LI839 MySpace, Facebook, and Second Life

Myspace, Facebook and Second Life 1
Myspace, Facebook and Second Life:
Considerations for the Library Profession
Lisa Brien
History of Libraries and the Information Profession
Emporia State University
December 7, 2007
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Web 2.0 tools such as MySpace and Facebook as well as the new digital frontier of
Second Life have influenced how the library profession provides service and
communicates with its patrons in an online environment. The profession is still
examining ways to best utilize these new opportunities. It must balance the use of these
tools as well as address concerns about adult predator’s use of these sites.
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Myspace and Facebook’s Influence on the Library Profession
The continuing development of the Internet has provided many new avenues to
seek and utilize information. The onset of Web 2.0 allows users to communicate with
others, and customize their online experience. There are several different tools available
to the end user, which are of interest to the library profession. Two popular networking
sites, Myspace and Facebook, offer ways to access information that appeal to their
subscribers. In addition to their networking capabilities, they also allow users to search
for information. Myspace and Facebook along with the incarnations that follow them
will continue to change the way libraries interact with the patrons. Second Life is a
virtual world in which people take the form of avatars to explore the digital space. This
world allows for avenues of communication and information retrieval that might not be
available otherwise. The library profession has thus far approached these tools with a
dichotomous attitude. While some libraries advertise and provide service on these sites,
others have blocked them from their computers. Many professionals recognize the
benefits of using such tools, but are also weary of the predatory issues that such tools
bring with them.
What are MySpace and Facebook
Myspace and Facebook are, at the core, social networking sites. They allow
subscribers to set up a web page with their profile and pictures. The profile can have as
little or as much detail as desired. The user can then ‘add’ or link a friends’ page with
their own. In this way, the site creates a web of networks that enable the user to connect
and communicate. These two networking sites have a distinct appeal to a younger
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audience. “More than one-third of Facebook visitors are 18 to 24, as expected for a
college-oriented site.”(Walsh, 2006) In the past these sites were dominated by users in a
younger age bracket, however they are now finding influence in an older demographic.
More than half the visitors to the popular social network site are now 35 or
over--up from less than 40 percent last year. The proportion of MySpace's
audience between the ages of 12 and 24, meanwhile, has dropped to 30 percent
from 44.3 percent over the last year. (Walsh, 2006)
The aging trend of this site suggests that it is gaining mainstream acceptance as a way to
communicate with friends and search for information.
Concerns with Social Networking Sites
The nature of these websites creates some concern for the library profession. A
major worry for libraries is the “fear of adults using MySpace to prey on young
people.”(Aiken, 2006) Recently MySpace has been involved in cases of younger users
being subjected to adult sexual predators. As a result, some libraries have banned
prominent social networking sites such as Myspace and Facebook from their library
computers. Julian Aiken, a Librarian at the New Haven Free Public Library, argues
against banning these sites. “We build displays and encourage patrons to read censored
books during Banned Books Week; and then we turn around and ban the very same
patrons from accessing certain websites from our public computers.”(Aiken, 2006) Fears
of online predators spurred Congress to introduce an act called the Deleting Online
Predators Act of 2007. This act, which is a revised version of a previous act, states that
schools and libraries will prohibit sites in which minors are easily approached in a sexual
nature. The Act specifically targets social networking sites as well as chat rooms.
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However, the wording of the Act is such that it could be used for many sites, some of
which were expressly created for education. The implications could be serious for
libraries that could no longer provide access to sites such as Wikipedia.
Benefits of Social Networking Sites
Contrary to banning the site, some library professionals see MySpace and
Facebook as potential tools. For example, “The Sunnyside Regional Library in Fresno,
CA, has a MySpace page that hosts a 10-minute documentary explaining why parents
shouldn't fear the social networking site” (Oleck, 2007). A search for the term “Library”
on Myspace, brought up over 50 different libraries organizations across the country
including the America Library Association, which currently has over 4000 friends listed.
The Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library (TSCPL) also have a page on MySpace.
The TSCPL page highlights upcoming events, as well as library hours, and links that
allow a user to request information. One prominent feature on Myspace is the ability to
upload video and music and have it play on your page. The TSCPL has popular songs
playing on their page that can be requested from the library. They also have a search box
on their Myspace page that allows the user to type in a book, music, and DVD title and
receive results. The library has also recently added a Meebo widget to their page,
encouraging online reference. In this way, libraries have created another avenue that the
public can access them.
Libraries are still looking for ways to utilize these sites in the most effective
manner. There are several library applications that be added to a Facebook page.
Ellyssa Kroski, a reference librarian at Columbia University, has assembled some of the
applications on her blog. She suggests Books iRead, which “lets you share a virtual
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bookshelf of titles you are currently reading, those you want to read, those you have read
in the past, and books you won’t read” (Kroski, 2007). She also suggests Librarian,
which “provides links to books, scholarly sources, and reference resources which the
community can add to and vote on” (Kroski, 2007). These tools will continue to become
more sophisticated, customizable and user friendly. Library professionals and library
patrons alike will be able to use these tools to express needs, allow for communication,
and ultimately provide service.
What is Second Life?
Although Second Life is quite different from the social networking sites, it does
have the capability to provide many of the same tools, as well as worries for the library
profession. While MySpace and Facebook take the virtual form of web pages, Second
Life takes the form of an alternative virtual world. In this world, avatars can walk, skate,
or fly through the digital land. They can enter stores and purchase digital goods for
digital money, go to events, and chat with others. Apart from other online worlds, the
residents in Second Life retain the rights to their property. In this way, the virtual world
remains financially tied to the real world. Not only does the US dollar have exchange
rates with other countries, it also has exchange rates into virtual cash.
As with Myspace and Facebook, libraries are searching for ways to use these tools
most effectively. Out of these endeavors, Information Archipelago was created. “As of
March 2007, the Second Life Library, now called the Info Archipelago, has 17 islands
(large amounts of space), 10 of which are library islands” (Bell 2007). This project has
further branched into libraries supporting specific genres, and research. These libraries
are striving for similar goals as real libraries. They wish to provide accurate, efficient
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quality service to their patrons. According to Bell, the patrons of Second Life Library
“do want books. Libraries make books available in several formats, along with a few
newspapers and magazines” (Bell, 2007). There are items can be downloaded as a .PDF
file or in the form of an e-book. Some prominent publishers have also stepped into
Second Life. Penguin press has begun exploring options within the digital world. They
eventually intend to “sell books made by people within Second Life, and also to provide
free e-books that people can sit and read” (Guardian, 2006).
Second Life librarians also face similar challenges as with their real world
counterparts. Issues with staffing have been a problem for the virtual library. Keeping
the reference points staffed is difficult when using volunteer staffing. These volunteers
often have to balance their duties as a virtual librarian with their non-virtual job and life.
It is hard to justify paid positions in something so experimental. Many times Second Life
has an empty feel to it. Commitment to staffing reflects this. “A regular complaint is
that the library is often empty with no staff to help out. It simply isn’t possible to man
something 24 hours a day, seven days a week on the off-chance that someone will stop
by” (Tebbutt, 2007). However, the librarians have noted, “that our visitors really like a
friendly face and greeting, even if the person is not an information professional and
cannot answer a question” (Bell, 2007). Referencing service for the residents of Second
Life continue to be analyzed. They must consider the differing needs of the online
community. “About 30 percent of questions were about Second Life, 30 percent were
about Info Island, and 30 percent were traditional library informational-type questions”
(Bell, 2007).
Along with referencing services, libraries in Second Life provide appearances from
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authors, events that highlight a specific genre and live performances. Libraries are using
Second Life for “book clubs, education events, lectures, classes, and simulations of
library services” (Tenopir, 2007). As well as providing public services, libraries are
using Second Life for private events tied to their own library. Like many universities and
businesses, libraries are offering learning opportunities within Second Life. TSCPL has
purchased an island in Second Life for their teen programs. It is a regulated program
“which restricts access to only teens ages 13 to 17. Anyone older must complete a
background check to gain access” (Atkins, 2007). Within this private area, called Oz
Island, the library offers teenagers learning experiences focused on “social skills,
spelling, writing, economics using Linden dollars, the world's currency, and several other
subjects while using the program” (Atkins, 2007).
Libraries are also struggling with the darker side of this digital world. Not only
does the fear of sexual predators plague the virtual world, but adult themes and content
are widespread throughout areas of Second Life. “There is an area called Wonderland
where young children can be seen in a virtual playground where they offer sex”(Times,
2007). Although Info Island is in another area of the virtual geography, there is still
concern with the content. This is one reason that some libraries do not want to explore
this outreach opportunity. Many consider the risk does not outweigh the benefits. Others
view Second Life as a waste of time and resources.
Considering the Impact
The Internet has long been an issue for the Library profession. There have been
claims by some outside the profession that the advent of the Internet heralds the fall of
libraries. They maintain that with information so readily available on the Internet, library
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patronage will be reduced, and eventually libraries will not be needed at all. In response
to these claims, many libraries have looked for ways to stay relevant and to reach the next
generation of library patrons. One way has been to explore the new tools of Web 2.0.
Providing services to sites such as Facebook and MySpace has helped with this outreach.
“Two-thirds of Facebook members log on at least once every twenty-four hours”
(Cassidy, 2006). With these numbers, the potential to reach these subscribers is large.
However, it is frightening that the choice to continue using these sites as well as being
able to provide access to them may be taken out of the hands of the Library. The
Deleting Online Predators Act may dictate that the library cannot make the choice for
The tools Web 2.0 provides will help libraries reach the online generation. Banning
the use of these tools is equal to banning the card catalog. Mayra Morales, a regular
library and Myspace user stated, “One of the main reasons I go to the library is to use
MySpace and now they’ve banned it. I won’t be coming here as much” (Morales,
personal communication Dec 1, 2007). This is opposite of the Library Professional’s
goals. Making information more accessible is key for libraries’ survival, and as such,
outreaching into different mediums is forward thinking. The fear of sexual predators is
valid, but in trying to “ban our patrons from using major electronic resources we are
failing our communities and our profession as surely as if we were burning books on the
town green.”(Aiken, 2006)
The use of Web 2.0 tools to keep people informed, interested, and aware of their
library can prove to be powerful. Offering services on social networking sites and
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experimenting with Second Life is a step towards becoming an integrated in a way that
brings people to the library. Attempting to ban these sites from the libraries is only
counterproductive. With some adaptation, the library will be an active physical space in
concurrence with the digital space. Currently libraries are sending mixed messages to
their patrons. They seem to be both embracing this new trend and treating it as
something that should be shunned. However, these tools are a positive way to introduce
the library to a demographic that might not yet realize its vast value. Although the issues
of privacy, pornography and sexual predation are valid concerns, it is important to
remember these are tools. A librarian no more can control how a web space is used, than
it can control how a book is interpreted. Libraries are there to offer access to services and
information, not to adjudicate them.
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Aiken, J. (2006). Hands off MySpace. American libraries, 37(7). Retrieved December 6,
2007, from
Atkins, T. (2007, Jan. 16). 'Life' and learning at TSCPL. The Topeka Capital Journal.
Retrieved December 3, 2001, from
Bell, L., Pope, K., Peters, T., & Galik, B. (2007). Who's on third in Second Life? From
Library 2.0 to Library 3-D. Online, 31(4). Retrieved December 7, 2006, from
Cassidy, J. (2006, May 15). Me Media. The New Yorker. Retrieved December 4, 2007,
Fresco, A. (2007, Oct. 31). Paedophiles live out their fantasies in a virtual world. The
Times (London). Retrieved December 5, 2007, from
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Kroski, E. (2007, August 1). iLibrarian. Retrieved December 5, 2007, from
Oleck, J. (2007). Libraries use myspace to attract teens: more and more libraries are
taking advantage of the popular social networking site. School, 53(7). Retrieved
December 5, 2007, from
Tebbutt, D. (2007, March 5). ITWeek. Retrieved December 6, 2007, from
Tenopir, C. (2007). Living the virtual library life. Library Journal, 132(16), 24. Retrieved
December 4, 2001, from
Walsh, M. (n.d.). MediaPost Publications - The Graying Of MySpace - 10/06/2006.
Retrieved December 7, 2007, from