Social Networking Policies, Vision, and Mission

One of my former classmates in Meredith Farkas’s class on Web 2.0 technology in libraries said that if there are to be social networking policies at a library, they should be less restrictive of speech. She wrote, “Libraries should keep in mind their role in promoting free and open access to information, opposition to censorship, and the commitment to intellectual freedom. Libraries should consider how ideals fit with social software policies and the tools themselves.” I completely agree. But might it also be possible to extend such a policy beyond restriction, or lack thereof, into future vision for use of these tools?

I think that libraries definitely need policies regarding the use of social networking tools. If your library’s new social networking tool is to have any staying power, you, your staff, and your patrons need to know why you are using it and how it is to be maintained and I think having a clearly written policy is an important part of this. But I think a policy could and maybe should be more than just a “do’s” and “don’ts” document that restricts. I wonder if it might be a good idea for libraries who are serious about implementing social networking technologies to have a policy that includes not only rules for implementation, interaction, maintenance, and patron guidelines, but also has policies for growth – a kind of vision and mission statement regarding the present and future of such technologies. I think “vision” and “mission” included with policy can perhaps help a library consider its ideals and commitment to open access, intellectual freedom, and etc. Moreover, I think a library’s maintenance and future planning for use of social networking technology could be greatly enhanced if the staff sat down and wrote down not only guidelines, but a larger vision and mission for the present and future of social networking and 2.0 technology in their library. It occurs to me it could even be done via wiki that could easily be added to and changed. I think having a plan and vision and letting patrons see that, even if they are not set in stone, along with the do’s and don’ts could help protect and enhance social networking initiatives.

Why shouldn’t we let patrons in on the grander vision behind what we are providing along with telling them how we expect them to behave?

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Building Community Online

After doing some reading on what it takes to build community online, it seems like there is a pretty strong consensus on what works. Once I heard some of the “best practices” described, I realized there was a lot of common sense out there that may be worth considering for those trying to build an online community.

So many, including Nancy White and Martin Reed point to the fact that you need to ask the question: “Why do you want an online community?”. Both of them seemed to be saying you need to have a purpose for having your community online. Don’t just do it because everyone else is or because it seems “trendy”. This seems especially important when considering library communities. In one of my library classes, we talked about it over and over: make sure you’re considering your community of users before implementing technology. If they are not going to use it, it will be sitting out there on the web, dying and ghostlike, making your library look bad.

Another piece of “common sense” that I don’t think I fully realized was how much time and effort it takes to build, maintain, and moderate an online community. Nearly everyone across the board says this. As part of the same class I mention above, I had the opportunity to hear how much effort it took over seven years for something like WebJunction to get as far as it has. As Martin Reed says in his article, “Community building takes a lot of time and effort. Results take a long time to arrive – do you have the time, patience, commitment, spare time?”. Once again, the consideration of time and effort seems important for libraries looking to build online communities. With limited staff and budget, make sure your community building efforts are purposeful and necessary.

With all of that said, it seems to me that community building can be quite¬† fun even if it is hard work. Most of what I’ve read and heard has been inspiring. It’s especially inspiring to hear how the successful community builders really want to include the ideas and suggestions of their members. They seem to really remember that the community is about its members – and they practice what they preach. I had the privilege of hearing WebJunction’s Chrystie Hill tell a story about running into a member at a conference who had an idea for a forum. She said to this member: “That’s a great idea! Why don’t you set it up?”. I think we librarians know by now that our members, or patrons, are essential. Integrating these community building practices, online or otherwise, are vital to our success.