Facebook & Libraries: An Ethnographic Evaluation

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The tremendous popularity of social networking sites like Facebook presents libraries with unique opportunities for reaching students. What many organizations fail to realize, however, is that …

The tremendous popularity of social networking sites like Facebook presents libraries with unique opportunities for reaching students. What many organizations fail to realize, however, is that Facebook is perceived by its users as a primarily social (would "recreational" be better here?) space, and that the presence of professors, librarians, or parents can be intrusive, unwelcome, or just plain "weird" for the very students they're trying to reach. The George Washington University's Gelman Library decided to take a step back and ask a critical question: what do our students want? That is, how do our students really use Facebook, and what part can the library play in this social environment? Gelman librarians worked with an anthropologist to conduct a mixed methods study of students' use of Facebook, focusing on the intersection of students' academic and social lives in this platform. By identifying the unspoken rules and patterns of behavior, the researchers made recommendations for Gelman's Facebook initiatives. This presentation will offer an overview of this study and its findings in light of contemporary thinking and practices among (technologically savvy?) librarians. The study's recommendations bear critically not only on existing literature about Facebook and libraries, but also on popular assumptions about online social networks. A discussion of Gelman's experiences in implementing and refining its Facebook campaign will facilitate a broader consideration of the opportunities social networking sites present for libraries, and the merits of anthropological research in evaluating these new, "social" technologies.

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  • Let’s see a show of hands. How many of you are members of Facebook? How many of you have connected with coworkers through Facebook? Family members? Long-lost friends or classmates? What about patrons? Now, how many of you are really comfortable with the whole idea of being on Facebook? How many of you think that using Facebook to reach library patrons is a good idea? I’m Elizabeth Edwards, and I’m a Reference/Technology Librarian at the Gelman Library at the George Washington University. My colleagues and research partners – David Bietila and Chris Bloechl – are unable to be with us today. I’m here to talk to you today about my library’s use – and subsequent evaluation of – Facebook. In the next 45 minutes, I’ll give you a sense of what students really think about the library’s use of Facebook based on our research – and describe how our Facebook campaign changed as a result. There will be time for questions at the end.


  • 1. Facebook & Libraries: An Ethnographic Evaluation Elizabeth Edwards The George Washington University
  • 2. Facebook
    • What is it?
    • Who uses it?
  • 3. Facebook: What is It?
    • A social networking site
    • A community of more than 90 million active users
    • A development platform
    • “ A social utility that connects you with the people around you.”
  • 4. Facebook: Who Uses It?
    • As of 2006, 55% of all teens who use social networking sites have used Facebook or Myspace, and 48% visit daily or more often.
    • “ The fastest growing demographic is those 25 years and older.”
  • 5. GW and Facebook
  • 6. Our University
  • 7. Our Library
  • 8. Our Students and Facebook
  • 9. The Library and Facebook
    • Your
    • Librarian
    • Is
    • Your
    • Friend
  • 10. The Library and Facebook
  • 11. Creating this Study
  • 12. Research Questions
    • What role does technology play in our students' study habits?
    • What role does Facebook play in the lives of GW students?
    • How can the library use Facebook to connect with GW students?
  • 13. Methodology
    • Three phases:
      • Review of profiles and observation of student activity on Facebook
      • Survey of GW students
      • Semi-structured interviews with Facebook users
  • 14. Survey Questions
  • 15. Survey Questions
  • 16. Interview Questions
    • How does Facebook as a recreational practice impact your study habits and academic life?
    • How would you feel if a librarian “friended” you? Under what circumstances would you feel comfortable “friending” a librarian or accepting a librarian’s friend request?
    • What sort of information would you expect/want to find on a librarian’s profile page (social or practical)?
  • 17. Students and Facebook
  • 18. Students and Facebook
  • 19. Students and Facebook
  • 20. Students and Facebook
  • 21. Librarians and Facebook
  • 22. Librarians and Facebook
  • 23. Librarians and Facebook
    • “ Weird.”
  • 24. Librarians and Facebook
  • 25. Librarians and Facebook
    • “ Oh, well I would use that .”
  • 26. Librarians and Facebook
  • 27. Librarians and Facebook
    • “ Just please don't start Poking us kids.”
  • 28. Reflections
  • 29. On This Study…
  • 30. On Facebook…
  • 31. Thank you Elizabeth Edwards [email_address]