Are libraries are targeting the right audience with 2.0 efforts?
Your academic library probably has a Facebook page with some fans, along with a Twitter account to share news and encourage relationships with community members. Perhaps some experimentation is occurring with Foursquare and other emerging social networks. These efforts result in varying degrees of success.
There’s no harm in trying to connect with the community using social networking sites, but based on what’s been shared both in our formal and informal literature, most of the energy that goes into these efforts is targeted at students. That is sensible since most social networking sites are familiar to our traditional undergraduate and graduate students. You’d be hard pressed to stroll through your library’s computer commons and not see more than a few screens tuned into Facebook. But perhaps we academic librarians are overlooking another target population for our social networking and media efforts—our faculty.
Guess who’s into social media
Thanks to a new study of faculty participation in social networks we now know that many faculty, some 80 percent—regardless of age category—report participating in any one of the following: Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Skype, LinkedIn, MySpace, Flickr, Slideshare, or Google Wave. Nearly 60 percent kept accounts with more than one, and a quarter used at least four. An examination of the slide deck made available by Pearson Learning Solutions, one of the study sponsors, provides some insight into how our faculty use social networking and media for personal and educational use.
Pearson randomly surveyed approximately 10,000 faculty, and just shy of 1000 responded. The majority of the respondents were in the arts and sciences. The majority also teach undergraduates, work at four-year schools, teach face-to-face courses, and are female.
Knowing that faculty, more than we expected, are using web 2.0 technology is interesting, but in what ways might we leverage these new findings to build relationships?
Networking with faculty
Faculty presence on Facebook is significant. Over 60 percent responding have an account. Twitter usage is far less evident; fewer than 20 percent claim to have an account. So there’s quite a few faculty on the networks, but when you look at the data more closely, a far smaller number use their network accounts for professional or student communication. While 60 percent report using social networking for personal use, far fewer use it to communication with students. While faculty need to think carefully about friending their students, what would keep them from connecting with librarians?
I recall no reports or studies of librarian-faculty relationships on social networks, so there may be no way of knowing to what extent this is already happening. I am friends with one faculty member at my institution, and I suspect that our frontline librarians who serve as liaisons have made one or more Facebook friends with their faculty colleagues.
Unless you or your faculty friend share really personal information—the sort of thing you would prefer that professional colleagues didn’t know—to my way of thinking social networking between faculty and librarians is a good thing. The better we know each other, the stronger our relationship. That can lead to doors opening in new ways. To me this seems an area ripe for some research; we need to know more about library-faculty connections using social media. What sort of outcomes come from these relationships?
Leading the way with social media
One encouraging indicator in this survey is the number of faculty, over 60 percent, who believe that video, podcasts, blogs, and wikis are valuable tools for teaching and communication. Online video can take a number of forms for faculty. Many are using YouTube videos to supplement what they teach in class. For others it may be an inspirational TED Talk. Many others use lecture capture systems such as Echo360 to create video for full lectures.
Video can be a powerful learning tool; it certainly can capture and hold student attention—or just allow them to review what happened in class. We know anecdotally that increasing numbers of faculty use full-length feature and documentary films in their courses as well. This creates great opportunities for academic librarians to promote streaming media collections that allow faculty to grab film and technical video off the web.
If the sample respondents in the Pearson study are even somewhat representative of our faculty, indicators suggest that they’ll be eager to learn how we can help them find and use media, commercial and social. New sources of online media and better ways of discovering what’s out there are routinely becoming available. If faculty want media, let’s be the ones to lead the way in giving it to them.
Surveys are good, but let’s talk
While you can take it for what it’s worth—only ten percent of those surveyed responded—studies like this one can help to open our eyes to new trends in higher education. But why wait until a study like this one gets published? It should remind us that the more we know about our faculty and how they are using technology, the better we can help them use of it for learning or research. True, to some extent that’s the domain of the learning technologist, but many academic librarians are quite savvy about web 2.0 tools and how to get the most out of them. If we can help faculty to discover and use them, that’s good for everyone.
But let’s take the time to also talk to our learning technology colleagues and discover the common ground where we can work together. Wouldn’t you like your technologist colleague pointing faculty to a streaming media database? I would. What’s the difference as long as it helps to make a difference? Making friends on social networks and sharing what we know about the latest social media tools should only help to strengthen our local academic community. Let’s not forget that it all comes back to communicating, and engaging in conversations is what we need to do on our campuses. After all, isn’t that what social networking and social media is supposed to facilitate?
Steven Bell is Associate University Librarian, Temple University, Philadelphia, PA. For more from Steven visit his blogs, Kept-Up Academic Librarian, ACRLog and Designing Better Libraries or visit his website.