UK Web Focus

Innovation and best practices for the Web

Librarians Experimenting With Facebook Groups

Posted by Brian Kelly on 12 November 2010

Where can Librarians discuss topics of interest?  Clearly lots of places, including mailing lists such as the LIS-* lists hosted by JISCMail; many similar lists based in the US; Web 2.0 collaborative environments such as the Library 2.0 Ning site and, of course, on Twitter.

And now there’s the Library Related People Facebook group. There was set up by Aaron Tay on Saturday 6 November and as he described in a blog post later that day:

We librarians are consummate users of social media. We are all over Friendfeed, masters of IM, Twitter & Skype. But Facebook is still the 500 pound gorilla in the room and most of us even the least techie librarian probably spends most of our time logged into Facebook.

The Facebook group chat option will allow us to chat with any of the librarians in the group. My hope is for this group to grow such that at anytime there are at least a dozen librarians online when you want to pick the brains of librarians who might be logged into facebook, you can just go to Facebook chat and send out a message.

I do feel that there is a need for such experimentation and so it is good to see that Aaron has set up this group to allow librarians from around the world to gain experience of the role, if any, which Facebook groups might provide for their users as well as possibly providing a forum for discussions by those working in the library sector.

And whilst several concerns related to use of Facebook Groups were discussed on the launch day (which I spotted in the chat window but now seems to have disappeared) it perhaps might be more interesting to discuss possible success criteria for an online community.  After all, I suspect that if an online social network had been set up using an open source software (such as Diaspora, the “The privacy aware, personally controlled, do-it-all, open source social network“) for some the political-correctness of the software environment would result in being unwilling to ask questions such as What is the environment for?; Do we need it?; how much will it cost?; What are the risks?; How will be know if it is a success and, conversely, How will we know if it’s a failure? But such questions will be asked about use of Facebook as an environment for hosting such a community.

When I joined  on Saturday 6 November 2010 the group had 46 members and by Saturday evening there were 192 members. On 8 November there were 299 members – and the current number can be see by visiting the members’ page.  But before anyone comments that the success of a social network environment shouldn’t be gauged simply by the number of members and growth rates (which, in this case, will be more to do with the extent of Aaron’s professional network and his esteem in the library community)  remember that I am seeking to understand how one can identify the success or not of a social network which could be applied equally to a Diaspora environment and a Facebook group. And if you reject the notion of success or failure, then you will be in a weak position to make criticisms of Aaron’s experiment.

My question,then, is does anyone have any suggestions for ways of identifying the success or failure of such social networks?

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3 Responses to “Librarians Experimenting With Facebook Groups”

  1. Aaron Tay said

    Hi Brian

    Unfortunately, as noted in comments to the blog post, we discovered that the group chat is automatically disabled once the group exceeds 250 members, which I think kills one of the main selling posts of this channel. While it was up, there were some fascinating, opportunistic chats by librarians from all around the world who just happened to be online (lots of people seems to be constantly logged-in to Facebook these days).

    To that extent, the experiment failed. :)

    The interesting thing is, the number of members continue to rise, your post itself will probably contribute to that. I think this itself is a testament to how widespread Facebook use is (even taking into account the fact that people were initially adding their Facebook friends)

    In any case, since the group already existed, I just left it alone to see what would organically develop and so far I see 2-3 quite interesting discussions on QRcodes and web scale discovery tools,

    You comments about what counts as a success is a vexing ones of course, and members seems to be the easiest count, which explains why my library twitter league http://www1.twitterleague.com/view_league/252 and series of posts on it was popular http://musingsaboutlibrarianship.blogspot.com/2009/05/managing-twitter-accounts-for-libraries.html

    But I have no answer really about what counts as success (though I can probably tell you what counts as failure) , the group was created on the spur of the moment, with no fixed purpose in mind, there is no central theme (Library 2.0, Cataloguing, or whatever) , which I think makes it really interesting to see how people will use it…

    Not something I would recommend if you were doing this for your institution of course.

  2. Helen Leech said

    Hi, Brian. Really interesting example of how Web 2.0 enables collaboration, and how fabulous to be able to pick people’s brains live. A bit more ammunition for those of us in the public sector, where Facebook’s almost universally banned.

  3. [...] to experiment with Groups, too, and are achieving fantastic communities in short periods of time. An informal group of U.K. librarians formed on November 6, and in less than two weeks >membership is well over 300 [...]

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