Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Do All Roads Lead To Facebook

This is actually the second post I’ve written today. After writing the first, I decided that I wasn’t happy with the thought, particularly as to how it addressed libraries. Anyway, you’ll have to forgive me if this is somewhat cursory in its treatment of the subject of social networks, but it’s being done on the fly.

I recently listened to a podcast of a presentation on transportation networks. The presenter, and author of a book on the subject had a number of interesting things to say about historical transportation networks, as well as networks in a more modern context. One of the networks he dedicated some time to was road networks, particularly toll roads. Aside from describing the origin of the term “turn pike”, fascinating in itself, he described how many original English toll roads were designed to capture revenue from outsiders traveling into a jurisdiction rather then from the areas residence. This description gave me cause for pause when I considered it in the context of the library Myspace and Facebook profiles I had looked at. I wondered just who the libraries were trying to attract or contact, outsiders or locals. This may seem like something of a non sequitur, but give me some time.

As far as I can tell, and admittedly I’m not a heavy user, the individual online social networks allow for the formation of social ties over increasingly great distances. For organizations, social networks provide a means of advertising to large groups of people dispersed over vast distances at relatively little cost. The question that I’m driving at is why would a library have any interest in attracting attention from users that aren’t close by geographically? I know, the simple answer to this is that they offer service online that don’t require physical proximity, virtual reference for instance. However, this issue of proximity begs two questions. The first of which is who’s using these services. If the users are local to the library’s jurisdiction, then why waste time advertising to the entire english speaking world on Myspace and not focus on more effective local advertising, such as public transportation signage, physical mailing, email lists, etc.

It would seem for a service to be legitimately justified in its delivery through Facebook or Myspace and not through the library webpage, a service should be accessible to the entire population of the social network on which it’s hosted. However, that begs my second question, just who is going to pay for its delivery? The english speaking population is a fairly large group to provide a service too and service like that doesn’t come cheap. This was much the same situation that many a seventeenth century english county was in with their roads, their solution, the toll road. (I told you I’d get to it)

Now I may be putting any future I have with OCLC on the line, but I have some difficulty with libraries, particularly public ones, charging for library services. So you can see, I’m stuck in something of a bind about social networks and libraries. If one isn’t going to provide the service to the network's user base, why not stick with the traditional library web site? If one is going to provide the service, just how is it going to be paid for? At this point unfortunately, I don’t have answers, only questions.

I apologize for the rather rambling structure of this post, these are just a few things that sprung into my mind. Maybe I’ve missed to boat on the rational behind the library social network profile, I certainly solicit rebuttal.

4 comments:

Rob said...

You make an interesting point which has been banging about in my head as well, but not formulated enough to mention. Actually, the moment any of us put up any sort of presence on the web, we magnified this issue. To some degree we have done this global reach with ILL, copies of obituaries or other local publications pre-online. While we may have charged for some of these services; often the charge did not really begin to recoup the hidden costs of providing these reciprocal services. For example: if we charge for an obituary, we probably only charged for the photocopy and the postage. No recovery of staff time, original purchase price of the item, etc. So the precedent has been set to do some things for those outside of our tax base. How do we even begin to track online use to determine if we are a "net lender or net borrower?" Some of this usage would be very transparent.

I would have to say that our intent in having a presence on a social networking site is to reach our local audience who use this as a communication tool and who may not use the traditional methods like newspapers. At this point, I'm inclined to think that the "out of base" usage is just a cost of doing business in the web 2.0 world and will somehow balance with other activities. If we are convinced that using web 2.0 communication is a viable tool to reach that segment of our population, then the basic costs associated with it are covered as our service to that group.

I don't know that I've added anything to the discussion, but you do raise an interesting question.

Colleen said...

I found your comments regarding the cost of a library marketing to the entire MySpace community versus just the local community it serves very interesting. While the creation and maintenace of a MySpace page may have some associated staff costs, these duties are probably just assigned to an existing staff member. Where I work, we recently investigated the cost of local advertising such as signs on buses and at the local sports center. Who knew those bus signs were so expensive? Given our limited (read non-existent) advertising budget, it's far more cost effective to advertise to the world than those just around the corner.

amanda said...

Hi Ian - I think if we focus on the geographical in online social networks, we might miss some of the point. And what's the point? Well, I think it might be that libraries have always done the "we're over here! come visit us!" thing (and they've done it quite well), but the move into online social networks is more about trying to be in your users' space when they need you (this could be for both existing AND potentially new users). This is one of the reasons why libraries are embracing IM in such considerable numbers - because once the user adds the library's handle to their buddy list, they don't have to seek out VR help on the library site anymore ("come visit us!"), they have immediate access to the library right from their IM client.

The same can be said of a library presence on a social networking site. A really well-constructed library site on myspace or facebook could potentially have useful tools like a catalogue search box and links to research help/subject guides. Do you think a presence like this might be useful to our online users?

Also, to take up your point about taggetting library users as opposed to *everyone* who uses these sites, Facebook provides a cheap ad service to target just people in your network. I know of a couple of libraries who are already doing this and I'm keen to hear the results (will keep the class posted!).

Anonymous said...

I think you raise a good point. I know some libraries require people to log in with their library card number before they can use the online reference service, while others will help you regardless of whether you're a member of their community or on the other side of the world. I like the second model a lot more - library service should be universal! - but I can understand the first, given limited funding.

But then why advertise to users you're not going to serve?

-Lauralee