SPEC Kit 304: Social Software in Libraries · 11
Executive Summary
Social software, software that enables people to con-
nect with one another online, is a well-established
phenomenon that has continued to grow and develop
since the inception of the Internet. While Facebook
and MySpace are relatively new types of communica-
tion venues,1 computer users have been chatting in
online forums such as IRC2 or the WELL3 and com-
muning in virtual worlds and using wikis4 since the
1980s. Social software has, however, become much
more accessible to the casual computer user since
the development of the World Wide Web in 1994.
The Web enabled online communication to transition
from a strictly textual format to the visual, facilitating
the development of the user friendly media sharing
sites, wikis, blogs and other types of social software
that we are familiar with today. Related to social
software is the idea of “Library 2.0,” or enhancing
library resources and services using social software,
to reach users outside the walls of the traditional li-
brary. While many libraries had been experimenting
with social software prior to 2005, this philosophy
of extending services and communication beyond
traditional models became very prominent in the
literature and practice after this date.
In the last few years the use of social software has
grown enormously in society. MySpace.com attracted
more than 114 million visitors in June 2007, a 72% in-
crease in one year, while Facebook grew 270%, to 52.2
million visitors. While a growing number of librar-
ies have adopted social software as a way to further
interact with library patrons and library staff, many
things are unclear about the use of social software in
ARL member libraries. This survey was designed to
discover how many libraries and library staff are us-
ing social software and for what purposes, how those
activities are organized and managed, and the ben-
efits and challenges of using social software, among
other questions. For this study social software was
broadly defined as software that enables people to
connect with one another online. The survey asked
about ten types of applications: 1) social networking
sites; 2) media sharing sites; 3) social bookmarking
or tagging sites; 4) Wikis; 5) blogs; 6) sites that use
RSS (Really Simple Syndication) to syndicate and
broadcast content; 7) chat or instant messaging (IM)
services; 8) VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) ser-
vices; 9) virtual worlds; and 10) widgets.
This survey was distributed to the 123 ARL mem-
ber libraries in February 2008. Sixty-four libraries
completed the survey by the March 14 deadline for
a response rate of 52%. All but three of the respond-
ing libraries report that their library staff uses social
software (95%) and one of those three plans to begin
using social software in the future. The other two
completed the survey at this point. Fifty-nine libraries
provide user assistance via chat or instant messenger
(94%), 54 use wikis (86%), 53 employ RSS to dissemi-
nate information to users (84%), 52 blog (82%), 45 use
widgets such as MeeboMe (71%), 44 participate in so-
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