Can Social Software Really Save The Library?

November 3, 2006

References to Marilyn R. Pukkila’s Just How Connected Are They? question on ACRLog are popping up all over the blogosphere – and rightfully so. Marilyn asks some great questions about how deeply today’s college students are wedded to social software sites. Do we have any idea of how students use social technology? We might have a clue about the popularity of MySpace, Facebook, IM and iPods – but we certainly don’t have concrete information about how users might interact with the library using the tools of Library 2.0.  I want to be clear that I don’t think that we in the library world are wrong to be investigating these tools and how they can help provide better service to our patrons, but before we can make determinations about the usefulness of these tools, we need to better understand our patrons and how they use, collect, find and distribute information.

One of my favorite responses to Marilyn Pukkila’s question, is Steve Lawson’s Why bother with social software at the liberal arts college?on See Also . . . Steve writes (and I love this quote): “. . . I think that it is a huge mistake to conflate all these social software sites and expect that they will somehow help us better relate to our students.” I think this is a very important point. We are desperately trying to find ways to relate to our patrons. Using sites like Flickr and Del.ico.us are not going to magically make us cool. They might be tools that we can use to interact with patrons. However, if our students think we are out of touch, unreachable and unapproachable, using  social software and social tools won’t change those perceptions. We can be just an remote via a MySpace account as in person.

Later, Steve writes of the exploration of social tools: “And let those experiences change and shape you as a person and as a professional, and affect how you think of the potential of the web, not just for “outreach” but for teaching and learning and collection development and providing services of all kinds.” We need to play, have fun, explore the tool of Library 2.0 – and to remember that we are there to teach and help our students learn. These tools won’t solve our problems, but they may provide us ways to help serve our patrons better.  And in the long run, it doesn’t really matter how we end up serving our patrons better, it just matters that we find a way to accomplish it.

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