Users don't expect social networking from libraries

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As the internet's readers rapidly become its authors, a new study from OCLC reveals that just 13 per cent of the public feels it is the role of the library to create a social networking site for their communities.

The report revealed that the internet is familiar territory, with 89 per cent of respondents having been online for four years or more and nearly a quarter having used the internet for more than 10 years. More than a quarter of the general public respondents currently participate on some type of social media or social networking site and half of the college students surveyed use social sites.

However, the percentage of internet users that have used a library website has decreased since OCLC’s last study. Library website use declined from 30 per cent of respondents in Canada, the UK and the USA in 2005 to 20 per cent of the general public in these same countries in 2007. The report authors attribute this to users becoming experts themselves at search and find techniques and so moving away from ‘last-generation, “expert-based” information systems and gravitating to sites designed for them and by them, sites offering self service, quick access and limited rules.’

OCLC’s latest report, Sharing, Privacy and Trust in Our Networked World examines web user practices and preferences on their favourite social sites; user attitudes about sharing and receiving information on social spaces, commercial sites and library sites; and information privacy. It also focuses on US librarians to look at social networking practices and preferences; their views on privacy, policy and social networks for libraries.

Top reasons provided by general-public respondents for why the library should not build a social networking site included: ‘Library is for learning/information’ (25 per cent), ‘Not the role of the library’ (16 per cent) and ‘Library is not for socialising’ (7 per cent). Of the US library directors, only 14 per cent believe that social networking is a role for libraries – only a slightly higher percentage than the general public. The top reasons that these library directors provided for why the library should not build a social networking site included: ‘Not the role of the library’ (30 per cent), ‘Enough social networking sites exist already’ (16 per cent), ‘Library is for learning/information’ (14 per cent) and ‘No time/resources’ (9 per cent).

Both the total general public respondents and library directors indicated that hosting book clubs was the top social networking service that libraries should consider if they were to build social networking sites. However, this role may already be filled elsewhere: for example, as of September 28, 2007, MySpace had 197 groups with ‘book club’ in the title. A small number of the total general public respondents also indicated that homework help, support groups, sharing interests and education services could be useful social networking library services.

The report suggests that to engage library users on social sites, librarians not only have to participate more, but they will also have to challenge the traditional approaches to protecting users’ information privacy. It also points out that the library brand must go from institutional to personal.

‘We know relatively little about the possibilities that the emerging social web will hold for library services,’ commented Cathy De Rosa, global vice president of marketing at OCLC, and principal contributor to the report. ‘We hope the findings challenge our views of the role of social networks in the future of libraries. As web users become both the consumers and the creators of the social web, the implications and possibilities for libraries are significant.’

Harris Interactive administered the online surveys for the report on behalf of OCLC. Over 6,100 respondents, ages 14 to 84, from Canada, France, Germany, Japan, the UK and the USA, were surveyed. The surveys were conducted in English, German, French and Japanese. OCLC and Harris also surveyed 382 US library directors.