Recently, a frustrated librarian contacted me because she wanted to discuss a situation that had occurred at her library. After hearing her story, I asked her permission to recount it here (and to keep identifying details confidential).
In essence, here is her sad tale:
Her library had a MySpace account. The librarian friended anyone who wanted to be MySpace friends, believing that the library is accessible to all. It later turned out that some of the friends had some questionable content on their profiles. The administration reacted by severely criticizing the librarian and shutting down the MySpace account.
Here’s my take on this:
- Why is the library “screening” patrons at its virtual door when no library does it at its physical one? Why is the library’s presence online only open to some and not all?
- Regardless of what is on someone’s profile, that reflects on that person, not necessarily on the connecting friends. Unless the profile is somehow directly harming the library’s reputation, I just can’t see this argument. I refuse to take responsibility for every silly picture or irresponsible thing that my friends do online. Why should a library?
- Part of the administration’s overreaction was likely due to a misconception about how to approach social media. Traditional marketing and reputation management are not applicable. Libraries need to understand that successful social media has a human tone; market-speak and incessant self-promotion are a quick route to epic fail. Being human means having human friends, not necessarily paragons of what we want our patrons to be.
- If one of these “questionable” MySpace friends came to the library in person, would the library refuse to help them?
Libraries need their patrons. We don’t judge their information needs; why do we judge their lives outside of libraries?