Using Social Software to Understand Patrons

Scott Douglas’ latest writing is sure to grab some attention, especially since the post was highlighted on Library Stuff. I am sure many will raise issues about the stereotypes of librarians. However, I was more interested in Scott’s exploration of a social software called Myspace. Scott describes his first experience with MySpace:

I saw many other disturbing things, but I honestly can’t say I saw anything very interesting, and yet I stayed for a full hour reading profiles of people that I, for the most part, had never met. I discovered in myself a voyeuristic fetish I never knew I had.

Scott explains why he joined MySpace.com:

I started a Myspace account recently in an effort to cure my boredom while sitting at the reference desk waiting for someone to ask me where a book was. I figured if high-school kids had so much fun on it, then why couldn’t I? Plus, it’s my duty as a librarian to be informed about what people are doing at the library(emphasis added).

What is interesting about this is that Scott has gotten a little radical, perhaps without even knowing it. In his curiosity, he has gone to where his patrons are and he has been hanging out in their virtual world. While some may call this voyeurism, others will see this simply as behavioral observation. In order to know what makes folks tick (in this case, high-school kids), it is important to go where they are. Perhaps as a lurker in these social software environments, we can learn more about what interests the kids. If we know what they like, perhaps then we can buy books that they will actually read or learn other things that will help us to understand how to make the library work for them.

In the academic library world, TheFacebook is a similar social software environment. Thefacebook is an online directory that connects people through social networks at colleges. For more detailed information about TheFacebook, take a look at the FAQ page. Very recently, several of my colleagues and I have joined TheFacebook for similar reasons to Scott. We simply want to know what all the hype is about. In looking at how students are using the site, I imagine we’ll be educated a little more about how our students communicate, what their interests are, and what makes them tick in general. That’s more than enough to keep me from being bored.