Two weekends ago I attended PodCamp Boston 3, with some general sense that I might learn something useful, but an increasing uncertainty about what that might be. The first few sessions I attended had a pretty strong focus on using social media for marketing purposes (blech), increasing your “followers,” and, well, podcasting. Which I don’t really do. I sat through each session trying to find the places where I could connect what these social media peoples were talking about to the place of social media in a library, and an academic library, at that.
Overall, librarians are pretty excited about social media, but we don’t yet seem to have any solid ideas about how to use it. What purpose would a library Facebook page serve? What can a podcast really do for the library community, and would anyone listen to it? Do people even use all the cool rating and tagging and discussion features that are being built into new social OPACs? I suspect librarians jump in without having a clear sense of the needs that they might be trying to meet with all of these technologies.
I finally started to get some sense of how academic librarians can start to answer these questions when I sat in on Kabren Levinson’s discussion of how he implemented a Technology Program in his high school as a senior project. I mean, I’m not even going to get into how impressive this kid is, all just out of high school and completely self-possessed and talented. I will talk instead about how it felt like a smack on the head to suddenly realize that if we want to know how our students want to use technology in the library, we should ask them.
We talk and talk about how current students are the leaders of the future, and about how they know so much more about technology, especially social technology, than we ever will. And yet, when we sit down to build the systems we want them to use in our schools, libraries, and communities, we never think to ask them how they want to use them.
It’s worth considering: Why not set up a group in your university or college library, to get input from students about how you can serve them better online? What tools do they want? Where do they think you might be able to serve them in Facebook or MySpace, if at all? What can you build that they will actually use?
It seems so obvious. Why try to guess where our patrons want us to be on the interwebs when we can just ask them?