ACRL IS Current Issue Discussion Digest – ALA Annual 2008 – Discussion 2

Using the Social Web to Promote and Enhance Information Literacy

Anne Behler, Information Literacy Librarian, Penn State University
Emily Rimland, Information Literacy Librarian, Penn State University
Beth Roberts, Information Research Specialist, Library of Congress

Saturday, June 28, 2008, 4-5:30pm
MAR Salon A-D  |  Anaheim, CA


The purpose of this discussion group is to facilitate discourse about the use of the Social Web in promoting information literacy and enriching library instruction. Attendees will be encouraged to share personal experiences and brainstorm ideas about the potential uses of Social Web tools in library instruction. They will also be encouraged to consider the impact use of these resources has on students’ information-seeking and sharing behaviors, as well as best practices for using these resources as professional tools.

Rationale for Convening Discussion on this Topic & Importance of the Topic for Academic Instruction Librarians

The “Social Web” encompasses the different Web 2.0 technologies which are primarily focused on social interaction and community such as Facebook, MySpace, Twitter and LinkedIn. Many of these sites are highly popular with college students. The headline of a recent Time Magazine article says it all: “Facebook: More Popular than Porn.” According to this article, 18-24 year-olds visit social networking web sites before they visit any others, even search engines. Sites like Facebook and MySpace are at the forefront of the Social Web. In addition, YouTube, Twitter and are popular Social Web tools. Because our primary patron demographic is spending most of their time online immersed in the Social Web, it is essential that instruction librarians enter into a profession-wide discourse about how we can utilize these sites as tools to reach our students.

Facebook has historically been tied to colleges and universities—it began as a social network only for those with .edu email addresses. Facebook users visit the site to post information and photos on their profile page, send messages, gain information on their friends, and use a variety of applications created specifically for use in the Facebook environment. In just the past year, Facebook has opened its “walls” to applications which allow users to treat it as a portal to their preferred web activities, including the library. Most recently, Facebook enabled users to create “Facebook pages,” a feature that opens the Facebook profile concept to entities, including academic and college libraries, which were previously excluded from having Facebook profiles. MySpace has allowed more freedom in the creation of accounts and pages. Every person, entity or organization’s profile is unique in design. The design of a MySpace page can be as sophisticated as its creator’s knowledge allows. Videos and mp3s are also easily embedded into pages.

Many librarians, including the discussion facilitators, have begun developing applications for searching library resources within the Facebook environment. The Pennsylvania State University has a library search application and published a recent white paper called “7 Things You Need to Know about Facebook Applications.” The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, The College of William and Mary, the University of Michigan and many others have also created library Facebook applications. Other libraries are using MySpace pages to promote library services, such as eVolver, the Denver Public Library Teens page, and The Wendt Library at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s page.

Library publications and blogs have exploded with papers and discussion of the use of these tools in libraries, such as; “Reaching Students With Facebook: Data and Best Practices,” by Mack, Behler, Rimland, and Roberts ( E-JASL, 2007); “Living the Virtual Library Life,” by Tenopir ( Library Journal, 2007); and “Prevailing Practices for Libraries on MySpace,” by Webb ( College & Undergraduate Libraries, 2007).

For instruction librarians, the Social Web presents new opportunities to teach students about privacy, copyright and content ownership. These issues are highly relevant to students today. According to the recent OCLC Report “Sharing, Privacy and Trust in Our Networked World,” 39% of respondents had shared a book they have read, 57% shared photos/videos and 14% shared self-published information on social networking sites. Integrating social networking sites, such as Facebook, into library instruction provides a new context for helping students understand the promise and peril of online information sharing. This discussion forum will offer the opportunity for participants to discuss in detail the Social Web and its implications for library instruction. Participants will share experiences and practical ideas on optimally using the Social Web to connect with students and help them learn how to navigate, collaborate and share information effectively online.

Proposed Strategies and Structure that will Maintain Group Discussion

We propose a “brainstorming” in a small group discussion format. To get the ball rolling, the group as a whole will have an opening discussion to establish a foundation on what the Social Web encompasses and how it is frequently used by students and within the context of library instruction. Topics for this opening discussion could include: Social Web use statistics among 18-24 year-olds; General thoughts on using Social Web tools to complement library instruction. Each table/small group will then be given a list of discussion questions—all tables will receive the same questions. Each question will be assigned a discussion time limit, leaving time in between each discussion period for groups to share the three most important points they discussed.

Sample Discussion Questions

  1. What aspects of information literacy instruction must change with the advent of the Social Web? How can we expand and evolve library instruction in this new environment?
  2. How can instruction librarians harness and maximize use of the Social Web to advance students’ information literacy skills?
  3. What role/presence should instruction librarians have in social networking sites?
  4. How is the Social Web changing how our students think and learn about privacy and information sharing? How can we utilize social networking sites to inform students about online privacy?
  5. The Social Web has added new complexities into content ownership. What are some strategies for instructing our students on the perils and opportunities presented by the Social Web with regard to content ownership and authority?

ACRL IS Discussion Notes from ALA Annual 2008

The discussion, which took place Saturday, June 28, 2008, at the Anaheim Marriott, began with several audience polls. Participants were asked to respond, using a classroom response system, to questions which revealed what level of knowledge and experience, as well as preconceptions, attendees brought with them to the discussion. Participants were first asked whether they use Facebook, Myspace, or Orkut, and how often. The majority, 33%, responded that they do use one or more of those sites sometimes, but not often. As a follow-up question, participants were then asked how many social web sites they considered themselves to be a part of. The majority, 52.9%, responded that they are part of 1-3 social web sites, with 3-5 sites coming in second at 26.5% of responses. 8.8% of attendees had no affiliation with social web sites, and 8.8% were members of 5-10 sites.

Participants were then asked to report whether they were using social networking sites in support of instruction. 8.6% reported that they were using these sites often in instruction; 42.9% responded “yes, here and there”; the majority, 49.6%, responded,”no, but I’m open to ideas.” No one selected the response indicating an opposition to using social networking web sites in instruction. Finally, participants were posed the following trivia question: “What is the average length of time a Facebook user spends there per visit?” Only 26.7% of attendees responded correctly with the response of 221 minutes. This was an extremely eye-opening statistic for the group, and set the stage for discussion about how librarians can harness the Social Web in support of library instruction, and to advance students’ information literacy skills.

The group shared many ideas about how to utilize social tools in instructional settings. Activities included having students use Wikipedia as a search tool, and then having them use the library catalog or a database to look up one of the cited sources in the article. was noted several times as a great resource to engage students in the activity of evaluating, gathering, bookmarking and tagging web sites for research. Another suggestion was to make use of tools such as pageflakes or netvibes to create personalized research desktops and/or class resources for students. Facebook applications were also discussed as a method of embedding library tools in the environment students prefer to be in.

Discussion then shifted to what role or presence librarians should have, if any, on the Social Web. Participants discussed places on the Social Web where intellectual and creative content are stored, such as Wikipedia, del.ici.ous, Flickr and blogs. Some of the perils presented by these sites are that they can be mined by companies, organizations or “bots” for personal data and that data can then be used for unknown purposes. This ties into the privacy question as well, because participants noted that pictures that you might post of yourself on Flickr or MySpace could be grounds for getting fired from a job or not getting hired in the first place, as has been noted in recent news stories. Discussion group members also noted that this current generation shows less concern for privacy than older generations sometimes have. This can be a teaching opportunity for librarians. The overall group sentiment was that librarians should have a presence in social networking environments so that we can be where are students are.

Participants discussed the fact that students may post very personal information on these sites, especially sites like MySpace and Facebook with little thought to the possible consequences. In addition, if you use material from someone else’s site, like a picture from someone else that you got from Flickr, or a poem someone else wrote or copy or download a song they posted, you could be liable for a copyright or other violation.

Some opportunities these sites present are opportunities for information sharing and intellectual discussion, and library instructional opportunities related to copyright and plagiarism. They can also be used as a starting point for teaching students about verifying the information that they find.

The Social Web presents many new challenges for instruction and information literacy; however the opportunities are far greater. New social tools and technologies expand upon and add another dimension to information literacy instruction. While some areas of the Social Web may not be shining examples of good use of copyright or citation management, they can serve as springboards from which instructors can teach students about information literacy. These new tools can also simplify or negate mundane tasks, allowing librarians to focus on core content and critical thinking skills during class time. Based on the participants of this session, librarians are starting to get a foothold on how to integrate elements of the Social Web into the classroom, but still have questions about the librarian’s role in these new arenas. As a profession, we could benefit from shared best practices about using the Social Web in the classroom and many more discussions.

Referenced websites from the discussion

Facebook (social networking):
Swem Tools (Facebook application):
Elmhurst College Library (Facebook app):
My Space (social networking):
Evolver (my space page):
Orkut(social networking):
Delicious (social bookmarking):
Flickr (social photosharing):
Flock (social browser):
IMVU (IM with avatars):
Pageflakes(personalized desktop):
Netvibes (personalized desktop):
LibGuides (web2.0 library guides):

Recommended Reading 

Behler, A., Rimland, E. Roberts, B. and Mack, D. Reaching students with Facebook: Data and best practices. E-JASL: The Electronic Journal of Academic and Southern Librarianship, 8(2). Retrieved May 20, 2008, from

Bussert, K. (2008). IL 2.0 at the American University in Cairo: Flickr in the classroom. Internet Reference Services Quarterly, 13 (1), 1-13.

DeRosa, C., et al. (2007). Sharing, privacy and trust in our networked world: A report to the OCLC membership. Retrieved May 20, 2008, from

Godwin, P. (2006). Information literacy in the age of amateurs: How Google and Web 2.0 affect librarians’ support of information literacy. ITALICS, 5(4). Special Issue. Retrieved May 1, 2008, from

Pennsylvania State University, Education Technology Services. (2007). 7 things you need to know about Facebook applications: A white paper from Teaching and Learning with Technology and the University libraries at Penn State. Retrieved May 20, 2008, from

Tancer, B. (2007, October 31). Facebook: More popular than porn. Time, [,8599,1678586,00.html]

Tenopir, C. (2007). Living the virtual library life. Library Journal, 132 (16), 24.

Webb, P. (2007) Prevailing practices for libraries on MySpace. College & Undergraduate Libraries, 14 (2), 39-44


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