5 Weeks to a Social Library
is an online course that seeks to explain and demystify social networking software and highlight the practical applications of these new technologies in libraries.
While I am not enrolled in the course, I have been watching to see how others are able to effectively incorporate blogs, wikis, Flickr, etc into a variety of useful library services. I have also joined the Social Library Lurkers wiki
and will report on any interesting developments there.
One question I am considering is at what point a social networking site is appropriate and when a digital library is necessary. The two have different characteristics and functions, but both require planning and organization to be useful. This also raises the issue of defining the different strengths of each medium and distingushing between a formal curated digital collection, an institutional repository (where items may be uploaded, reused, and/or stored), and a spontaneous collaborative online project via a wiki? (And distinguishing where a librarian's skills might best be used.)
I have recently had conversations with faculty who are using social networking software to develop their own "archives" for collaborative work. These quick and dirty archives lack librarian-type organization and may not be built with standards in mind--but should we care? As users become more and more self-sufficient and networked, do libraries lose their voice in the conversation? If innovative models of scholarship using these tools take off, how can libraries adapt their role in the research process?
Five weeks may be long enough to become a social library, but much more time is needed to fully explore all the interesting issues that arise along with the trends.