Tips and Trends


Tips and Trends, written by Instructional Technologies Committee members, introduces and discusses new, emerging, or even familiar technology which can be applied in the library instruction setting. Issues are published 4 times a year.

By Susan Sharpless Smith & Tiffany Hebb

The Instructional Technologies Committee would like to introduce you to a new technology that you might find useful, or a familiar technology you may not have used in library instruction. Each quarter committee members will focus on a new or emerging technology that is affecting library instruction. The profile is announced on ILI-L and posted on the committee web site.

Overview and Definition

Facebook is a "social utility" (as self defined by Facebook) site on the web. Launched in 2004 by Mark Zuckerberg, it was originally designed for Harvard University students. It expanded first to other universities, and now is available for anyone to use. Its purpose is to connect people with friends and others and allow them to network and communicate. Initially limited to only those with .edu email address, Facebook is now an open site allowing anyone with a valid email to join. There are over 55,000 networks hosted through the site covering anything from class study groups, to environmental activism, to shopping and more.

Basis for Current Interest

Facebook is growing – fast. As of May 2008, there are more than 70 million users, averaging 20 minutes a day on the site, with over half using it on a daily basis. It is the sixth most trafficked site in the world. Facebook has been featured in many popular magazines and newspapers, as well as trade magazines in the fields of technology and education. College and university students were the earliest adopters, but now the fastest growing group on Facebook is those over 25. So one can assume that even faculty members, nontraditional students, and fellow librarians will likely jump on board.
Facebook is where our students (and increasingly, our colleagues) spend a lot of time. It is important that we become more knowledgeable about the social networking environment, explore applications and groups, and locate avenues where library instruction and services can be offered.

Facebook allows third party developers to easily create new applications specific to their needs. This promises powerful capabilities to extend Facebook's functionality. Applications with academic potential include search engines of databases and library catalogs, wikis, blogs, citation creators, and RSS readers.

Current Applications in Academic Libraries and Higher Education

Academics have been investigating the potential of Facebook as an instruction related tool. There is recognition of the value of creating a classroom "intranet" by tapping into the existing social framework of Facebook. A survey at one university found that students already recognize Facebook as a useful classroom tool to contact classmates regarding assignments, to collaborate on assignments and group projects, to obtain class notes, set up meetings and form study groups. (Towner, 11)

One popular discussion among librarians is the “individual vs. institution profile” question. Some librarians promote the use of individual profiles, so that students begin to see the librarians as real and approachable. Other librarians champion the idea of creating a “library” Group page in Facebook. In these examples, a catalog search box might be included, along with hours, directions, and information about upcoming events. Students (and other Facebook users) can become “fans” of the library, but can’t friend it.

Along with the catalog search boxes, other popular library applications in Facebook include, JSTOR and PubMed. Librarians who subscribe to the LibGuides service can integrate the guides they’ve created into their Facebook profiles.

Librarians are also using Facebook to network with each other. Groups such as Library 2.0 Interest Group, Facebook Apps for Libraries, and Librarians and Facebook are examples of groups where librarians talk about the technology. However, there are also groups on other aspects of librarianship, such as First Year Experience Librarians, Evidence-Based Librarians, Music Librarians Rock!, and Metadata Librarians. Other groups are based on geographic regions or committee work.

Current Applications in Academic Library Instruction

Facebook as Learning Environment
At the Z. Smith Reynolds Library, Wake Forest University, Facebook is being used in two 1-credit information literacy classes in the 2008 Spring semester. Because Facebook is prevalent among college students, instructors decided to investigate student willingness to share their social and academic spaces. Rather than using Blackboard or an open-source framework like a wiki, the class was conducted within Facebook. Students (all of whom used Facebook prior to the class) joined a class group, where an academic environment was created through the incorporation of Facebook Platform applications.

The Wiki Project application (MediaWiki) was used to deploy class information, course content, and assignments. Student group work and collaboration took place in the wiki. Other Facebook Platform applications brought academic functionality into the environment.

Other Practical Uses of Facebook:
Course discussion groups have been set up in Facebook. Some are moderated by faculty and TAs, others are not. These give students a place to network, continue class discussions and collaborate on projects.
Librarians have used their profile in library instruction sessions, promoting it as a communication tool. In some cases librarians have reported answering more reference questions in Facebook than via IM, phone, e-mail or in person after beginning that process.

Potential Value

Time spent on Facebook can, at the very least, help you understand a culture in which our students are immersed. For many students it is a social necessity, like their cell phones and IPods. (Towner, 2)

However, there is growing interest in the potential to utilize Facebook as a learning network. This is a framework that students are already using on a daily basis so there is the potential to build upon an already established community. Academic affiliations are in place and the system is already being used on most college campuses by most college students. The social networking strengths offered - fostering relationships, streamlining collaboration, and transparent networking - are basic building blocks for a learning environment.

Potential hurdles

There is a big discussion among librarians and faculty about the appropriateness of inserting ourselves into the “students’ space.” Studies have shown that some students resent what they see as an intrusion into their social lives. This debate has been rehashed on multiple listservs & blogs, and in discussion forums at conferences. A “Faculty Ethics on Facebook” group has drafted a set of guidelines regarding appropriate behavior.


Facebook is a buzzword in academic library circles today. Academic librarians are focusing on ways to leverage this phenomenon. However, the use of it as a library instruction tool is in its infancy. It is expected that, as practitioners continue to explore the potential for this technology, the literature will begin to document and analyze its usefulness as a pedagogical tool.

Further Readings

  1. Charnigo, Laurie, and Paula Barnett-Ellis. 2007. Checking Out The Impact of a Digital Trend on Academic Libraries. Information Technology & Libraries 26 (1):23-34.
  2. Towner, Terri, and Abigaile VanHorn. 2007. Facebook: Classroom Tool for a Classroom Community? Paper read at Midwestern Political Science Association Online.
  3. Bedford, Anna, and Jennifer Golbeck. 2008. Facebook as Pedagogical Tool? University of Maryland CTE Teaching & Learning News 17 (3).
  4. Mack, Daniel, et al. 2007. Reaching Students with Facebook: Data and Best Practices. Electronic Journal of Academic and Special Librarianship 8 (2).
  5. Faculty Ethics in Facebook group.

Other Examples:
Facebook as Learning Environment
Facebook as Pedagogical Tool?
Reaching Students with Facebook: Data and Best Practices

Tips and Trends: Winter 2008
ACRL Instruction Section Instructional Technologies Committee


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