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Sharing, Privacy and Trust in Our Networked World

— the title of a very long report by Harris Interactive on behalf of the OCLC, available for download (pdf) here. (You can also download sections of the report from here.) In its conclusion it poses the question, 'what are the services and incentives that online libraries could offer users to entice them to come back or to visit more often or even devote some of their own time to help create a social library site?'.

This OCLC membership report explores this web of social participation and cooperation on the Internet and how it may impact the library’s role, including:

  • The use of social networking, social media, commercial and library services on the Web
  • How and what users and librarians share on the Web and their attitudes toward related privacy issues
  • Opinions on privacy online
  • Libraries’ current and future roles in social networking

Any report this long is going to take time to read and digest, but a look at some of the conclusions should whet the appetite:

The drive to participate, to build, to seek out communities is certainly nothing new. “Connect with friends,” “be part of group,” “have fun” and “express myself” are the top motives for using social networks according to our research. We could as easily be describing the motives behind the rise of the telephone, civic associations or, more recently, the cell phone, or the motivations that drew e-mail from the office into the home. The motives that are driving the rise of social networking are not unique. And yet, this particular Internet innovation, the social networking craze, feels different. It doesn’t seem to be playing out like the digital revolutions that preceded it. Social networking is doing something more than advancing communications between individuals, driving commerce or speeding connectivity. It is redefining roles, muddying the waters between audience and creator, rules and relationships, trust and security, private and public. And the roles are changing, not just for a few but for everyone, and every service, on the Web. Whether one views this new social landscape as a great opportunity for improved information creation and exchange or as a messy playground to be tidied up to restore order, depends on one’s point of view. …

We see a social Web developing in an environment where users and librarians have dissimilar, perhaps conflicting, views on sharing and privacy. There is an imbalance. Librarians view their role as protectors of privacy; it is their professional obligation. They believe their users expect this of them. Users want privacy protection, but not for all services. They want the ability to control the protection, but not at the expense of participation. …

… librarians have pioneered many of the digital services we now see in broad use on the Web: intranets to share resources, electronic information databases and “ask-an-expert” services. And although it took some librarians a while to embrace the use of search engines as hubs for information access, librarians are now Googling more frequently than their users and teaching users how to maximize the potential of this powerful tool. But, unfortunately, librarians are not pioneering the social Web.

And from the final section of the conclusion, 'Open the Doors':

Our perceptions become our realities, and often, also our limitations. This was clearly the case for the authors of this report when we began our research on social networks a year ago. There is no doubt that our initial perceptions of social networks influenced our approach to this study. Handicapped by only limited personal experiences with sites, we began our study as we had every study before it—by looking at social networks as a service or set of services to be studied, learned and implemented. We conceived of a social library as a library of traditional services enhanced by a set of social tools—wikis, blogs, mashups and podcasts. Integrated services, of course, user-friendly for sure and offering superior self-service. We were wrong. Our view, after living with the data, struggling with the findings, listening to experts and creating our own social spaces, is quite different. Becoming engaged in the social Web is not about learning new services or mastering new technologies. To create a checklist of social tools for librarians to learn or to generate a “top ten” list of services to implement on the current library Web site would be shortsighted. Such lists exist. Resist the urge to use them.

The social Web is not being built by augmenting traditional Web sites with new tools. And a social library will not be created by implementing a list of social software features on our current sites. The social Web is being created by opening the doors to the production of the Web, dismantling the current structures and inviting users in to create their content and establish new rules. Open the library doors, invite mass participation by users and relax the rules of privacy. It will be messy. The rules of the new social Web are messy. The rules of the new social library will be equally messy. But mass participation and a little chaos often create the most exciting venues for collaboration, creativity, community building—and transformation.