There is no doubt that social media is changing the way we communicate with one another, at work, at home and on the road. It is also changing our information practices and behaviors. I just finished collaborating with two librarians on a paper about a social media topic for libraries–social cataloging–that was drafted on a wiki (an early draft of which is here). I bookmark sites I find interesting or want to revisit with delicious frequently, and occasionally with vigor. Twitter has changed the way people communicate with their friends, and their colleagues (pdf). Google Wave is threatening to overthrow email as we know it, and has potential to even seep into other lines of professional work as complex as clinical practice. Many get our news from @ccnbrk or @guardiannews or @nytimes.
Why is it then that so few institutions have drafted acceptable use policies for their employees or students? We have heard the stories of tweets gone wrong, from jurors tweeting from the courtroom, to students threatening one another, to employers denying interviewees an opportunity because of some raunchy pictures on facebook.
Of course no amount of policy or rule drafting is going to solve everyone’s problems, nor can it control individual users determined to overshare, act out, or blow the whistle, and should not be written to stifle social media use. In the sports world, policy documents have come into place from the NFL and NBA that focus largely on banning certain behavior, instead of encouraging appropriate use. This is reactive policy, seemingly drafted in response to inappropriate social media behavior, and highlights the need for policies and procedures to be in place before something truly harmful happens. What policies can and should establish is a set of positive and encouraging guidelines on how to use social media to the maximum benefits for oneself and for the institution(s) with which one is are associated.
Again, encouraging policy and appropriate use can’t and won’t control users at the individual level, but at least it establishes examples of appropriate use that can help illuminate appropriate and positive social media use (especially for those users unfamiliar with the concept of social media to begin with), and also provides a fallback for an institution that finds themselves in a sticky situation with someone who is, for example, facebooking nasty things about their boss. Right now, it is possible to argue “Where does it say I can’t call my boss a wanker online?” That is, of course, common sense to you and me, but not everyone is as rational and smart as us, you see.
Libraries are in the same boat. We have users and staff and librarians and faculty and students all out there in the wide world of the web, with hardly anything but Elyssa Kroski’s recent School Library Journal article on social media policy. In it, she cites seven existing library policies. Seven. And from libraries that I’ve hardly heard of. There has been enough discussion of Library 2.0 in the literature for it to now be on the radar that best practices and appropriate use need to be at the forefront of any library’s online initiatives. So much of the hard work and stumbling blocks of social media use have been codified already, it is time to move on and write the page on how to make your library’s social media presence clear and unified.