Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Facebook: some informal research

In July, prompted by cam23 discussions about Facebook, I posted a question on my Facebook status asking what people thought about libraries being on Facebook. The results were quite interesting; although most people were initially sniffy about Facebook being used by proper institutions like libraries, many came round to the idea that there's some value in library presence there. I presented the results of this survey at the inaugural Librarians' TeachMeet held yesterday on 27 September 2010, and both the presentation and the full survey text are reproduced below.

Here is the full text of the survey. Respondents' have been anonymised to protect the innocent.

Katie Birkwood

Friends - a question. Would you look for information about libraries (public or academic) on Facebook, and why/why not?


Facebook is for social enterprises, not business or educational. Personally, I hate it when companies etc use facebook. Twitter on the other hand....

Katie Birkwood

Thanks PB. Do you consider a library to be in the same bracket as a company in this instance then? (Am actually genuinely interested in this, so other people please answer too!) If you were still at uni, would you be against a uni/faculty/department presence, too?


I would just type it into Google or Wikipedia because facebook searches only ever bring up weird Americans and also facebook will then post library-related adverts on your page every time you log in.


Not by default...
I usually only really want either opening or catalogue information.
For the latter, I'd go direct to the institutional website.
For the former... unless I had evidence to the contrary I'd expect a library facebook site to be a relatively low priority in terms of keeping information current (such as revisions to opening hours for out-of-term or closures for re-decorating/stockchecks) and as most (especially most small) organisations seem to have trouble keeping all their public facing pages up to date I wouldn't rely on any info I found there.
On the other hand, for a library that was a small part of a larger organisation (whether that were a college, university, or county network of public libraries) a facebook page might be more readily and immediately edit-able by the staff on the ground, in which case it might turn out to be more current and thus more useful, and if I became aware that were the case I wouldn't have a problem with using facebook to look for information.
Until recently it wouldn't have occured to me that libraries might be on facebook (tho' when I think about it L' has been friends with N library for aaages). I guess if I were looking to use a public library as the sort of public space that might contain a CHaOS event I might have a look to see if it had a facebook presence, in which case I'd want to know if it looked friendly-and-helpful (and what the names of the helpful-and-friendliest looking people were) before calling/writing to them.
Sorry, stream of conciousness. Might have a more coherent set of thoughts another time.

Katie Birkwood

Stream-of-consciousness fine, and very interesting too, esp re: CHaOS. (Have you ever had an event at a library?)


Noo-oo.. we looked at one, once, I think, but the dates didn't work out (or they didn't have enough space, or they closed at lunchtime on a Saturday, or something). But it's a nice idea.

Katie Birkwood

It is a *very* nice idea. But logistics are such pesky things. (And, cos I have to ask - what proportion of your experiments are clean enough for library space?)


Most of them are non-messy, really... there are half-a-dozen of the ones we take on tour that aren't, I should think.
The messy ones just get discussed more because we have to spend more effort on thinking about where and when we can use them.
More of an issue would probably be power sockets (tho' I guess the modern computer-filled library has lots of those, too).


I think I would prefer to google and go direct to the libraries information page on the council / uni website , but I guess if you have events that you want to notify people about, a facebook group with event notices could be useful

Katie Birkwood

HS - not sure how many library adverts are circulating in Facebook land ;-) But interesting point, nevertheless (especially about quality of Facebook search)

HW - thanks.


I agree with most people up here in part :-) For general information such as 'where is my nearest library?', 'what are their opening times?' etc. I would just go straight to Google, I don't see Facebook as a reference tool at all, it's social for me. However, if I was already a member of my local library then I would be tempted to join a facebook group about it in order to recieve updates about events etc.


wonders if you can 'book' a library?


RE getting updates on "events" at libraries... isn't that an oxymoron?


is a oxymoron a stupid bovine?


I would become a fan of my department library if I was still at uni, to keep in touch with what was going on there. And if I didn't work it would be useful to know what was happening at my local library in London, but I hardly get there to borrow books let alone do anything else, so there wouldn't be much point at the moment. I like the Science Museum pages on Facebook, and it's not so different, and I've been to the British Library to see the exhibitions but not for research.


No TM, that's a Silly Cow!

Katie Birkwood

CB and RD - thanks for interesting comments.

PB - if you think events in libraries are an oxymoron, then you should go and visit your local library more! I bet they have lots of events, and there's bound to be something that F might enjoy either now, or in the near future. *dismounts from high horse*

TM - um, hi!


often tells his pupils to go to the library to do homework. Sadly most don't know where it is.

Katie Birkwood

>:-( That's pretty awful. But good on ya for telling them about it!


we have a new library in H - looks smart and often see people going in.


Do we actually need libraries anymore now that we have the Internet; namely Wikipedia? (feels a wrath of protests approaching...)


I decided to put my library on because I know that students are more likely to check facebook and see what we're up to via their news feed than go on our library website! It's also useful for updating students about things that we wouldn't necessarily put on our website (eg new electronic resources that the UL have bought that might be of interest to them). By posting updates every now and again, it also shows that we are being active, keeping abreast of the latest issues and actually doing work outside of term time (which I don't think the students are aware of!)
And also, I have to say, it is a bit of a marketing ploy. As we know, most people don't understand what it is we do with our days and so any avenues that we can take to publicise what we do with our time is a good thing in my opinion!


The way in which we perceive Facebook, in contrast to other potential sources of information, hinges to some extent on an subjective/objective distinction, in that we associate Facebook with people’s opinions and self-presentation, rather than with factual information deriving from a intellectual broader ambit. (When knowledge of this less-personal kind is cited, links to other sites are usually provided.) But when institutions, rather private individuals, come to acquire a ‘corporate’ presence, things begin to change, since the range of information which they can certify becomes much greater. A library knows its opening hours (or, say, its acquisitions policy) with the same reliability, one would hope, that a person knows their date of birth. What bearing do these considerations have, I wonder, on how users perceive Facebook? How ought their perceptions to take account of a resource which straddles the personal and the corporate? The site derives its name through an analogy between books and people. If a substantial sub-community of users were to focus their interest on libraries, then would there not be something which could be referred to as ‘Bookbook’?

Katie Birkwood

DR - Or would, perhaps, the overwhelming subjectivity, nay frivolity, of Facebook in fact undermine the library presence, leaving us not with a corner of Facebook that shall be forever Bookbook, but rather a corner of the metaphysical library that is no longer biblio- but rather sociographical?

PB - Yes, we do still need libraries.

CS - thanks. Do you get much reader interaction on facebook?


not a lot - readers 'like' the stuff we put on but that's about it. I think it'll be our library's foray into web 2.0 though - otherwise there'll be too many different interfaces to update and readers will get confused. I wouldn't bother with twitter, for example..


I want Bookbook!

Katie Birkwood

BOOKBOOK! It's really fun to say. bookbook bookbook bookbook. How long before the men in white coats turn up?


erm... not long... I've made the relevant phone-call ;-)

*Facebook discussion ends*

Offline discussion

I also asked three people in person what they thought about the same question - "would you look for library information on Facebook" - and here are my notes of their responses.

“KB: [asks the survey question]
D: No, because I associate it with social networking
KB: But you’re friends with the English Faculty library.
D: Yes, but I saw that more as a newsfeed… a way to be told news.
KB: You’d go to the library website for info, but might exprect English Faculty library facebook to send out news of changes, etc.
D: Yes
KB: Do you get emails from the library?
D: Yes, occasionally
KB: Do you expect to get different information from emails and Facebook?
D: Yes. I have both so that I find out about the whole range of what’s going on. Both more and less important/serious.”

"KB: [asks the survey question]
E: *looks perplexed* no. If I was looking for an archive I'd search for "archives UK" - if institutional, would look at the Uni or Council webpage.
KB: If a library you used had a Facebook presence would you...
E: No. But my uni does, and lots of my friends are friends of it - they have info about exam term extra desk space etc. Basically I'm to lazy to be friends with them."

"KB: [asks the survey question]
G: No. I don't think of it as somewhere for information, but for somewhere to find out about peoples' summer holidays. I think of Facebook as 'low brow'. Would look at the university website/the UL resources/the BL for information. Is there a central website for public libraries? No? There should be."


  1. Thanks for putting this up, I was craning my neck to read some of the slides at the presentation

  2. Just to recap my thoughts shared earlier on Twitter.

    I was surprised by the presumption that a FB page is unlikely to be accurate, that everything a library offers can be found in the catalogue, that businesses are ok on twitter but not on FB.

    I personally never search for things on FB, it's bad enought trying to find pages/people I know for certain exist, as FB has a habit of filtering out results it presumes you don't need.

    Feedly sitting on top of my Google reader RSS feeds spat out the followiing sources of related info in seconds.

    1. Research into the Impact of Facebook as a Library Marketing Tool is Inconclusive" http://bit.ly/dwv3Pa
    2. Stephen's Lighthouse http://bit.ly/ay0F1l
    3. Unisa http://bit.ly/dC4WX0

  3. Helena, thanks for the comments.

    Regarding updating Facebook pages: I wasn't so surprised that people thought they might be out of date. Firstly, institutional pages very often are out of date (usually because it's so difficult for those at the coal face to make changes, or to have changes made by those with access), and secondly 'secondary' resources like Facebook might not receive the continuing attention once the buzz of setting them up has waned. I suppose the message from that is that you should actively keep using the site even if there isn't any major news to tell, just so that people see that it is in use. That way they're more likely to trust that when there is news, that will appear on Facebook, too.

    Thanks for the links - especially the review article. I initially asked the question on Facebook just out of vague interest, but I find I'm keen on following this up further to some extent.