Why isn’t TPL on MySpace?

It’s not enough for a library system to have its own Web site anymore. You also have to show you’re totally with the program by getting on the various social-networking sites.

As far as that goes, TPL is really just “on the Facebook.” The Web team has its own blog, and there’s a Twitter feed for those of you keen on the fastest and most convenient medium of cyberbullying known to humankind. (The account name, @torontolibrary, shows second-mover disadvantage – @TPL was already taken.) But that’s kind of it.

Keeping up with the Joneses can become a war of attrition. Maybe you remember Friendster and Orkut, the latter of which is still big with the Brazilians. Maybe you’d have to hire your own personal social coördinator to keep adding and updating profiles and re-refriending all your refriended friends.

Too much trouble if you’re just a person sitting at a computer? Of course. But is it too much trouble for an organization? A publicly-funded organization? A public library? What happens if you don’t go to that trouble?

What happens is an unintended class division, according to researcher Danah Boyd. (It’s pronounced “Dayna” Boyd. It’s Dana with an h.)

Her research (chiefly on teens, all in the U.S.) shows that MySpace users and Facebook users are two groups of people with little overlap. The Facebook microcosm is richer, whiter, and better educated.

The fact that digital migration is revealing the same social patterns as urban white flight should send warning signals to everyone out there….

Unlike teens who are often straddling MySpace and Facebook, most adults are active on one or the other unless they have a specific professional or hobby-based reason to be on both. Many of you know people who joined Facebook in the last year. Well, numerous adults have also joined MySpace in the last year. My guess is that not many of you know adults who have recently created accounts on MySpace. Why? Because they probably aren’t like you. […]

We cannot expect technology to automatically integrate people and generate cultural harmony. Although most of you call these sites “social-networking sites,” there’s almost no networking going on. People use these sites to connect to the people they know. In other words, even if they could talk across the divide, they might not anyhow. […]

Many of us… see social network sites as a modern-day incarnation of the public sphere…. Educators try to connect with students and build knowledge sharing communities. This is fantastic. But there isn’t one uniform public sphere. There are numerous publics (and counterpublics).

Serving multiple publics

This reminds me of something I’ve been working on for a while just for this little blog. Many years ago, perhaps more than ten, I read an op-ed piece in the paper from a writer and intellectual who decried TPL’s expansion of its programs to include illiterate patrons. I believe her examples were audio CDs and movies. (Separately, I believe TPL has data showing that people who borrow those also tend to borrow reading material. So the idea they’re just for illiterates doesn’t hold water.)

She complained further that these CDs and movies were cutting into the acquisitions budget, meaning longer waits for her precious writerly intellectual books. They spent most of their time “on trucks,” I clearly remember her claiming. This is crazy, of course; they’re driving across town, not down from North Bay. (What’s the citation for all this? I don’t have one. I’ve gone to elaborate lengths searching article databases and have come up with nothing. You’re going to have to go with my memory here.)

I’m one of those people who is rampantly and adamantly in favour of libraries doing unlibrarylike things. What’s it gonna take to get video-game nights at TPL? (Do an over-18s night and we can play Grand Theft Auto.) The library now loans pedometers. Why not drills and cake pans?

At the same time, I actually agree with the writer of the op-ed piece: Yes, tiny Jones branch, you really do have to process my avalanche of interloan requests, including requests for rare and expensive graphic-design books that nobody else in the entire postal code is interested in. You have to cater to my specialized, individual, and indeed writerly and intellectual tastes.

Be online everywhere

TPL needs a “presence” on Facebook, but I now agree with Danah Boyd. They’ve got to be pretty much everywhere online, including ghetto hangouts like MySpace and intellectual æries like LibraryThing.

  • Why can’t TPL have a PayPal account for cash donations?
  • Why can’t it have its own page on Amazon, with a wishlist of pre-screened books people can buy for the library?
  • Why not start up a custom social network (as via Ning, though accessibility is an issue) just for local users? Like everybody who uses Jones/Pape/Queen-Saulter/Riverdale/Gerrard-Ashdale?

I’m actually not worried about providing core services to people who don’t use computer. The library already does that. You can call them up (with difficulty, call via TTY) or visit any branch; they can place holds and answer questions and so on. Bookmobiles come to your hood if you’re far from a library, and if you are very ill and housebound, the Home Library Service will bring books right to you.

But I think TPL is unintentionally carrying out class warfare against certain online user groups. Facebook is the educated middle-class person’s social network, but a public library must serve more people than that.