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.