Teen: It’s not spicy
Librarian: It’s the library, it’s not supposed to be spicy!
Teen: More people will come to the library if you have a spicy profile

-from MySpace? YourSpace? WhoseSpace? program, Northeast MA Regional Library System Haverhill Public Library, Haverhill MA

Yesterday afternoon I attended a continuing education program that consisted of a panel of three fifteen year old MySpace users, and three librarians who have created MySpace profiles for their libraries as a marketing tool.

The first teen said his page is private “because when you are under a certain age they make it private. “My site is pretty much me I’ts my personality.” This theme was reflected by the other two teens, the concept that my site is ME. His tour of his page included: music he listens to, an About Me (short but it descriptive: age, school, grade) that tells “what type of person I am,” his heroes, his status (what I’m here for), and a long list of friends, with a hierarchy to it–those in top row are the people he knows in RL. Sounds like identity defining behaviors to me!

When asked WHY he had a page, he explained he can use it to talk to my friends if they are on, and can find old friends. He visits friends page for updates, and to search to find people he know. He used codes to make it look a certain way, citing Photobucket, a website that allows you to plug in slideshows.

All three teens are caught up in the friend collection competition. “Some people add me and I don’t talk to them I just add them.”

The next teen said her page is private, and that her parents said she cannot show her face on any photos. “My mom has a MySpace and she checks it because my dad is a cop so I have a bunch of people checking my page all the time.”

Her tour included the intro, “basically this is me.” She was proud of making her layout. Her My Heroes has slideshow of friends. She has 664 friends. “My first, like, 12 people are the most important people to me… [the rest are] friends that I’m not superclose with.” When asked, “Are you the only one you know who can’t put your picture on your page?” She responded, “YES!”

The third teen stated that she used her page different than the other two panelists. One difference is her page is public. She offered more limited info , has a friends only hidden blog and got rid of contact box. She admitted to lying about her age in her profile (adding two years) to take part in features like trains (like a webring) and said “I add 1760-something friends, most of them I don’t know I only add them if there are attractive.” She mumbled something about hot emo boys…

Librarians Alissa, Theresa and Melissa demonstrated their library MySpace pages. Alissa caught wind of the popularity of MySpace a year ago, but couldn’t get approval from director. She created a proposal that defined social networking and stated that it is not going to go away, and that problems stemming from MySpace are happening outside of Mypace too. The goal of the Haverhill Library’s MySpace page is to connect teens and authors, promote library programs with bulletins and a blog, because the blog is a medium teens check. She told teens about the page and it spread through word of mouth; the library’s MySpace page is linked from Teen Cyber Center website. A teen designed the MySpace page and created the profile from the point of view of the library. They are up to 123 friends, and the friending policy is to add local teens who friend the library, teen authors, and other libraries. Alissa stressed “I don’t put pictures of kids on my website” as she explained to those present that the friend photos on the library page are photos posted to the teens own pages.

Theresa’s library was going to ban MySpace. Her successful argument for not doing so was that if they banned MySpace, you’d have to ban ALL social networking, as only banning the sites the teens use is ageism. Her recommendation is to “Give an ounce of education rather than say no you can’t have it.”

She set up the Stoneham Library MySpace page as though it were from the library point of view, not the librarian. They only have 98 friends, and their policy is to only friend local teens and children and teen authors. She noted that bulletins are a good way to send out notices to other people, and it’s a way that she herself finds out about author visits. The page is linked to outside blog hosted by Blogger. IM contact info is posted; library offerings go under interestsShe developed a a pamphlet for teens that covers the basics of MySpace account set up with a focus on privacy. She added that You don’t need to know HTML to use MySpace, and really, “It’s an excise in futily to make a library’s website look cool… it’s a library!”

The MySpace page is part of the library’s first foray into teen programming. They also are doing DDR programs, and “it’s been drawing them in like fruit flies to bananas!” She concluded that “although kids do not look at our website, they DO look at our myspace. They kind of look at the blog, and I’m trying to get them to write for it.”

Melissa explained that the Peabody library has had a YA dept mascot for a couple of years, designed to promote the summer reading program Wally the YA Wizard wears at tie dye shirt, stands on a DDR mat, and holding a book and a yak, a symbol of the Young Adult Council (YAC). Perspective of Wally YAC helped to develop page. She reported, “I put it up and then the kids were like… “This is lame, you need help.”

Other places in the city are starting to create MySpace profiles George Peabody House is on library friend list.

Fliers around the library promote comes up as the homepage on our library computers. Melissa said that when she tells kids about it they are are “like oh, ok and then they don’t friend me,” but noted they were getting more through word of mouth.

Melissa is the only librarian with a personal myspace account that I use with my friends, and she is a friend of Wally’s as well.

Librarians in attendance voiced concerns such as what about bulletins that are inappropriate? (they are viewable only when logged in – they are not part of your profile viewable for the public, so it’s not an issue).

When the teens were asked, “How can I get teens to look at the MySpace once it’s up?” the teens recommended that you put something on there that is interesting to them, and ask them to help you do it. Alissa said that every six months, they create a new profile. “It’s a great way to get teens involved…they do all the work, and and you just say, this is pretty!”

Someone asked about the ads on the pages. Most people know the ad is not associated with your profile and the same ads are on their page most people tune out the ads

Another librarian asked about questionable content on the teen’s page. Alissa pointed out that the library isn’t responsible for what the teens post on their pages. “It’s their page their right to express themselves; I only censor based on WHY they are friending not their content.”

Concerns over Internet safety were adressed. Theresa said, “Its easy to say well, teens don’t do what their parents say but a lot of kids actually do.” Some parents are unaware, but the teens themselves said they don’t talk to people they don’t know, and they could tell which people were creeps. They might get accepted, but get unfriended almost right away. Some of them are really gross, some of them are really nice. When asked, “Do you think they are who they say they are?” the teens said not always. They aren’t worried because if someone says things they don’t like, you tell them, and then delete them. One of the girls said, of the dangers of youth meeting strangers and being assaulted or abducted, “If they get abducted it’s their fault… they cause their own demise.” Another said “If you have an ounce of common sense you won’t be trying to meet up with people.”

My own concern is that there are not just safety issues involved here, but ethical ones as well. Teens (and some libraries) are technically violating Terms of Service agreements, and few sources or credits are given for items posted that are not user created.

One school librarian from an all boys Catholic school said MySpace is banned because of 2 incidents that happened over a year ago, and that very day there had been an incident involving Facebook at lunch. He asked the group, How do we work with this in the school of boys to with families from 70 different towns in a tuition driven environment? There is lot of potential for good use…

I recommended tailoring school assignments to incorporate new technolgoies. Instead of a traditional 5 paragraph biography report, have middle or high school students create a myspace style page for an artist, writer, scientist, etc. What would Honest Abe’s page look like? Who would be in his friends list? What kind of music was popular in his era? What were his interests? What would his blog of daily life look like? And, of course, sources for all info would have to be cited, and music and photos and quotes would have to be used in accordance with fair use… such an assignment would meet our teens where they are and create an opportunity to discuss “what does it mean to have someone on your friends list?” and “how does one obtain permission to add a song or photo?” and “what measures could Abe take if he didn’t want to be found in this directory?”

The teens pointed out that when they ban websites they forget that you can find workarounds and you can hide the workaround by deleting the history. Several of these workaround sites were posted on YA-YAAC at the end of last month. Nancy Kunz reported that “some kids at my library found that by logging into AIM (AOL Instant Messenger) and then searching for myspace using that AOL search engine, they can then get to the site via the search link.”
Do No Good: http://www.donogood.com/

HOWTO bypass Internet Censorship

Sites like this certainly demonstrate that the kids are always going to be one step ahead of us. Banning it isn’t the answer; educating is.

About Beth Gallaway

Beth Gallaway was named a Library Journal Mover & Shaker in 2006 for her work in advocating for videogames in libraries. She is an independent library trainer/consultant specializing in gaming, technology, and youth services, and is a YALSA certified Serving the Underserved (SUS) trainer.

One Thought on “MySpace? YourSpace? WhoseSpace?

  1. Susan Babb [Visitor] on October 6, 2006 at 6:24 am said:

    Thanks,Beth,for this report of the workshop! You’ve captured the gems of the afternoon for sure!

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