I've been on Facebook for a little while now--maybe three years? When I was at my last job, in a school library, I didn't friend any of my students, because there was too much personal information on my Facebook page...and it would be, I think, crossing a line. But I use it to keep in touch with friends. It's probably the number one way I communicate with people these days, and I also use it as my photo management tool.

So now that I'm here in my new position, in my new community, I decided to use Facebook as a way to reach out to teens. I set up my new Facebook account at the end of the summer, with one picture and some rudimentary information on it, like my name, where I work, and some innocuous "personal information" that I thought might appeal to teens. (My favorite TV shows, for example--and this isn't made up, they really are my favorites: Gossip Girl, House, Friday Night Lights, Project Runway, The Office.)

I also set up a fan page for my library. For information on how to create a fan page on FB, read this.

And I waited.

........waited......

Shockingly, nothing happened! No one friended me! Okay, one creepy person did. He had no photo, no information in his profile, and only young women as friends. I actually accepted him as a friend, just to get one more person on my list. Don't worry--he's off now.

When I learned that my FB presence was going to be included in the library's monthly e-newsletter, along with my Twitter, MySpace, and AIM accounts, I realized it would be pretty embarassing for someone to visit my profile and see that I didn't actually have any friends from my community. So I took a plunge. I started friending kids. I included a note; you can do this on FB. The note said something like: "Hi, I'm the teen librarian at the Darien Library and I'm trying to get to know people in Darien. I know you don't know me, so if you don't want to accept me as a friend, I totally understand! But if you do, that would be great."

And it worked! They accepted me. (Well, virtually. In real life is yet to be determined.) My theory is that teens will pretty much accept anyone as a friend, unless they get really creeped out. And I made my profile as friendly and safe as possible. Once I got a couple of friends, I could start friending their friends, without the note, even--because they could see that we had mutual friends, which probably made me a safe bet. Some of them even started friending me first.

Several teens became fans of the page that I'd created. And the great thing about FB fan pages is that they really can be portals for a ton of information and content about your library. You can post photos and videos, list upcoming events (which you can blast out to all of your friends, and get them to RSVP to), post news items, and list basic information, including a link to your library's website and your email address and IM username. You can send messages to all of your fans with the click of a button, too.

Last night, when I put up a poll on our library website. I posted a link to the poll as my status update, which everyone on my friends list can see, and lo and behold, some of them actually clicked the link and answered the poll--one of them even left a comment on it. I've also already gotten a message from one girl who wanted to see if she could create art for the teen room, and several teens who are interested in joining my TAB. Others have told me how excited they are for the new library to open. Hooray! Social networking works!

I'm going to keep adding friends and putting information up, with the hope that I'm reaching kids I might not otherwise.'  If you're planning on using FB to network, here are some of my tips:

  1. Keep your page pretty simple. I have only one application, Music Playlists, which I plan to use as a sort of collection development tool. Overwhelming your page with apps really serves no purpose, as far as I can tell, but leave a comment if you disagree.
  2. Post a photo of yourself. It makes you much more approachable, because it makes you a real person. I don't have pictures of my family, because that's too personal, but I do have pictures of my pets, because they're cute.
  3. Start by friending someone you've connected with in person, if you can. I was able to friend a girl who I'd met, which started the ball rolling for me. If you can't, try doing a search for FB communities that are run by teens in your area.
  4. Be an active user. Update your status. Respond to wall posts. Don't be all adult-y about it. Relax and have fun with FB: it's not a press release. A sample update of mine: "Sarah just got an email from rachel cohn gdskghslghdfs i am so excited!!!"
  5. If you don't have your own personal FB account, get one. It will help you be more comfortable with the site.
  6. DON'T friend other libraries, people who don't live in your town, or all your co-workers. It won't help your cause or your credibility. And what's the point? You're not reaching the people you want to reach.

If you have other ideas about how to use your Facebook page to its best advantage, post them in the comments!

About Sarah Ludwig

I am the Academic Technology Coordinator at Hamden Hall Country Day School in Hamden, CT. Prior to that, I was the head of teen, technology, and reference services at the Darien Library in Darien, CT. I started my library career as a school librarian at a small boarding school in Western Massachusetts.

12 Thoughts on “The Amazing Power of Facebook

  1. I would disagree with 6, to an extent. While it's certainly not helpful to Only friend other libraries, I think it makes sense to friend others in your area if you ever collaborate with them. (If you're a school library, do you have a relationship with a particular branch of your public library system? If you're a public library, are you in a regional network?) And I think there are exceptions to the "people who don't live in your town" rule--I would totally friend the local branch where I grew up, even though I'm now on the opposite coast. (I don't think they have a page yet, though.)

  2. Is there a balance that's required when connecting with others who aren't teens and aren't in the local community? I'm thinking that if a teen goes to a Facebook page and finds that the only friends are other libraries, librarians, and authors the teen won't want to add that person or fan site to their own list of friends. But, if most of the friends/fans are teens with just a sprinkling of almost unnoticeable "others" then it might be OK. Sarah, did you find that when you had lots of others the teens were less likely to friend you?

  3. I love using facebook and myspace to network with teens. I do disagree somewhat with the applications comment. I have found that the flair app especially is a great way to connect with teens. I have teens that send me flair and I send some back. It is especially great because there is tons of cool YA lit type flair (especially if you are connected with teens who like Twilight).

  4. Sarah Ludwig on November 19, 2008 at 1:22 pm said:

    Our library's MySpace account had 200 friends--and two of them are teens from my community. I've been deleting other libraries, publishers, and adult authors as friends, and I still have a ways to go (I'm keeping authors like Maureen Johnson as friends, though). I think that a teen looking at our MySpace would have no reason to add us: we're not connecting with their peers; we're just talking to other libraries, and our messages are only from authors trying to promote their books.

    However, I do see mk's point about networking. I think Twitter is the perfect place to connect with other libraries. I just think if we look at Facebook as a way to connect with teens, we need to only be friends with teens. I should mention, though, that I have three friends on FB who are not teens in Darien -- two of my co-workers and, um, Linda Braun.

    Kat, that is a really good point about apps. Maybe the best way to do it is to see what apps the teens are using and then get those! That way it can be another way of communicating and connecting.

  5. I am an aspiring author who relishes Facebook! I've met so many friendly writers. There is an endless web of like-minded folks there for the friending!!!

  6. i use facebook as a way to express my thoughts and feelings, much like the teens do! i see it as a great tool for activism and getting my opinion and thoughts out about political beliefs. working in a conservative community, i feel uncomfortable broadcasting that information to teens. however, i also see the value of using FB to connect with teens about the library.

    My solution was to put the teens in a friend group and set privacy settings so they could not see my updates or shared items. I can still message them when we have a program going on. Most of the teen friends on my list are those i have met in the library, and they wanted me to add them to send them information about programs. We also have a FB group for our branch, and the library system as a whole has a fan page.

    Just thought I would put that out there in case anyone else uses FB so expressively!

  7. Sarah Ludwig on November 19, 2008 at 3:44 pm said:

    Stephanie, that's why I have two accounts, one that's private, which I use to connect with family and friends, and one that's public, which I use to represent myself as a librarian. It's kind of a pain in the butt to switch back and forth, and it can be tricky to know what to do with your work FB, but I think it's worth it to keep things separate. I am friends with former students on my personal FB now, but I don't really want kids that I work with discussing my private life. :)

  8. i think that having two accounts is a good idea! that would certainly liberate my ability to interact with the teens more.

  9. Floating Clouds on November 23, 2008 at 7:23 pm said:

    I have discovered that the teens I deal with at my library are very articulate, bright, aware & curious. I trust, respect and admire them, and trust in their abilities to think for themselves and make their own critical decisions about a myriad of subjects. As an adult role model, I am always open for discourse & debate with them if they so choose. Freedom of speech, thought and expression are what public library's are all about. I see no reason to censor my FB for particular groups. That seems discriminatory & ageist. Plus, who has the time to maintain more than 1 online social network? Also, I see no reason to 'limit' my friends to just local folks from my community. How narrow a scale is that? Some of my FB friends I met at ALA or at other libraries across the US. They all have such wonderful and diverse experiences to share. I learn bucket loads in the exchange of ideas with folks outside of my realm and locality. Teens are not stupid and should not be treated condescendingly.

  10. Sarah Kline Morgan on November 24, 2008 at 9:17 am said:

    I use the same Facebook profile for both personal and professional interactions, but, like a previous commenter, I use the "limited profile" feature with library teens.

    However, unlike the original poster, I never initiate friend requests. I don't want to put teens an awkward position -- to make them feel as though I'll be angry or judgmental if they don't want to be my "friend." And there are lots of teens who *don't* want to friend adults -- any adults! -- no matter how cool they are. I can understand this impulse, of wanting to keep some aspects of their lives private -- since most of us feel the same way. I use the "message" feature with library teens who join our library groups (we have individual groups for different library programs: our podcast and our anime club) -- but who haven't friended me. And that seems to work well as a compromise. They're still *accessible* through Facebook, even if we're not "friends."

  11. Floating Clouds, I for one have the time to maintain more than one social network, in fact I keep up with seven different social networks. However, only two are work-related and done on work time. I think it's entirely appropriate to have a different account for your work world and in fact it's likely a good use of municipal funds since it easily divides work and play.

    I met a librarian at ALA who described how her first experience with Facebook was after learning about it at a library conference. She was now using it a lot at work but wondered if it was wasting her employers time since most of what she was currently doing was connecting with old friends. I suggested that she maintain two accounts and she loved the idea. This isn't censorship at all but rather compartmentalizing your online life in an appropriate way.

  12. I only wanted to set up a page for my library, but couldn't figure out how to do it without setting up a personal profile as well. So now I have friends from my profile page, adults and a few teens, not many by FB standards! and the library group page has a larger list of people - mostly teens- who have joined that group. I am often frustrated that when I want to post things to the group page, they sometimes end up on my profile page instead. I'd love to put the magnetic poetry app on the group page, for example, but can't seem to make it post there. I am trying to find ways of putting things on the group page that will encourage the teens to leave behind some evidence that they visited the page. Most of the wall posts end up being my own!

    I do not ask to friend teens. I don't want them to feel like I'm lurking in their space. If they want to friend me, that's fine, but I'd be happier if they just joined the library group page. I have a "Find us on FB" link on the library website as another way of letting them know we're there.

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