Response to Stephen Abram on Social Networking sites and Libraries

Demi-god of internet information management Stephen Abram‘s latest monthly e-letter questions what makes social networking sites  site “sticky”, encouraging return visits, and why prods us to wonder why users “willingly create and share…without financial and assessment award”.  Danah Boyd’s presentation to the AAAS covered these questions: youths engage in these social networking sites for interaction with their peers in unmediated space.  These environments are arenas in which popularity contests are fought, norms of interaction are enculturated, individuals negotiate the terms of their identity.  By their nature, then, they are successful because they are not institutionalized in adult communication technology practices.

Christopher Harris is right to speak against Facebook/MySpace bans and instead suggest means of working them into lesson plans.  But libraries go too far when they try to insert themselves into these areas.  Librarians having pages, showing themselves as fun/interesting/interested/approachable, real people with lives outside of meatspace – great.  Advertising library services is an incursion into private teen space.

Abram raises excellent questions regarding learning from these social networking environments to leverage learning opportunities and create educational environments ‘where kids are at’.  I agree that certain aspects of the educational system could be changed to raise students’ success rates, and that SN sites are a wise place to seek gleanings.  As he points out, “Learning is essentially a social activity….skills and competencies in the greater context of society. What are
these Web environments doing right with respect to institutionalizing social networks?”  Instructors of distance education courses already utilize synchrnous and asynchronous ICT’s to link disparate elements of a group, as do far-spread colleagues and friends.  What they all share  with Facebook and MySpace is a reward to the user that is meaningful to them.  (Haven’t we all received something we had no desire/use for, something even beyond the boundaries of a Gifticus present?  To what degree to would that inspire you to continue a particular behaviour?  Right.  Zilch.)

There are a multiplicity of communication gaps, not just generational.  They exist between various levels of our human societies, between groups of different languages, income levels, geographic areas, and career- or work-related fields.  This isn’t new.  The way they manifest may be changing, but their nature is unchanged.  As Librarians, keeping abreast of developments in ICT’s and questioning their applicability to our profession can help us respond to the societal shifts that threaten to widen these gaps.  For example, I recommend checking out Scratch, a “programming environment and toolkit [that] lets kids make games, animated stories, interactive art, and share with others on the Net.”  Harris is probably using it in his classroom right now.


1 Comment

  1. […] drivers at work that are beyond my understanding. Suffice it to say, I take this as bolstering my claim that most users of social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace will not welcome the presence […]

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