Social Networking Tools for Academic Libraries

Cited as: Chu, S.K.W. & Du, H. (2013). Social Networking Tools for Academic Libraries. Journal of
Librarianship & Information Science, 45(1), 64-75.
Social Networking Tools for Academic Libraries
Samuel Kai-Wah Chu 1
Helen Du 2
Division of Information and Technology Studies
Faculty of Education,
The University of Hong Kong
Pokfulam Road, Hong Kong
Department of Computing
Hong Kong Polytechnic University
Hung Hom, Hong Kong
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Social Networking Tools for Academic Libraries
This is an exploratory study investigating the use of social networking tools in academic libraries. The
major areas examined include the extent of use of social networking tools, library staff’s perceptions
of their usefulness, and perceived challenges in using them. Considerations that influenced decisions
to use or not to use social networking tools were also examined. Invitations to participate in a webbased survey were sent to the libraries of 140 universities from Asia, North America and Europe.
Responses were received from 38 libraries, yielding a response rate of 27.1%. Twenty-seven libraries
(71.1%) used social networking tools, five (13.1%) were potential users who planned to use these
tools and six (15.8%) did not plan to use these tools at all. Facebook and Twitter were the most
commonly adopted tools in university libraries. Most library staff had generally positive perceptions
on the usefulness of social networking tools, but hesitancy among some library staff and limited
participation of library users (i.e., students) were perceived to be hindrances. The findings of this
study offer insights for academic librarians to use as basis for informed decisions in applying social
networking tools.
Keyword(s): social networking, academic libraries, MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, instant messaging
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The World Wide Web enables people to gain access to information, create content and disseminate
ideas more efficiently. It optimizes the social networks in which individuals are connected through
widening communication channels and lowering costs (Barsky and Purdon 2006). Social networking
sites first emerged for Internet users to find long-lost friends and classmates, link with each other and
share profiles. An increasing number of individuals have become members of one or more social
networking sites leading to soaring membership numbers, largely because these sites are free and easy
to use. Lately, these social networking sites have gained a foothold among companies, organizations,
and even politicians who want to reach out to their target populations (Read 2006). The wide
application of social networking in different contexts appears to have included universities and
libraries as well (Boyd and Ellison 2007). It has been suggested that academic libraries could take the
opportunity of using these social networking tools to disseminate information, market services and
promote new releases (Burkhardt 2010).
This exploratory research aimed to contribute towards understanding academic librarians’
utilizations of social networking tools. A review of the literature illustrates the potentials and
advantages of applying social networking tools in academic libraries, such as promoting library
services and getting in touch with student users. Based on findings from a web-based survey among
academic librarians, this study contributes to the literature that illustrates how academic libraries use
different social networking tools, leading to relevant implications for further usage.
Literature Review
What are social networking tools?
Various definitions of social networking websites/tools exist. For instance, Alexander (2006) offered
a broad definition: social networking can encompass almost all collaborative environments employing
Web 2.0 technologies. The promise of Web 2.0 technologies is that they foster collaboration among
users, which generates new thinking and strategies to meet the demands of the changing society (Chu
and Kennedy 2011; Chu, Chan, and Tiwari in press; Glassman and Kang 2011). Instead of referring to
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a new technical standard or natural progression in the development of Web technologies (Murray
2008), Web 2.0 provides a new way of using the Internet for interactive purposes (Chu, Kwan, and
Warning in press; McLean, Richards and Wardman 2007). These tools include blogs, wikis, RSS
(Really Simple Syndication), podcasting, social bookmarking, social networking, feeds and Google
utilities (Churchill 2007).
In particular, social networking websites allow users to share interests and communicate with
others (Buroughs 2010). Barsky and Purdon (2006) emphasized that social networking websites
collect data about members, store and share user profiles. These websites are free and allow users to
easily create personal pages filled with content in the form of images, music, and videos. Such
websites function as a social network because members are able to share web pages with friends and
search for new friends who have similar interests. In the social exchange theory, Homans (1974)
proposed that in real-life social networks, people establish ties with others to exchange valued
resources, and relationships formed depend on payoffs to both parties over time.
Boyd and Ellison (2007) described social networking websites as systems that allow
individuals to: (1) construct a public or semi-public profile within a bounded system, (2) articulate a
list of other users with whom they share a connection, and (3) view and traverse their list of
connections and those made by others within the system. It was also noted that these websites vary in
terms of features and membership. Some websites allow photo/video sharing, while others allow
blogging and private messaging. To some extent, blogs have also been regarded as a form of social
networking because blogs support the formation of social connections (Taylor-Smith and Lindner
2009). Wikis, blogs, chat rooms, instant messengers, message boards and social bookmarking are
Web 2.0 technology applications that have been used to facilitate members’ interaction, and thus,
have been referred to as social networking tools (Jones and Conceicao 2008). Social networks have
been described to possess three functions: (1) allow socialization among individuals, (2) generate
participation opportunities, and (3) facilitate decisions (Passy 2003).
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It should be noted that even though sites such as YouTube and Flickr allow users to construct
profiles and share connections, they have been identified to be primarily for sharing videos and
images, rather than for social networking (Hoffman 2009). While the use of social media has been
suggested to be all about sharing, learning, ability to have conversations and giving (Burkhardt 2010),
sites such as Flickr and YouTube are focused on content-sharing with limited social networking
potentials. Similarly, Slideshare, Issuu and blogs are also content-sharing tools with limited potential
for conversations between users. As such, this study adopted a relatively narrow definition of social
networking tools, referring to those that are not primarily for content sharing (Boyd and Ellison 2007;
Burkhardt 2010; Hoffman 2009). Nevertheless, tools that do not fall under this narrow definition but
were mentioned by participants in this study were reported.
The use of social networking tools in libraries
A study in mid 2000s indicated that most of the library directors and the general public from the
United States did not think that libraries had a role in social networking (De Rosa et al. 2007). The
emphasis of libraries on learning was perceived to be unsuitable with the nature of social networking,
and concerns on inadequate time and resources spent on social networking tools were raised.
Nevertheless, the potential of using social networking in libraries has been demonstrated through the
use of Facebook and MySpace (Chu and Nalani-Meulemans 2008). By displaying their status
(whether they are online or not), available librarians were easily identified by users to address their
enquiries. Librarians also found it advantageous when they wished to communicate with colleagues to
answer users’ enquiries, thus providing answers to users’ enquiries more efficiently. Furthermore,
Facebook and MySpace were found to be helpful in enhancing libraries’ social visibility through
profiles that showed a uniform identity. It was also found that MySpace allowed different librarians to
contribute knowledge and information, maintain a profile together and promote new library
A number of librarians have suggested that Facebook could be a feasible way to deliver
library services and communicate with users (Charnigo and Barnett-Ellis 2007). In the case of Kimbel
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Library of the Coastal Carolina University, Facebook has been used to provide reference assistance
and library tours, and promoting services (Graham, Faix, and Hartman 2009). Moreover, this library
found out that Facebook unexpectedly helped colleagues become closer and to personally know each
other better.
While social networking websites appear to have benefits for libraries, their use has not been
pervasive, partly due to librarians’ perceived limitations in their abilities to set up profiles and time
dedicated for maintenance (Hendrix et al. 2009). While the uptake of Facebook by public libraries has
also been deterred by council decisions that ban its use (e.g., Lowe, 2008), the public’s lack of interest
in libraries’ participation in social networking tools has also been noted to be a discouraging factor in
the use of Facebook by public libraries (De Rosa et al. 2007). This seems to be a relevant
consideration since participation in social networking websites has been found to be dependent on
subjective norms and social identity (Cheung and Lee 2010). When it comes to academic purposes,
students have been shown to be not particularly eager to communicate with professors on Facebook or
MySpace (Chu and Nalani-Meulemans 2008) and they preferred email because it is perceived to be
more reliable. Students have reported that they felt more comfortable and interested in using social
networking tools to communicate with people whom they regarded as friends, which would not likely
include librarians. Some college students have also shown negative feelings about the librarians using
Facebook and MySpace as outreach tools since it may infringe on their sense of personal privacy
(Connell 2009). According to Connell’s survey results, if a library would want to use social network
sites effectively, librarians should be cautious in establishing communications and relationships with
their student friends and avoid “mass friending”.
It appears that the uptake of social networking as tools for libraries needs to be understood
further to pave the way for harnessing its potential benefits. A wider perspective in examining social
networking tools for librarians would also be useful, since only the use of Facebook and MySpace has
been documented. While these sites may have dominance in the United States (Hoffman 2009) and
other western regions, other social networking sites such as Orkut (Asia-Pacific and South America),
Bebo (Australia and Europe), and QQ (China) are popular in other regions. In this study, we examined
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perceptions on the use of social networking tools, of librarians from different geographic regions. We
aimed to gain a deeper understanding of librarians’ insights, and at the same time obtain a wider
geographic perspective.
By examining librarians’ insights on the benefits and challenges of using social networking tools in
academic libraries across the globe, we expect to aid libraries in making informed decisions on
whether they would use particular social networking tools for library services. A descriptive crosssectional research design was used in implementing a web-based survey to address the following
To examine the application of social networking tools in academic libraries in different
To describe librarians’ perceptions of the usefulness of social networking tools for
information/knowledge sharing, and enhancement of library services.
To examine factors that might influence libraries’ decisions on using social networking tools.
Two sets of survey questionnaires were designed for respondents from libraries who have been using
social networking tools and those who have not been using them. The questionnaires were adapted
from a similar instrument that examined the use of wikis among academic libraries (Chu, 2009), but
was modified to (1) identify the types of social networking tools that were being used by academic
libraries, (2) examine librarians’ opinions on the usefulness of the tools, and (3) determine perceived
advantages and disadvantages of using these tools. Relevant considerations in decisions on using
social networking tools, and challenges/difficulties experiences with the use of social networking
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tools were also explored. The instrument was pilot-tested by a panel of three academic librarians, and
all items were found to be relevant, clear, and understandable (see appendix for sample items).
Close-ended questions were used with response choices that were based on the operational definition
of social networking tools adopted in this study (Boyd and Ellison 2007; Burkhardt 2010; Hoffman
2009). Tools such as YouTube and Flickr were not included, but instant messaging was considered as
a social networking tool since it allows two or more users to chat simultaneously and share contents.
A 5-point Likert scale was used to assess respondents’ perceptions on the usefulness of social
networking for information and knowledge sharing. Open-ended questions were also included to
obtain information on purposes and other insights associated with using social networking tools, and
to allow participants to indicate other resources, which they might have considered as social
networking tools.
Sampling and Procedures
The sampling focused on university libraries and was based on the Times Higher Education (THE)
World University Rankings. From the top 600 universities listed on THE, 70 Asian universities were
first identified and were matched with 70 Western (North America and Europe) universities that were
generally in the same ranking range. Altogether 140 university libraries were identified and invited
via email to participate in the study. A response rate of 27% (38 libraries) was obtained, where each
participant library provided a contact person to represent the institution. Upon submission of signed
consent forms, contact persons were asked to respond to a web-based survey, available via
SurveyMonkey (
Location of users and types of social networking tools
From the 38 respondents, 27 (71.1%) were using social networking tools for academic library work; 5
(13.1%) planned to use these tools in the future; and 6 (15.8%) had no plans to use these tools. Figure
1 summarizes the geographic distribution of the respondent libraries that have been using social
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networking tools. The locations include United Kingdom (30%), United States (18%), Hong Kong
(15%), China (7%), Canada (4%), Singapore (7%), Taiwan (7%), Korea (4%), Germany (4%) and
Japan (4%). Since the sampling frame was based on the THE world rankings, countries with more
universities in the higher ranks appears to have greater participation. Western libraries also had a
slightly higher response rate (30%) than the Asian libraries (22.86%).
[Insert Figure 1 about here]
Facebook (62.9%) and Twitter (62.9%) were found to be the two most commonly reported
tools by the respondent libraries, and both fall within the operational definition of social networking
tools in this study. A number of studies have previously reported the use of Facebook in libraries
(Charnigo and Barnett-Ellis 2007; Graham, Faix, and Hartman 2009), and our findings indicate that it
has continued to be the social networking tool of choice by librarians. Facebook has been shown to be
the most popular social networking site among students (Dwyer, Hiltz, and Passerini 2007; Stutzman
2006), and this is perhaps a consideration for libraries that aim to reach more users. Instant messaging,
such as MSN and QQ (44.4%), and LinkedIn (3.7%) were also reportedly used by the libraries (see
Figure 2).
Respondents reported other tools being used that they considered as social networking. As
shown in Figure 2, these tools included blogs (25.9%), wikis (18.5%), YouTube (11.1%), Flickr
(14.8%), Slideshare (7.4%), Issuu (3.7%) and Delicious (3.7%). However, these tools are known to be
primarily for sharing information, photos and videos, rather than for setting up networks and
[Insert Figure 2 about here]
Table 1 shows that different departments within the respondent libraries used different social
networking tools. Information service departments reportedly used all identified tools for handling
real-time enquiries from users and for enhancing internal information and knowledge exchange
among colleagues. Public service departments generally used Facebook and Twitter, while technical
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service departments were found to utilize tools that fell under the broader definition of social
networking tools. Nearly all departments reported the use of Twitter.
[Insert Table 1 about here]
The length of time that social networking tools have been used by the respondents varied
from 1.5 to 4 years. Facebook, instant messaging and blogs has been used for the longest time (4
years); YouTube came next (3 years); wikis and Slideshare came third (2.5 years); Twitter ranked
fourth (1.5 years); and Flickr the last (1.5 years). While Twitter is a relatively new tool, it appears to
have caught up with Facebook in terms of popularity.
[Insert Figure 3 about here]
The duration of use of social networking tools by respondent libraries generally relate to the
launch dates of these tools. As shown in Figure 3, instant messaging like MSN Messenger (News
Press Release: Microsoft Launches MSN Messenger Service 1999) and blogs (Blood 2000) were
developed in the 1990s and thus, have been used by libraries for the longest time. YouTube emerged
in 2005 (Boyd and Ellison 2007), and respondent libraries reported having used it for a considerable
amount of time (3 years). Slideshare and Twitter were launched in 2006 (Boyd and Ellison 2007;
Arrington 2006) and hence have been used for relatively shorter periods of time. Facebook became
accessible rather late in the timeline (Boyd and Ellison 2007), but some respondents reported using it
for 4 years (as long as instant messaging and blogs). This is perhaps a reflection of the general
popularity of Facebook among students. Wikis came out in 1995 (Cunningham 2003) and Flickr in
2004 (Boyd and Ellison 2007), but both have been used relatively shorter. Delicious came out in 2003
(Surowiecki 2006) and Issuu in 2006 (Lowensohn 2008), but both tools have been reportedly used by
only one or two respondents.
Purposes of using social networking tools
Social networking tools that were within this study’s operational definition were reportedly used for
marketing and publicity, enhancing reference services, and knowledge sharing among staff (see Table
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2). It was found that Facebook and Twitter have been used for marketing among the respondents,
while an earlier study had reported that libraries were indifferent towards marketing through
Facebook (Charnigo and Barnett-Ellis 2007).
Instant messaging was reportedly used for handling enquiry-related services and internal staff
communication. This tool has been shown to enhance users’ social presence and to facilitate a sense
of connection, which was not provided by emails and conventional Web 1.0 websites (Boulos and
Wheelert 2007). Wikis were also reportedly used to handle enquiries and frequently asked questions
(FAQ), which is consistent with earlier findings by Chu (2009) that wikis have enabled
communication between librarians and users. Wikis have also been used to create, capture, share and
transfer knowledge (Chu 2008).
[Insert Table 2 about here]
Perceived benefits from using social networking tools in the library
A 5-point Likert scale was used to examine the participants’ perceptions of the benefits associated
with social networking tools in libraries. Those who responded to the questionnaire items all selected
either a rating of 1 (not helpful at all) or 5 (very helpful). As such, the responses are presented here in
terms of the number of participants who selected each of the two extreme response choices (see
Figure 4). Overall, participants perceived social networking tools to be very helpful in terms of
information sharing, knowledge sharing, enhancing reference services, and promoting library
services. Only one respondent indicated the tools were not helpful at all. This finding implies a shift in
attitudes of libraries towards social networking tools, which was previously found to be indifferent
(Charnigo and Barnett-Ellis 2007).
[Insert Figure 4 about here]
That social networking tools were helpful in promoting library services was consistent with
the finding that the two most reported purposes for which libraries used social networking tools were
promotion of library events (e.g., exhibitions, competitions, talks, seminars, workshops, tutorials,
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training courses) and dissemination of news (e.g., events alert, library updates). Figure 5 shows the
reported purposes for using social networking tools, which included the following: to offer library
resources (including answer enquiries, catalogue search), to release information about new collections
and lists, to convey general library information, and to offer online resources.
[Insert Figure 5 about here]
Benefits associated with use of social networking tools were also reported to include the
quick spread of information with simple steps; communication and promotion; enhanced interaction
between library and students; and access to students’ comments and suggestions. Engagement and
feedback from library users were reportedly encouraged (R15, R26), and students managed to keep
up-to-date with news and information from the library despite infrequent actual visits to the library
(R17). Library staff also found that social networking tools provided access to students’ ideas and
suggestions (R17, R24), thus implying that the tools served a role in public relations by allowing the
transmission of ‘quick and direct information’ (R12).
Social networking tools were also reported to aid library staff in keeping up-to-date with
resources and activities in their profession (R19), and in finding opportunities to learn new technology
(R23). It was also reported that Twitter was useful in maintaining updates for students who were
active Twitter users, and little time was required to do so (R26). It was also suggested that ‘students
trusted the library more’ because the latter was keeping up with the pace of technology (R16).
Two respondents reported no benefits accrued from using social networking tools, primarily
because students did not use the tools. One other respondent was doubtful about the benefits, while
two others were unclear since there were no formal ways to assess the benefits. One respondent said
no major benefits have been observed, but was hopeful and optimistic that once a large number of
students had become attracted to use it, considerable benefits would eventually be seen.
The cost of using social networking tools was perceived to range from minimal to almost
none (18/21, 66.7% of respondents). The main source of cost was perceived to be the extra time spent
by staff on learning and administering social networking tools. Monetary training cost was minimal,
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and the technologies were acquired free. Furthermore, the cost was perceived to be only in the initial
stages as ‘time had to be spent on monitoring during the initial launch of the social networking
services, but in the long run, management required little time’ (R9). As such, the same percentage of
respondents (66.7%) was certain the benefits outweighed the costs, given that they invested almost
next to nothing in using and maintaining these tools. Earlier, Boulos and Wheelert (2007) had pointed
out the inexpensive development costs had made the use of these social networking tools worthwhile.
It was pointed out by one of the participants in this study that whether or not the benefits outweighed
the costs depended on the needs and the expertise of the library (R3).
Challenges in implementing social networking tools in libraries
A number of challenges in using social networking tools in libraries were identified, the most pressing
of which appears to be limitations associated with inadequate time. This may be problematic since
using social networking tools have not been given priority due to insufficient time to learn how to use
them (R15). Another participant noted that these tools were very technical, the limited time they had
did not allow them to learn, explore and implement social networking tools in the library (R18). There
had been some amount of difficulty in administration as well. For instance, since the threads and
newsfeeds on Twitter needed personal care, the library staff users were hardly able to monitor them
(R12). Generally, monitoring the social networking tools was perceived to require additional time and
manpower in the library (R16). One challenge that needs to be addressed is finding a way of using
these tools without using up too much time (R23, R24).
Associated with the limited time available to learn how to use social networking tools,
inadequate mastery of technology was also perceived to be a challenge. Social networking tools were
perceived to be developing quickly, and library users might not be able to keep up (R17). While
additional time had to be spent on mastering the technology (R23, R24), updating the tools regularly
can also be time-consuming (R26). Besides time, the ‘aging and shrinking staff’ of the library also
found it difficult to follow the technological innovations of the tools (R18). Furthermore, some
difficulty was perceived in ‘understanding how each tool worked and how to align it to their specific
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business model’ (R3). The process of determining which tool users might welcome more was
perceived to be challenging as a consequence of the continuous evolution of social media (R19, R23).
Such concern has been identified in an earlier study, where libraries found it difficult to identify the
popular sites as the tools continue to evolve (Chu and Nalani-Meulemans 2008).
There had also been limited engagement by library staff in social networking tools, primarily
because they found these tools difficult to understand (R6, R7, R21). Some departments were more
willing to use these tools, while other departments were hesitant, leading to a lack of consensus (R25).
The reluctance of staff to use social networking tools was also linked to the difficulty in determining
who might ‘the future users be’ (R5). On the other hand, attracting users to make use of social
networking platforms offered by the libraries was also reported to be difficult (R10). It was noted that
students hardly contributed to social networking tools by the libraries and did not like using them
(R13, R14). Besides the above difficulties, achieving a balance in tone when communicating with
students (informal yet presentable) was also found difficult (R19).
Training offered by the libraries on the use of social networking tools and their content
Clearly, some amount of training for library staff may alleviate the sense of inadequate mastery of
technology. However, majority of the respondent libraries (16/26, 62%) did not offer training, while
only a few decided that training was necessary (10/26, 38%). Out of the 10 libraries that offered
training, 9 indicated that training was mandatory for all library staff while one other library offered
training on a “need basis”. The respondent from this library further reported that so far, the staff users
learned to use the tools intuitively. Varied responses were obtained as far as the responsibility for
training provision. On some occasions, staff that had social networking website accounts was asked to
deliver the training (R7). In other situations, IT staff provided training (R21), while communication
officers had also been involved in the provision of training (R26, R5). Training contents included
Web 2.0 and social networking tools in general (R13, R19, R24), and raising the awareness of social
networking tools (R26). Training in the use of specific tools was also given, such as the use of Twitter
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Adopting other and/or abandoning social networking tools
Nearly half (13/27) of the respondents were open to any new tool that could be useful to the library
for promoting and enhancing services. Some responses were more specific, mentioning tools such as
blogs would be adopted if the shortage in personnel was addressed (R3, R8). Another participant
noted that they would be interested in using (a Chinese equivalent of Facebook) to
promote library resources, services and updates, gather feedback, and communicate with students
(R16). Meebo was also identified as a chat tool that could be integrated into a library website to help
answer enquiries.
A number of respondents noted that some tools had been, or would be, abandoned in the
future. One library had used Second Life for some time, but it was too time-consuming to be
continued (R11). It was also reported that a library blog was stopped because students did not like
using it and preferred using the utilities in the university portal (R14). Another library intended to stop
using Facebook and Twitter because student interest in them was low (R15). Adoption of new
technology has been found to depend on the match of available technology and the task on hand,
personal experiences, preferences, cost, and accessibility (Chung and Hossain 2010). In this current
study, libraries who planned to adopt or abandon certain social networking tools indicated that they
assessed the tools based on their beliefs and experiences (e.g., whether they were effective in
promoting library services), time requirements, and operating costs.
Librarians’ definitions of social networking tools
Some respondents in this study regarded tools such as blogs, Delicious, Flickr, Issuu, Slideshare,
wikis and YouTube as social networking tools, which are not within our definition of social
networking tools. It seems that a number of respondents defined social networking tools as those that
allowed some degree of interaction among users. For instance, blogs were considered social
networking tools because these updated users about new library collections and resources and allowed
comments to be posted (R10). Wikis were considered social networking tools because they provided a
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platform for users to participate in discussions (R13, R21). Sharing photos and videos was also
considered a form of interaction among users and librarians (R4, R23, R27).
Instant messaging falls within the narrow definition of social networking tools. However, a
number of respondents suggested that this was not a social networking tool since this kind of
communication involved only two individuals (R9, R16, R23). But in fact, instant messaging can
involve more than two individuals. This indicates the need to help librarians maximize the usefulness
of online tools by learning the utilities offered by the particular tools.
Libraries that were not using any social networking tools
Eleven respondent libraries were not using any social networking tools at the time of the survey, and
five (45%) of them indicated plans to adopt such tools in the future. One respondent reported that
Facebook and Twitter were going to be used in their library within 6 months, mainly for
disseminating library information updates. Another respondent envisioned more and more students
would use social networking tools, but was uncertain whether students would like to see the library
join the trend. Hence, this respondent library might conduct a survey among students to gather
feedback about the plan. Time and manpower costs had been considered in order to update
information and monitor incoming messages. Fulk et al. (1990) pointed out that whether or not one
will use information and communication technologies is largely dependent on the attitudes, comments
and behaviors of colleagues. While this appears to be true for the participants in this study, one more
factor seemed to have been considered by the respondents: response from potential users. This factor
appears to be critical for libraries to decide whether or not to adopt the use of social networking tools.
Utilities offered by social networking tools have been suggested to be useful for academic libraries,
and this study examined librarians’ perceptions on the use of social networking tools. Through
librarians’ insights, this study was able to determine the benefits and advantages associated with using
social networking tools in libraries. As expected, these tools were reported to facilitate information
and knowledge sharing, service enhancement and promotion, interaction with student library users, at
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minimal costs. Equally important to understanding the use of social networking in libraries is the
identification of challenges and difficulties that were experienced by current and past users. These
include limited time resources, inadequate mastery of technology, and inconsistent responses from
both library staff and users. These insights have been summarized in Table 3.
Some respondents appeared to have gained substantial familiarity with the tools they were
using, probably as a consequence of the length of time such tools have been in use. It was also
apparent that social networking tools were more successfully used when purposes were clearly
identified prior to actual usage. Responses to the open-ended questions showed that library staff has
been able to establish a degree of engagement with their colleagues. However, library users (i.e.,
students) were reported to have limited involvement in the social networking platforms offered by the
libraries. This has also been identified as a factor that influenced the decision of a number of
respondent libraries to continue or abandon a tool.
While previous studies on libraries’ use of social networking have focused on Facebook and
MySpace (Charnigo and Barnett-Ellis 2007; Connell, 2009), this study identified other applications
that are being used in the Asian region. Respondents in China reported social networking sites such as
QQ and The globalization trends of higher education have indicated consistent increases
in cross-national student mobility (ICDE, 2009), and students from central Asia (China) make up the
second most mobile group (UNESCO, 2006). Western universities make up the destinations of
Chinese students, and the findings of this study implies that libraries of the destination universities
might do well by considering these alternative social networking tools.
Findings of this current study indicate a change in librarians’ regard of social networking
tools, which appears to be moving towards a favorable trend. This might be related to the increasing
popularity of social networking in the society in general. Nevertheless, it appears that in this study,
positive experiences and substantial familiarity with social networking tools reinforced the intentions
of existing users to continue utilizing them. On the other hand, those who were still in the planning
stage of using social networking platforms were influenced by the expected responses and
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involvement of library users. They indicated greater possibility of adopting the tools if responses from
students were positive.
[Insert Table 3 about here]
Limitations and further studies
While the findings of this study offer a view on the insights of representatives of academic libraries, it
is acknowledged that limited generalizations can be made due to the relatively small sample size. This
study aimed to provide a broad perspective by seeking the participation of academic libraries from
different regions, but an alternative approach that might reveal a deeper understanding of social
networking as used by libraries would be involving more staff members from a few selected libraries.
Further studies might also consider involving students in order to have a grasp of the perceptions and
needs of the user groups. This study was also focused on academic libraries, and it would be
interesting to explore if similar experiences on social networking might have occurred in libraries of
non-academic nature.
The findings of this study indicate that social networking tools were being used by a number of
academic libraries. The benefits of using these tools are perceived to outweigh the costs, which were
reported to be minimal, if not none. Social networking tools were perceived to be helpful in
promoting library services and interacting with students. Moreover, the tools were also reported to be
helpful for internal staff communication. However, the implementation of these tools by library staff
was found to be challenged by limited time and perceived inadequacy of the staff to keep pace with
the development of technology. Provision of training for staff users was found to be inadequate, and
this indicates a component that needs to be addressed by organizations that intend to launch social
networking platforms effectively.
A number of libraries, which have not been using these tools, indicated plans to adopt them in
the future, depending on the response of library patrons. The findings of this study offer insights on
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librarians’ experiences in using social networking tools, which may provide useful basis for library
staff and professionals who are considering the possibility of embracing social networking as a part of
their system. The phenomenon of social networking tools is likely to continue evolving rapidly. As
this occurs, libraries make up one group that may benefit from utilizing these tools in an evolving
manner as well. Findings of this study suggest that factors related to time pressure and competencies
of staff need to be addressed in order to encourage libraries to take advantage of benefits offered by
these web technologies.
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Social networking tools
Public Services
Academic Liaison
Academic Support
Customer Services
General Service
Information Services
Public Relations
User Education
Technical Services
I.T. Services
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Figure 1. Location of libraries who have been using social networking tools (n = 27).
Note: Items marked with an asterisk (*) fall within the narrow definition of social networking tools used in this study.
Figure 2. Social networking tools used by various libraries.
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Figure 3. Launch dates of various social networking tools.
Figure 4. Respondent librarians’ perceptions on the benefits of using social networking tools.
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Figure 5. Purposes of libraries in social networking tools.
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Sample questions from the survey for academic libraries that were currently using social
networking tools
Purpose: This research tries to find out the application of Social Networking tools in academic
libraries in different countries/regions.
Q1a. What kinds of social networking tools do various departments of your library use? What
are their purposes and for how long have the departments been using them?
Potential Tools for Social
The purposes
Length of time in use
Instant Messaging (QQ,
MSN, etc.)
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Q1b. Do you think some of the above are not social networking tools? If yes, please list them and
Q2. What are the reasons/benefits for using social networking tools in your library?
(Please check all that apply and indicate the level of its helpfulness)
Not helpful at all
very helpful
□ To facilitate information sharing
□ To facilitate knowledge sharing
□ To enhance reference services
□ To help promoting library services
Q3a. What kinds of services does your library provide through social networking tools?
Q5. What are the challenges and difficulties for implementing social networking tools in your
Q8. Does your library offer any in-house training on the use of social networking tools?
□ No
□ Yes
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Who are the targeted trainees?
Staff - What kind of staff?
Any others?
Who deliver the training?
What are the contents of the training?
Would you please provide the training materials by attachment for our analysis?
Q11. Do you have any additional information or comments about the applications of social
networking tools in your library?
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