Data: Students + Facebook + Library Outreach

I posted recently about our library web survey but I thought it’d be interesting to talk a little about one particular question:

If you could contact a librarian via Facebook or MySpace for help with your research, would you? If not, why?

The main impetus for this question comes from a current trend for libraries to create Facebook apps that allow OPAC searching and other library related functionality from within Facebook. There has also been a lot of discussion and experimentation with using Facebook for reference and outreach.

There were a total of 330 responses. This was a free-text entry field so responses were organized and coded into basic categories.

The Data:

Breakdown of coded responses:
Facebook Survey Pie Chart

The data was cross-tabulated based on the respondent’s status to see if there were any trends in how they responded.

Responses by UM affiliation/status:
Facebook Survey Bar Chart1

A total of 23% of respondents stated that ‘yes’ or ‘maybe’ they would be interested in contacting a librarian via these two social networking sites. Undergrads had a slightly higher than average percentage of 34%.

Nearly half of the total respondents stated they would not be interested, but for various reasons – the biggest reason being that they feel the current methods (in-person, email, IM) are more than sufficient. 14% said no because they felt it was inappropriate or that Facebook/MySpace is a social tool, not a research tool. Though this latter category does not represent a majority, these responses were the most emphatic. Of those who stated their reason as having to do with seeing Facebook/MySpace as a social thing and not a research thing, undergraduates and graduate students comprised the largest group.

Some of the interesting responses:

“Sure because its something that I check often and is quick and easy to use.”

“I wouldn’t, because I feel as if I can do most of the research on my own.”

“…facebook and myspace are very public sites…it’d be weird to contact a librarian that way.”

“No, facebook does not seem like a site I would use for school purposes. I don’t want librarians looking at my profile. Facebook is not for school, it’s for fun.”

“No, because you can already chat with them online through the library website and I wouldn’t want to contact a faculty member using my personal networking site.”

“No. I would rather just send an email or go to the library and talk to them in person.”

So what can we learn from this? There is definitely some interest in using facebook as a tool for more than just social interactions even though some perceive it as pretty weird. The weird factor is likely to change as more apps (like lookabee and CourseFeed) are created and adopted, more students friend their professors, and they start to realize more and more that privacy on facebook isn’t a given.

And what’s the harm? We’re not talking about friending every student in your subject specialization and sending them vampire and zombie invites (or whatever those stupid things are)… we’re just talking about being where our users are, marketing our services, and trying not to be left in the dust.

[Link to the full survey report pdf] [Link to all usability reports]

8 Comments so far

  1. Doug on January 16th, 2008

    Call it what you want, but a library presence on a social networking application is advertisement, and people are getting very tired of the invasive nature of modern advertising. I am not surprised that students don’t want us there.

  2. Jenny on January 17th, 2008

    “people are getting very tired of the invasive nature of modern advertising”…

    I don’t know ‘tired’ is the right word, Doug, particularly with young people. “Immune”, maybe?
    If they aren’t interested, they tune out, they almost certainly don’t even notice a sidebar advertisement on Facebook if it’s not something that interests them personally.

    I’m not sure you can make the sweeping statement that students actively “don’t want us there”.
    I think it’s more that they don’t care either way, as long as we’re not actively spamming them or ’stalking’ them. They’d do exactly the same in the real world, wouldn’t they?

    (I can’t say that being ignored is any less depressing than being actively despised. But there’s less worry about pitchforks and flaming torches…)

    I agree, what’s the harm? You’re already on Facebook, they’re already on Facebook, as long as it’s a natural extension of an existing relationship rather than something forced and gimicky, there’s no reason not to put yourself out there!

  3. Kathleen’s Weblog on January 19th, 2008

    [...] January 20, 2008 in Libraries 2.0 A Blog called Friends: Social Networking Sites for Engaged Library Services, discusses the results from questions in a UMichigan Library Survey pertaining to the use of Facebook by students for connecting with Library resources and Librarians. See: [...]

  4. [...] recent study from the United States indicated that almost 50 percent of the University of Michigan students surveyed would not want to [...]

  5. [...] 34% of undergrads said “yes” or “maybe” to a question asking if they “would be interested in contacting a librarian” via MySpace or Facebook. Considering the number of students who go to Michigan, and the low [...]

  6. [...] bust? (LibrarianInBlack) LIBRARY WEB SURVEY FALL 2007 FORMAL REPORT (pdf – University of Michigan) Data: Students + Facebook + Library Outreach ( are librarians culturally self-aware? (Loose Cannon [...]

  7. [...] they are going to bring their expectations for technology and communication with them to campus. They may not want their professors or librarians on Facebook, or sending them text messages, but they may respond a whole lot better to the things we try to [...]

  8. Confluence: CUL Labs on March 22nd, 2011

    Facebook and Libraries…

    Mary Madden, “The Internet and Libraries: Snapshots from a new media landscape” Internet Evolution Presentation for Pew Internet & American Life Project, Presented to BayNet and SLASF. Feb. 6, 2008….

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