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Connell, R.S. Academic Libraries, Facebook and MySpace, and Student Outreach: A Survey of Student Opinion

In “Academic Libraries, Facebook and MySpace, and Student Outreach: A Survey of Student Opinion” (2009), Ruth Sara Connell, an electronic services librarian at Valparaiso University, examines the student outreach potential of social networking sites for academic libraries. Connell begins her discussion by distinguishing between the “friending” features of Facebook and MySpace; she explains the distinctive lexicon that has emerged from social networking sites and shares how academic librarians have thus far experimented with using “friending” to acquaint students with library services, programs and resources. She also emphasizes that students overwhelmingly prefer Facebook to MySpace, which is why her discussion primarily references the former. Connell provides an illustrative overview of published literature on the subject, which establishes the groundwork necessary to explain the purpose of the study at Valparaiso, which was to survey the “intended audience—students—to see if they were interested in being approached by librarians through social networking sites” (p. 30); Connell claims that at present no published studies have surveyed the target audience. Thus, the value of this piece is finding out what methods of employing social networking sites are most welcomed by students, and therefore can be most effectively used by academic libraries.

In reviewing published literature on academic libraries and social networking sites, Connell notes that there is often little success when libraries make unsolicited advances to “friend” students. In fact, she notes that some students find such gestures “creepy” (p. 28) and intrusive, and that the literature reveals that the success of libraries using Facebook and MySpace depends on how the concept is introduced. She quotes from Marshall Breeding (2007), of Vanderbilt University, who suggests that it “’may be unrealistic to think that large numbers of undergraduate students would want to count librarians among their Facebook Friends’” (p. 28). Other literature reveals that some students want to keep their social and school profiles separate, which might further discourage them from using social networking sites to connect with their school libraries. The most effective ventures seem to be those that introduce libraries’ use of social networking sites through student orientation programs. Therefore, the question is not whether to use social networking sites, but rather how—a point underscored by a Penn State University study reported in Daniel Mack’s “Reaching Students with Facebook: Data and Best practices (2007) in which it was revealed that nearly “’29 perfect of questions were received through Facebook, ad all of them were from undergraduate students’” (p. 28).

The study at Valparaiso (a small liberal arts college in Indiana) targeted first year students in introductory courses during January and February of 2008, which makes the data appealing current, despite the relative limitations of the sample. Of the 721 enrolled students whose opinions were solicited, 366 responded (2009). The results of this survey revealed that over 25% of students “would not accept the friend invitation” (p. 31) when offered from the library, while nearly 60% said they would not solicit a Facebook relationship with the library but would accept the “friend” invitation, if offered (2009). Overall, the brief survey suggests that students are generally open to their libraries using Facebook and MySpace to connect with students. However, Connell explains that the results also show that “a one-size-fits-all model does not work when it comes to using social networking sites for library outreach” (p. 32). Near the end of the article, Connell concludes that libraries can take best advantage of social networking sites by “creating profiles for marketing and publicity purposes” (p. 33). She cautions that students must be allowed to “set the parameters” in a Facebook relationship with their school libraries, and that “[m]ass friending should be avoided because it is a technique that may repel more students than it attracts” (p. 32). She also suggests that libraries should consider fan or group pages, which may appeal to students who reject “friending” requests due to privacy concerns.

Connell, Ruth Sara. (2009) Academic Libraries, Facebook and MySpace, and Student Outreach: A Survey of Student Opinion. portal: Libraries and the Academy, 9 (1), 25-36.

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