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Incorporating Social Catalogues in Library Websites

2011 July 18
by douellet

To be entirely honest, I have had a difficult time wrapping my head around the concept of affordance. A classmate (Adedoyin Adenuga) actually helped me understand the reason for my inability to grasp the concept of affordance. I think it is because I have done usability testing, and research student perceptions of library webpages and this my experience with Web usability has biased my perspective. But discussions in class have helped me realize that usability is about how effectively and efficiently users can conduct desired tasks, while affordance is really about the possibilities. Although, I am starting to get the concept a little bit now, it still isn’t the most clear concept to me. I am just starting to wrap my head around it though thanks to the discussions of LIBR559M.

What I have really been contemplating is the affordances that social media offers to libraries and library users. That is to say, how can social media be used by libraries? Or what can social media offer to libraries?

I have previously thought that social media was a fad and libraries are just jumping on the bandwagon for the sake of being on the bandwagon. And maybe to a certain extent that is true. There certainly is evidence that academic library users do not want to use Web 2.0 features, rather they would prefer to quickly get their information and leave (See Hintz et al.). However, I have recently come to realize that there are certain things (i.e. affordances) that social media tools can offer libraries.

Social tagging through a Web 2.0 catalogue such as bibliocommons has certainly been very popular with public library users at many diverse libraries such as Edmonton Public Library, Vancouver Public Library, and even more recently the New York Public Library. This social OPAC offers users the ability to interact through tagging and reviewing their favorite (or even least favorite) material, and sharing it with other users. This increases a feeling of ownership (and thus brand loyalty) and participation, and also increases the findability of materials. However, Web 2.0 tools have also been used effectively in an academic setting (although much less common) such as with the University of Pennsylvania’s Penntags which incorporate’s their own social bookmarking site right into the catalogue.

Even though, I have been able to look through a few effective uses of social media for libraries, even academic ones, I still remain skeptical. I am a proponent of evidence based librarianship, and there is very little evidence available on how effective these tools are for users, and if users prefer social media tools on their library’s website or if they would prefer standard catalogues. I would like to see a lot more user-centred research on this before more libraries continue to use Web 2.0 catalogues. In the absence of hard and fast evidence, librarians should make the most educated decision possible, with their best knowledge of their users and their desires/preferences before jumping on the bandwagon.

3 Responses leave one →
  1. July 18, 2011

    Great post Dana. Having worked in a small college “learning centre” I can understand your skepticism in regards to social media having an effective use for libraries. It’s hard to imagine a time and a place for the school library in a space that students use as a non-academic release from everyday school activities. How receptive are young people going to be to adding the school library to their friend lists? However, I think one of affordances of social media for libraries is accessibility. As some librarians believe just having a resource in a collection adds value to their service (even if nobody ever takes it off the shelf), so I believe that being available through as many modes of communication as realistically possible is an essential aspect to any library service. With so many ways to communicate these days, who is to say which one or two a library should use exclusively? Some people hate using telephones, some hate using a keyboard. The library is no longer just a building with books in it. If we conceptualize it that way it will surely fade away into obscurity. Social media will make (has made) the library into a service that is available for the public to access at any time and from any place. While less people may need to physically visit a library, I think an the affordance accessibility can be driven by social media and make libraries more relevant to society than that have ever been before.

  2. July 19, 2011

    While I can appreciate the idealism behind the affordances that a social OPAC offers, the ultimate success of Bibliocommons and other similar services hinges on a level of user participation that unfortunately I don’t think will hit a critical mass. I haven’t looked yet at this week’s module, but I suspect we’ll start discussing the fact that something like 90% of internet users are passive users or lurkers (I may be making that number up).

    Personally, I’ve dabbled a bit with Bibliocommons’ social media aspects, but have since abandoned things like ratings and such (which I prefer to do in Goodreads, which is not limited to library materials), though I do love the improved search capabilities compared to the old catalogue.

  3. July 27, 2011

    Thanks for this post Dana! I definitely agree that needs assessments need to be made in order to determine how effective a social media tool would be for a library or archive. Also, thanks for the short bit on affordances. It’s week three and I still am having a bit of a hard time wrapping my head around it, but I also have read about and done a fair amount of usability testing, so your distinction has really helped me to distinguish the two.

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