efforts to perform “outreach,” librarians thought it was a good idea to try to figure out how to get around Facebook’s built-in messaging system… which was trying to prevent them from essentially spamming Facebook users. People who understand Facebook’s user culture know that this is *bad* and it shouldn’t be done, but these librarians thought they were doing a good, clever thing by trying to circumvent the system.
librarians need to study the fine art of anthropology when it comes to social networking. That’s the true key to user-centered design in the library world: it doesn’t start with us and our wants and needs, it starts with them.
Yes! It’s so critical that we understand these tools, how they are used, and how they are viewed by the people using them before we start building presence and friending our patrons. And it’s not only about understanding social networking. It’s also about understanding our own unique population. Where one library’s population may be perfectly comfortable with the library friending them in MySpace, another library’s population would be horrified. We need to understand not only our users’ needs and wants, but also how they approach these tools, what sort of sense of privacy they have, and what sort of interactions they might want from the library. It’s so easy to get tunnel vision or to see one library who has implemented a social technology successfully and to think that you can just do the same at your library. It’s so dependent on your population and your understanding of the culture of the technologies.
As I wrote in a reply to Kate’s post “I’m glad these questions are being asked. We need to be critical of our role in the ‘2.0’ world. We want to do right by our patrons, not force ourselves on them, invade their spaces, or create tools they don’t want to use. And sometimes it’s difficult to know if what we’re doing is helping, hurting or is just plain getting ignored.”