Lee Rainie: Libraries as Social Networks

Happy Friday! I hope your having a lovely day, dear readers. I’m at BayNet’s Annual Meeting today and the keynote speaker is Lee Rainie, the Director of the Pew Internet Project. I’m super-excited. So on with the summary blogging!

Pew Internet Project is funded to do primary research and then write up reports. No agenda, no policies on Net Neutrality, etc.. Hope is that by producing useful data that Pew Internet Reports will be interesting to people. Considers librarians as one of the primary groups for the reports and data. [Rainie said to not Tweckle him. Really don’t tweckle anyone, it’s not nice.]

Talking about the rise of networked individuals (co-author Barry Wellman, University of Toronto). New social operating systems: networked individualism. Can see libraries as networked nodes. The world is a networked world and the networks are large. Social networks are more influential now than ever because of the stresses of information overload, etc.. Turn to networks for news, assessments/evaluations, and as a audience. Social networks are bigger, more segmented, and more diverse than in the past. It is easier to find and maintain relationships via many-to-many online communication tools. Social networks are more vivid and tied to creation of information/media. More conscious about how networks fit together and how we can create content for network building.

New kinds of communities now. There is an explosion of group activity and group niches. There are groups for everything and group niches are becoming narrower. Rise of social posses: grab a cause and pursue it with their networks. Advent of just-in-time, just-like-me, peer-to-peer (support) groups, especially in the medical field (like the talk at Personal Digital Archiving Conference). Able to find people who understand your circumstances online. Fifth Estate of content contributors: different sensibilities, more passionate, more personal, and tell stories differently than mass media= new media culture.

Librarians are attuned to networking and finding solutions, so this should mean we are at the forefront on using and optimizing social networks. Librarians are teachers and content creators. Social networking is a new way of looking at networking and leveraging librarian skills in new ways.

Q&A Break

  • Are you going to talk about youth and social networks?
    A. Sure, but the most interesting and fastest growing demographic now isn’t youth. Fastest growing segment on social networks is those over 50 years old now.
  • Aren’t librarians really just content aggregators?
    A. Librarians are both content aggregators and content creators. [Nice to see lots of hands when asked about who was tweeting the talk.]
  • A. What happens if people can’t find information online?
    A. If people can’t find something online, they create it. And mostly, people are super-helpful if you ask your network a question. [I can totally second that–whenever I ask a question on Twitter I always get kind and helpful answers]
  • Differences between Fourth and Fifth Estates?
    A. Still norms and narratives followed by Fourth Estate, while in Fifth Estate it is still quirky, personal, partisan sensibility.

Revolution 1: Internet and Broadband
46% of adults were using Internet in 2000 on first Pew Internet Survey. Now 79% use Internet (2011). 93% of teenagers are now online. Internet user population grew up until 2006 in adult world.

Asked about broadband adoption. 66% of Americans now have broadband at home. Become very Internet users when more people got broadband, instead of dial-up. People could now create content, find things more easily, and encouraged people to participate. Internet solutions then became primary in people’s workflows.

Higher socioeconomic status people are more likely to be online: household income of %75,000, college degree, parent with minor child at home, married or living with partner, employed full time. Negative correlations: having high school degree or less, over 65+, prefers speaking Spanish, disabled, African-American.

Consequences for the information ecosystem: huge volume of information, high velocity, more vibrant environments online, and easier to set up filters to get relevant information. Lots of work and teaching now based around gaming. Lots more content creation. About 2/3 of American adults are content creators, includes social networking site users, sharing photos, blogging, etc.. 14% of adults blog and 12% use Twitter. Don’t know how to ask about using geo-location services on the survey yet, get responses from 4-17%. Location is now become more important because of smartphones.

Big challenge for libraries: collections are disrupted BUT there are also opportunities. People still like books and now want more technology, too. Libraries do a unique and special job in solving some problems. For example, bridging the digital divide by providing access to Internet connections and computers. Librarians are teaching people how to leverage social medial.

There is more that librarians can do (of course). Non-users of online technologies say that relevance and digital literacy are primary factors for not going online. We can help with the digital literacy issues and show people that there are relevant sources for them online (like news sites, health information, government information, etc.). Go information literacy instruction!

Revolution 2: Wireless Connectivity
Because of lack of time: take home: the wireless revolution was really important. [I’m not kidding, we’re running out of time, so we’re skipping over a lot]
57% of adults now use mobile internet. 35% have apps on their phones and 24% actually use apps.

Revolution 3: Social Networking
Social networking population is more diverse than you might think. Fastest growing cohort is those over 50 years old. For many youth, Facebook is their dashboards. FoMo: Fear of Missing Out (Rainie heard this new term at SXSW) So this is one reason people feel the need of always being connected and are not comfortable with being alone.

Librarians now have to share the stage with amateur experts because of social networks and the ease of content creation and sharing. Now we need to have influence in order to maintain our authority in this networked world. [I still think we need experts, but we need new skills in order to have our expertise matter.]

Practical Questions to Ponder

  • What’s the franchise vs. commodity? What’s the aggregation play?
    Do what you do best and link to the rest.
  • What’s the social networking play? What alliances can we strike to do distributed versions of our mission? What’s the word-of-mouth, viral play?
  • What’s the mobile play? How do we understand and exploit real-time informatin with our patrons?
  • What’s the gift economy play? What’s the API play? What can we pry loose that others can exploit? What feedback do we want from our stakeholders?
  • What’s the definition of success that is based on outcomes not outputs? How do we measure it?

Take Home Message
Go librarians! We do a lot, but can of course do more to help people use social networking tools online. Need spaces to be connected and collaborate with others, but also need reflective, quiet spaces. We need to ask ourselves hard questions and find innovative ways to do our work. Let’s, in Seth Godin’s words, create Purple Cows!

Note: Rainie’s talk was taped and should be available via BayNet sometime soon.

Have a fantastic rest of your day and a lovely weekend. I’ll be back next week with more tech, library, and archives news and notes. Thank you, dear readers, for reading. Allons-y!