There have been some discussions lately on the use of social media in public libraries in Swedish media. Sharp dichotomies have been drawn between “books” and social media not least within the national daily press – the former is “good”, the latter “bad”. Librarians have been portrayed as enemies of “books” and deep aficionados of everything Internet-based social interaction. My colleague at Lund University, Olof Sundin, has in a recent blog post called for a more sophisticated and nuanced discussion. I agree with him.
The issue of social media in libraries is complex, and I think much of the difficulties that arise when discussing it is due to the fact that this is something completely new that we have not seen in libraries before. There is little doubt that many libraries plunge into social media without a thought through strategy on what to actually do with it. That does however not mean that they are doing anything that will overhaul the very concept of libraries as we know them.
In much of the literature on social media and libraries, often included in visions of the “library 2.0”, we often see a rhetoric which is hard and excluding of what we know as “traditional” library services. In this we can draw parallels to the mid 1990´s, when we see an equivalent in the discussions on how the Internet would affect libraries. The death of traditional libraries and librarianship was seen as imminent – by librarians, not by the users. It didn’t happen though. It will not happen now either.
When the use of social media finds its form and the fascination of what can be done is replaced by a mature insight into how it might be developed into existing library services, the fears and dichotomies will fade away - as they did when Internet matured into the everyday life of libraries and their users.
However, the debate today is important – as blunt as it is - as it points in a direction to where more research is needed. We need to know how use of social media affects the organisations, how it is integrated into existing service forms, how it is received by the users, and in what way it can increase the social roles of libraries. We do not know how it actually affects librarianship as a profession.
Social media is here to stay in libraries. We need to research it. We need to get get more knowledge to be able to go beyond the ever annoying journalistic simplifications that we have to live with today.