University Library joins Facebook

Yale students can be Facebook fans of Barack Obama, Miley Cyrus and, now, the University Library.

In an effort to reach out to students on familiar territory, library administrators recently launched a Yale University Library page on the social-networking Web site. The Facebook page offers news of upcoming Library events, a photo album of Yale’s various campus libraries and links to other relevant Web sites such as the University Librarian’s blog and the main University Library site. In addition, the page is filled with online research tools including a JSTOR search mechanism and a citation machine called “CiteMe.”

“The Library is very, very much driven by technology,” University Librarian Alice Prochaska said.

But despite the ease with which the page, along with other recent technological initiatives from the Library, allows students to do academic research, Library administrators as well as professors and students said these new media are meant to complement rather than replace traditional research methods.

Among the library’s other technological initiatives, Library Communications Coordinator Geoffrey Little said, is the introduction of recorded lectures and guides to library exhibitions that are available through Apple’s iTunes U program. Prochaska cited Yale’s automated catalogues, experimental research software and Bass Library’s Collaborative Learning Center as additional examples of the Library’s technological push.

In addition, she said, the Library recently launched yufind, a new, more user-friendly online catalogue to be used alongside Yale’s existing online catalogue Orbis.

THE LIBRARY ON FACEBOOK?

But is Facebook — the realm of virtual “poking,” embarrassing tagged photos and wacky profile-page applications — a place where students will want to do academic research?

“It’s an open question whether or not students want to see the Library on Facebook,” admitted Barbara Rockenbach, director of undergraduate and library research education.

Little agreed. He recalled the quip: “There’s a line between cool and school.”

“Some students don’t want to cross it,” he said.

But, he said, the Library’s Facebook page is set up as an organization rather than an individual or a group to avoid the perception that administrators might be encroaching on students’ privacy. Facebook users can choose to be fans of the library only if they want to advertise the affiliation on their profiles.

And at least one student said that seeing the library on Facebook is a welcome relief from the site’s usual offerings.

“Call me nerdy, but it was sort of a breath of fresh air not to have another group complaining about the new Facebook format or asking for phone numbers,” Daniel Cruse ’11, a fan of the Library’s page, said.

Of the 221 current fans, a remarkable number are members of the Yale Staff network. Other fans include Yale faculty, alumni and graduate students and New Haven residents. As of Wednesday night, just over a dozen fans of the page identify themselves as Yale College students.

Prochaska said the page is targeted toward anyone who uses the Library. She pointed to this distribution of membership as an indication of the page’s appeal to library-lovers at all academic levels.

“These days, in the electronic environment, communities are much more mixed,” she said.

THE EVOLUTION

The increasingly technological nature of academic research, Prochaska said, is simply part of a natural evolution of the role of the Library.

“Libraries have been in the forefront of technological research for many years,” she said. “Library technology has always been about trying new things and new ways of communicating things with people.”

And Prochaska and Little both said that with Facebook’s interactive features, library administrators hope to bring research resources to students in an informal social setting where they are comfortable.

But, one professor said, when people do all their research online, they risk losing the physical experience of going to the Library.

Claire Bowern, an assistant professor of linguistics who is a Facebook fan of the Library, argued that there is something to be said for the accidental discoveries afforded by physical interaction with books and other texts.

Whereas online research helps researchers find exactly the information they seek, “random browsing in the stacks or flipping through the pages of adjacent journal entries has an important place in research,” Bowern wrote in an e-mail. “A big part of research is stumbling across things that you would never have thought to look for.”

But history professor Anders Winroth, another Facebook fan of the Library, said he thinks the distinction drawn between electronic and textual media is fundamentally unimportant.

“The media is not necessarily the message,” Winroth wrote in an e-mail. “Whether digital or traditional media serves me best depends on what kind of teaching and what kind of research I do.”

Alexandra Marraccini ’10, a Facebook fan of the page and a Sterling Memorial Library employee, said she thinks the Facebook page, while an effective way for library administrators to reach out to students, is only a small extension of Yale’s network of libraries, which she called “the heart of the University.”

Prochaska said she does not think the increase in available online library resources will make going to the library obsolete.

She pointed to Bass Library, which she called an “agreeable place” for students to gather, bring their laptops and work alongside one another in a setting where librarians, software and books are also readily available.

For all the benefits that Facebook and Internet access to library resources offer to students, the lure of a quiet study space, leather seats and a hot cappuccino from the Thain Family Cafe cannot be pulled out of a computer screen.

“We’re not seeing a trend for students to stay in their dorm rooms using their laptops as much as you might think,” Prochaska said. “We certainly also find that students enjoy using good-quality library spaces.”

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