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?