After breakfast, I went over to the OCLC-sponsored event, “Social Networking–Best Practices for Libraries. The speaker panel included Jenny Levine and David Lee King, the authors of two blogs I’ve been visiting for awhile now. It also included Lisa Janicke-Hinchliffe from the U of Illinois. FYI, Jenny Levine has also blogged her notes from this event.

The starting point for the discussion was the question, “How do we apply social networking technology and websites to libraries?”

David Lee King began by talking about his two current social networking projects. The first involves building the digital branch for his library. He talked about the distinction between physical space and digital space and how his library is trying to expand their services digitally rather than physically. He emphasized the need to ask how digital services will help the library customers. His second project is to change management with the IT dept. The traditional way of thinking for library IT departments is to “protect the fort” but this needs to change so IT empowers the staff and users. He then went on to highlight a few things to remember when planning a social networking project, including:

1. Planning the project: Don’t plan to death, move quickly. Start with the end result, don’t just say, “hey, let’s start a blog!” but ask how it will improve services to the customer. Figure out who will do the work. Make sure it’s customer-focused.
2. Training the staff: This is a necessity. Focus on two things (details and end results–how this serves and benefits customers). Train often – management group too.
3. Inviting participation: Need at least two people. Need staff and customers. Why not invite customers to participate? Two ways to do this: passive and active. Active means actually asking people to comment and give feedback.
4. Top-down and bottom-up: Admin and front-line staff need to get it, support it, embrace it, do it, use it, sell it, manage it, fund it…

Jenny Levine also said some interesting things. She began by asking for a show of hands for people who have used or heard of ALA’s “online communities” (maybe 4 people raised their hand). She said that ALA has made a decision to improve social networking services. ALA is getting better at blogs, wikis, etc. She also talked about herself as a social networking user. A couple of years ago she started using flickr.com. She doesn’t know why she uses it, but it’s fun and she connects to other people in a way that she didn’t before. She also said that she doesn’t understand facebook, but she started using it and she’s having fun. The bottom line is that these things are fun. She also said that information comes to you now, you don’t have to go to it anymore. Kids IM now to do their homework and even gaming is a very social phenomenon (people participate, watch, cheer, etc). There are interesting opportunities for libraries if we just spot them (e.g., Ann Arbor parents on Yahoo group. 875 parents in A2 that connect to each other sending about 500 messages a month. Libraries also need to find where our people/community is and then go there (e.g., del.icio.us, social bookmarking – could be used for recommended websites from librarians. Before we would have just put these links on the library’s website, but now we can go out and put it in places where people already are.

A question and answer session followed the presentations. Here are the key things I took away from this part:
- David: you need two things …Compelling content and awareness. You need to have good stuff so people come back and you need to market your new social networking services!!!
- Jenny: Becoming part of someone’s trusted social network is a good thing, even if we’re not the first place people turn to with a question (libraries have never been the first option, even before google)
- Lisa: smarter to take the stance to push “google and the library” instead of “library, not google”
- David: don’t try to compete with google. You’ll lose because they already have a global audience. Libraries should focus on keeping it local and serving their community.
- David: Libraries should try things out and “play” with new stuff. We shouldn’t feel the need to wait until we’re sure that something is popular or will be popular. If something fails and ends up not being benefiting the community, then at least the library staff has tried something new and learned something. Bottomline: Libraries should play!!!
- The AADL came up a lot. Jenny mentioned that AADL has 10 IT staff members who know how to program. That’s why they do cool stuff.

The final comment for each of the panelists focused on their collective belief that libraries should experiment, explore, play!
- David: Meet with your staff, take back what you learned, and figure out if you want to do something.
- Lisa: Play! All of us who are working in this area are having a great deal of fun because there’s really a lot of “very focused play.” Engage in playful exploration.
- Jenny: Institutionalize play. One of the reasons google turns out things so fast is because they have a mandate that google staff devotes a huge percentage of their time to play around with their own ideas. ALA is institutionalizing play dates where everyone just joins together and plays around with stuff like SL. If you don’t take the time to look up from your desk and see what’s coming, you won’t be involved. One of the reasons we lost so much to google, because we didn’t see it coming.

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