A Cure, or an Opportunity?: Social Media and Library Functions

Since my responses to Cameron’s questions are written in a style that is more suited to a blog post than it is to a microblog post, I have decided to post them here.

a. What do you think of Nicholas et al.’s assessment of academic libraries and social media? They say that “the prognosis is not very good for those hoping that social media might constitute a growth opportunity for the beleaguered university library sector” (374-375). Your thoughts?

b. Nicholas et al. say that probably the best opportunity for academic libraries to use social media lies in the area of marketing. What about teaching? What about information literacy instruction? What opportunities can you possibly imagine for using social media for information literacy teaching?

a. It is somewhat demoralizing to read an article that concludes with such a negative prognosis concerning evidence about the library’s role regarding social media. In spite of this prognosis, however, I think that to what extent social media impacts library functions is the product (not the ‘symptom’…I’ll explain why) of a larger issue. The real challenge is to reflect critically on the extent to which social media impacts presuppositions regarding library functions. Actually, I think that some of the article’s rhetorical tropes can sometimes inhibit the exploration of these underlying ideas about library functions by creating a simplification of the issue. The idea is that the library is sick and in need of a diagnosis and a cure (in this case, social media). Do any of us actually think that social media alone can act as the cure to a ‘beleaguered’ institution? We know that new technology can be really great at answering some needs and enabling new activities, but we also know that it lags behind other needs (take the example of tagging and controlled vocabulary). If we’re thinking about the strengths and weaknesses of social media tools in comparison to longstanding library functions, I think that we can come up with some innovative implementations of useful applications (and move from a book-centred universe to a media-centred universe).

I’ve been perusing an issue of Shakespeare Quarterly (SQ) called “Shakespeare and New Media.” In her introduction, the guest editor (Katherine Rowe) references Katherine Hayle’s comment regarding new media’s impact on literary theory: “It is a gift we cannot afford to refuse” (Rowe, 2010) I think that this statement applies generally to many other institutions—including the library. In particular, social media tools can offer us a context in which to think critically about, augment and enhance library functions. They also complicate matters, and pose their own obstacles. Social media is not a cure-all, but neither is it a Pandora’s box. It’s a challenging opportunity.

b. The aforementioned issue of SQ is special because it involved an experiment in open peer review. The four essays of the authors who chose to opt in to an open review process were mounted on MediaCommons for readers to post public commentary. A similar set-up could be used to instruct and engage students about and with the process of peer review. Participants could be asked to post their reviews/feedback to articles that are being considered for publication in a departmental v-journal. Rowe considers aspects of the experiment that illuminate SQ’s culture of evaluation:

– Asking ‘Who is an expert?’

– Discussing the labour-intensive nature of reviewing and monitoring the visible impact of thorough reviewers

– Understanding idiosyncratic v.s. common interests of reviewers

– Review as way to demonstrate and document expertise, and some of the issues associated with reviewing publicly using a social media platform

Many of these considerations are relevant to possible learning outcomes from this information literacy initiative.

Nicholas, D., Watkinson, A., Rowlands, I., & Jubb, M. (2011). Social media, academic research and the role of university libraries. Journal of Academic Librarianship, 37(5), 373-375.

Rowe, Katherine. “Gentle Numbers.” Shakespeare Quarterly 61.3 (2010).

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