Facebook and Me (Using Friend as a Verb) Copyright 2008 by Miguel Juárez, MLS When I signed on to Facebook, a social media
tool, it was as an experiment the librarians at Texas A&M were engaged in—to see if we could have students have access to us and to ask them how we could redesign the library. At first, I became friends with all the campus librarians on Facebook—I soon learned this medium is not for everyone and not everyone is comfortable with it—many librarians are private about their lives and this is okay. I saw this free tool as a means to continue learning about social networking and see how it could be fully utilized with librarianship. Soon, being the social person I always have been, I ran out of librarian friends and I started friending graduate students, undergraduates and then faculty members. Students liked that they had access to me in my off hours and that they could send me questions about their research. I also started friending librarians at other universities and soon various groups of Librarians on Facebook emerged (one particular group of Facebook users makes it a point to met at ALA Annual and Mid-Winter). I also joined other librarians in their quest to find librarian uses for this tool. I think I was at about the 100 friends mark when I left Texas A&M and began my position at the Head Librarian at the UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center Library in April 2008. At UCLA, I continued my usual friending pattern, first other librarians and library staff, then students and then faculty members. And because I was working in an Archive that collected materials from writers and artists, I started friending artists, writers, actors, actresses, film and media people, intellectuals, creative people, DJ’s, musicians, models and Chican@ intellectuals. My Facebook activity crossed rivers, oceans, and continents. In Los Angeles, my Facebook friend list grew in leaps and bounds. I set a personal goal of reaching 3,000 friends that I reached in September 2008, about 8 months after signing on to Facebook. In Latino communities, many of us lack social capital, so is is important to reach into networks and develop these connections. At that point I had not met another librarian or any other Latino librarian who could state they had over 3,000 friends on Facebook. There may be younger Latino persons who may have more friends on Facebook than I do but as far as other librarians, I have not met many. The people I tend to friend include librarians, archivists, students, writers, actors, politicians, professors, teachers, filmmakers, actors, other social media users and people whom I feel are seeking to make a difference with their lives or people I can learn from, thus making me a well-rounded scholar. It is easier for students and younger people to have more Facebook friends because the whole educational experience is geared towards having scores of classmates, attending social events and meeting new people. Older persons (I am not saying that all librarians are older) have a tougher time making friends on Facebook unless they live in a larger metropolitan centers (it is usually difficult even then) or unless they are in a business where networking is vital.
Librarianship at times seems like it is an antithesis to social networking, even if we come in contact with hundreds of students per semester. Librarianship and social networking are two aspects of my life that are interrelated. As long as there will be a need for mediated use of information there will be a need for librarians. As long as the standard models of scholarly creation and dissemination of knowledge and the proliferation of publications, databases, e-scholarship and how information is organized and sold to consumers exists, there will be a need for librarians in the knowledge economy. Social media expands the notion of mediated use in other formats and media. In many ways, librarianship has been a social media profession so the concept of social media is something we have worked with for a number of years, only in different forms. Social media tools by themselves will not replace librarianship but they will enrich it and make us work in new and different ways. Librarians will continue to play the role mediating and selecting information for our users but now it will be shared in new and more exciting forms, as we are already experiencing. I have used Facebook to connect to students, professors and other users. I’ve used it to communicate with possible donors of collections, to approach potential donors and to post announcements of lectures and events that I felt students and library users where interested in. I also used this medium to get a sense of what was happening in the community and at venues around town. I have also used it to reach out to people in a non-obtrusive manner. I have also used it to develop affinity groups and as a form of outreach, as well as in the concept of “in-reach.” In-reach is a form of communication with the people who already know as opposed to the people who don’t know. I have also used Facebook’s chat capacity to have short and specific conversations with people the way chat in libraries is frequently used to answer specific reference questions—all in all, Facebook is a good primer for librarians interested in developing a learn as you go base in social media. Social media marketing is a up and coming area for libraries, universities, businesses and governments. A whole new breed of entrepreneurship has emerged that is devoted to finding new uses and applications for social media and new media. Weekly, there are scores of entrepreneurs who criss-crossing the country attending social media event after event like the recent Social Media Strategies Conference (held in October 2008 in San Francisco), all the while growing their knowledge base but it is unfortunate that librarians are not in attendance at these events. Many of these meetings would benefit from having librarians there, because, in my opinion, we have been at the forefront of the social media movement. Unfortunately many of these events are not very affordable so that in itself will keep librarians away unless their institutions sponsor their attendance.
Like everyone else, I know librarians are inundated with data and information, so I will sparingly share some of what I think are the top sites so librarians can begin developing their social media skills. Two good sites for librarians include: Mashable: All That Is New on the Web: http://mashable.com/. Mashable is the world's most popular blog focused on online social networking and for the techies: Gary’s Guide, the #1 Tech Events Calendar http://la.garysguide.org/ is a good site. I also recommend that librarians join Facebook.com and the very popular and useful twitter.com and start following some people around and getting a sense of what kinds of tools are out there. Every industry has its stars and the social media world has created scores of personalities that are at the forefront of this social media revolution, some of them include Pete Cashmore, InfoDiva, Brian Solis, and many others (too many to name). I mention Brian Solis because he has created a great visualization tool called the Conversation Prism that will impact librarianship in the coming decade and is already impacting it as we speak. In 2007, two leaders in social media, Robert Scoble and Darren Barefoot debuted “the Social Media Starfish” to visualize and document the rapidly evolving landscape for social tools, services, and networks. In 2008, Solis and worked with Jesse Thomas of JESS3, and they created a new graphic that according to their site “helps chart online conversations between the people that populate communities as well as the networks that connect the Social Web. The Conversation Prism is free to use and share and it greatly contributed to a new era of media education and literacy.” Solis states the Conversation Prism is “a living, breathing representation of Social Media and will evolve as services and conversation channels emerge, fuse, and dissipate.” The Conversation Prism is available at: http://www.briansolis.com/2008/08/introducing-conversation-prism.html Like the leaders in the social media revolution, my Facebook friends are some very interesting people. They are work on plays, teach students, write books, travel, are involved in social and cultural activism, they are engaged in building their social media networks and businesses, they work at what they love and try to live their lives to the fullest. I love the diversity of people who are on Facebook and most everyone will dialogue with you if both of you have the time. I love the “status update” feature on Facebook where you get a sense of what people are doing for the moment they type in what they are doing. I witness people coming in and out of jobs, I see people coming in and our relationships, I see actors and actresses working in their craft, I see rising stars, I get glimpses of people spending time with their partners, friends and relatives, I see the diversity of the human spectrum, though mostly virtually. I know the concept of friend is a Facebook term for this product. I may never meet many of my Facebook friends in person, although I make it a point to meet some of them when I have an opportunity, mostly at library conferences or at special events or when I travel. I also know many people on Facebook make it rule not to friend people that they do not know or do not friend people that they haven’t at least had a conversation (if at least virtual) with and this is okay.
One has to protect against the concept of friend mining or as some have termed it, “friend collecting” -- I heard this term at a social media event at Mahalo in Santa Monica where a person (not a person associated with Mahalo) said many of the people she had met on Twitter were essentially “friend collectors.” This is not necessary the case, many users of social media tools are learning to use them together. When I friend people, I honestly try to dialogue with them if time permits. Also, I try to friend friends of friends whenever possible. But the common factor in the activity of friending in Facebook is yourself— you are the deciding factor on whom to share in your network. You do what feels comfortable to you. In many ways, Facebook is a tool that levels the playing field in terms of how many people one can be in touch with and it has provided me with access to people I would have never met because of class, ethnicity or location. When I surpassed the 500 friend mark, I received some flack from some librarians who told some of my actual friends I had too many friends, that I was trying to friend them even though I did not know them and that I was developing a reputation out there in library land of having too many friends—you can imagine the names they used. In my mind, social media tools are about making connections and harnessing the power of these tools to create new forms of communication, associations and learning. Through my social media exploration, I want to be the bridge to librarianship. Sometimes people are fearful of things they don’t understand. These new technologies challenge notions of the familiar. In a way, as one of my Facebook friends Chola Con Cello has theorized, these tools speed up the process of making connections in ways people are uncomfortable with or are not ready to accept. Anytime someone fuses polar opposites (the ways artists usually do), people are going to react to these things and not always in a positive way, yet at the same time, this creates a space where new ways of doing things emerge and in these times. As of February 5, 2011, I’m up to 4,077 Friends--we need all the friends we can get. Miguel Juárez, MLS (’98 SUNY Buffalo), was most recently the Head Librarian at the UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center. Miguel can he reached at: MiguelJuarez.firstname.lastname@example.org or at http://twitter/migueljuarez or on Facebook.com