Archivists and Facebook

I joined Facebook about a month ago specifically to gather information about its potential value for archives. I’m ready to report. I don’t think it has much value for archives. I think it has a lot of potential value for archivists. Let me explain.

I agree with what I think is the common opinion: that Facebook will not prove to be a useful tool for spreading information about individual archival collections or for reaching out to potential users about what we do and what we have. Or as Joy Palmer wrote on the Archives Hub Blog:

I am not convinced, however, that librarians or archivists should be “going where their market is” into facebook and other social networking applications. For one thing, I don’t think we’re wanted there–not as service providers, at least. Similarly, students are voicing distinct disgruntlement over well intentioned lecturers invading their online networking spaces in the interest of “collaborative e-pedagogy.” I am doubtful that Facebook is a space where learning and knowledge communities will meaningfully come together.

I’m not saying that an archives can’t have a successful Facebook page (although I only found two pages for archives) or that we can’t find a way to build a Facebook application that wouldn’t be really cool. That’s possible, but I think there are probably better investments of your institutional time.

For you as an individual archivist, on the other hand, I think it might be worth it for social networking. When I joined, I knew for sure that one of my archivist friends was on it. I now have 17 “friends” who are archivists. Based on the membership of the various groups and looking around at other archivists’ friends, I know of at least fifty or so more archivists who are there, but I’ve tried not to be too pushy about sending friend requests to people I don’t really know. I should add that I really don’t know most of my 17 archivist “friends” very well, but I know most of them a lot better now than I used to. Sure, some of this knowledge is trivial stuff about music and movies, but you do kind of get a sense of what people are like. This is the social aspect–being on Facebook is a bit like hanging out together chatting about what’s new. If you’re an archivist working by yourself and you don’t have many opportunities for networking, you might like this aspect.

If being social with other archivists doesn’t interest you, there are the actual “groups” formed around archives. I’m a member of six of these–they range in size from 338 to 28. The three larger ones have a large percentage of members from outside the US; the smaller three are mostly, but not exclusively, Americans. A search this morning turned up seven other groups:

  • MAC (the Midwest Archives Conference) (25 members),
  • Canadian Archivists (96 members),
  • Aberystwyth-Bred Archivists (33 members),
  • Moving Image Archivists (209 members),
  • College and University Archivists (4 members),

the last two, I’m happy to say, none of my friends are in:

  • Archivists Past Caring (25 members, open by invitation only), and
  • Self-Loathing Librarians and Archivists (65 members).

The six archives groups that I joined are not terribly active. Most have a couple of topics posted for discussion and a couple of wall posts, but not what I’d call active conversations. There has been some discussion about archives and 2.0 topics in the “Archivists on Facebook” group–in fact I’ve added some new sites to the “Archives & New Technology” page here based on suggestions from an archivist in Denmark. (See new section “Cool things that are not in English!” at the end.)

A friend asked me which of the archives groups she should join. I’m not sure. I’d like to focus in on one and try to make it grow and be more active. I see potential in the concept of the groups for communication with our international colleagues and with archivists who are just entering the profession (since more of them are likely to be on Facebook). There’s a knowledge-sharing or informal mentoring opportunity there. I can see the possibility for having exchanges on current books or articles (maybe an Archives Book Club?) I think MAC is smart to have a group, and I think MARAC should have one too. It’s an easy way to have ongoing discussions around multiple topics.

Well, those are my initial impressions–what experiences have you had? Any fans of other social networking sites out there? Any groups that I missed? Do you see more potential for archival institutions than I do? Is Facebook just one more thing on the web for you to check everyday (like the blogs), but not one that you see as having value?

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8 thoughts on “Archivists and Facebook”

  1. Holy cow. It never occurred to me at all that Archivists would have Facebook groups. (I suppose it makes sense when you think about it– we’re all about the new technologies, and there WAS a blogger meeting at SAA 2007…) And I definitely see people I know on these– it’s a small world after all…

    I’d totally be up for helping to revive one of these. And… oh wow. Peter Kurilecz is a member of Archivists Make it Last Longer. That totally just made my day.

  2. I find myself in agreement with most, if not all of this post. The social networking aspect is the 21st century equivalent of the conference hotel lobby/bar at 10:00 PM. To answer your question, I do think there is potential for archives on Facebook. If nothing else, it’s one way to manage “Friends of..” kinds of groups. But I also believe that Facebook is yet another way archives can get information about their materials out there, even if it is only to set up a page and provide a link to their website.

    I would also not be so quick to dismiss Facebook as a place where there will never be meaningful connection between knowledge and learning communities. Since Facebook has opened their API to anyone, there is the potential for programmers to build the kinds of applications that will provide that connectivity that is, perhaps, a little more professional, or academic, or whatever.

  3. One of the things I bet the librarians might have already figured out is which book application is the best. I had played with librarything independently, and you can link to that on facebook, but it is not as good a facebook application as ireadit [a friend on facebook who is a publisher is using it]. Indeed one of the things I need to understand better about facebook before I give up on it as a timewaster is how the applications are built. It may be true that archivist don’t need to use it to promote their stuff, but the development culture is interesting to me as someone interested in digital records. I don’t know about the Archives Book Club, but they are easy to make on ireadit.

  4. Two quick points –

    1) I had thought about making the comparison to the hotel bar, but I didn’t want to discourage people by making it look too frivolous. But, yes, actually, it is a lot like that. It’s also cheaper, smoke-free, and you can show up in your pajamas.

    2) There is now a MARAC group, open to everyone. Please join. I should have noted that there’s also a group for the ACA 2008 meeting in Fredericton, NB in addition to a group for Canadian Archivists.

  5. I generally agree with the post as well (how does all of this affirmation feel?). I did not join Facebook to “find” any of my friends from back in the day (though they do seem to find me) or because I needed another social networking option. I joined to find out about the life of the institution I had moved to, in particular what students and alumni have to say about their university and the groups and connections they form with each other. Documenting these unofficial student activities is difficult and nearly impossible if they are not posting flyers on campus for the archivist to happen upon as in the past, so I look for postings and links in places like Facebook. I am not simply grabbing the content created in Facebook, but do attempt to follow-up by contacting students and alumni to talk about their organization, event, etc. and how we can best document X and add records to the University Archives.

    Facebook as an outreach tool seems to be a mixed bag to date. I do think posting links to our repositories’ websites, Flickr account, exhibits, upcoming events, etc. is important and certainly plan to continue to do so. Was the response to the one event I created in Facebook overwhelming? No, but I like to think it can only grow with subsequent events. I have noticed that the images in the Flickr account I set-up for department images that appear as thumbnails in my Facebook account have much higher numbers of views – routinely in the range of 10 times as many views as the other images in the account. While I realize of course that it could be just you folks 90% of the time clicking through to my images over and over again, I would assume you have better things to do and might wonder “haven’t I already seen this piece of a bell that survived a fire in 1859??” But then again, outreach in the academic setting is not just about students, alumni, and faculty/staff, but you, my esteemed colleagues, who might learn a little something about our holdings and pass that on someday.

    Also, I find that my student workers respond to me much faster via Facebook as opposed to email and I’m (usually) not even shaming them by asking them why they did not show up for work on their walls.

  6. Social networking sites like Facebook have great potential to replace listservs, since they allow for the inclusion of more dynamic content like pictures and videos. And, subjectively speaking, the discussion board threads don’t feel as fleeting as emails.

    However, it doesn’t seem to have caught yet in this capacity. And at present, Facebook is less convenient to access than your email inbox.

    By the way, I think someone should start an Archives 2.0 facebook group.

  7. I think there’s a lot of potential for social networking sites (perhaps not Facebook, which after all is only one instance) to be valuable to researchers in archives. So that’s thinking about archives not as institutions or professionals, but as the people who turn up to research with our collections.

    It really comes down to figuring out which elements of research are social, and which social spaces your researchers are occupying. I see a lot of family history researchers in the library and archive where I work, and if there’s one thing you can say about family history researchers, it’s that they’re not afraid to reach out for advice and tips online.

    I have a perfect example of this – we were contacted recently by someone who’d heard about a card index of Dockyard employees we have. This is a unique but hidden resource that isn’t catalogued or listed in finding aids on our website. The enquirer had heard about it from someone else on a family history forum – we’d sent her some information from it way back in 1991. I’d say that that kind of social networking has huge value for archives.

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