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D-Lib Magazine

November/December 2011
Volume 17, Number 11/12


Academic Libraries on Facebook: An Analysis of Users' Comments

Michalis Gerolimos
Alexander Technological Educational Institute of Thessaloniki, Greece




This paper examines users' comments on the Facebook pages of 20 American academic libraries and subdivides them into 22 categories. A total of 3,513 posts were examined and analyzed in various ways, including how many of the posts included user comments and how many had none; how many comments were included in each post; and what the percentage of user participation was on the library walls, in terms of "likes" and comments. The most significant findings are that approximately 91% of the posts do not include any comments, over 82% of user participation is expressed via the "like" functionality and most comments on academic libraries' Facebook pages are not uploaded by prospective users (i.e., college and university faculty and students) but rather by library personnel, employees affiliated with the same institution as the library, and alumni.


1. Introduction

Facebook has been a dominant presence in our lives in the past several years and there is no evidence at the moment that it will stop being so. The debate about Facebook has only just begun and academia has been fertile ground for exploring the possibilities that it presents as an educational tool, in general, as well as a tool to publicize services offered by academic libraries. It has been a subject of much discussion and exchange of arguments, with the balance of opinions favoring its use. There are, however, many who believe that we are jumping on the bandwagon too fast, and that there are many things about Facebook use and users that need to be understood before we embrace it as a tool that can be utilized for activities other than leisure and social interaction in a digital space.

What makes Facebook such a popular subject in literature is its unparalleled popularity, especially among university and college students (Smith and Caruso, 2010). We should, however, view its widespread use with some skepticism, not only because its popularity might change but mostly because Facebook is above all a commercial company and its goals, means, expectations, and, ultimately, economic gains are different from the ones that academia and students should serve or aim toward.

This study explores the use of Facebook by academic libraries. The study included recording, examining, and evaluating the comments that users leave on the walls. Research was based on an examination of users' comments posted on the Facebook pages of the 20 American libraries listed in the Appendix, and their analysis in 22 different categories.

At a detailed level, this paper explores the possibilities and challenges that Facebook presents to academic libraries that choose to set up a page — especially when they use the wall — not only as an announcement service but also as a forum where students can communicate with the library and exchange ideas with its personnel and among themselves. This paper focuses on documenting user feedbacks posted on the library wall and on a quantitative and qualitative analysis of their content.

Additionally, this study provides several metrics regarding user comments on the wall such as the number of comments per library, if the comments are related to the library or not, the percentage of library posts that had no comments or "likes", the ratio of comments vs. "likes", and the feedback and comments per post and per library. It aims to help the reader understand how library users interact with a library in this particular online environment, and what the problems and the potential benefits are for academic libraries that choose to use Facebook.


2. Limitations

This method of research cannot document other types of interaction with library Facebook pages by library users, since it cannot evaluate the web traffic for those pages and/or any communication through synchronous or asynchronous messages and chat tools. Only the use of the tool known as the "wall", which is probably the most popular Facebook feature (Pew Internet and American Life Project, 2007), was documented.


3. Literature review

Early literature about libraries on Facebook is often characterized by a romantic presentation of Facebook's possibilities for libraries and librarians alike. Librarians have overestimated the usefulness of Facebook for promoting services and reaching out to prospective users, but mostly they have overestimated the willingness of users to consider it a beneficial library-related tool.

Hodgkinson (2008) strongly criticizes the nature and scope of Facebook, arguing that its sole purpose is to exploit user data and sell that data for profit, and Wolf (2008) argues that "Web 2.0" has been a breeding ground for hate. This was not confirmed in this study, probably because of the academic background and institutional status of the subjects in the sample. There were, however, some religion-related comments expressed in an aggressive manner.

Joinson (2008) identified seven unique uses and gratifications for Facebook, and Sekyere (2009) pointed out the obvious; it is the very nature of Facebook that affects the way university and college students feel about a library's effort to reach out to them and advertise or deliver its services and, particularly, their resistance to interacting with Facebook to advance their academic work.

3.1 Facebook in education

The possibilities that Facebook presents as an educational tool are explored in several papers. Madge (2009) found that it is used primarily for social reasons and not for teaching-related purposes, while Ismail (2010) argued that the Net Generation does not look to popular web tools such as Facebook for research assistance. Another study by Roblyer et al. (2010) challenges its role as an educational tool; they found that Facebook use among faculty and students for instructional purposes is limited and that this is the least common use of this technology. Ophus and Abbitt (2009) found that Facebook was most frequently used for communicating with friends, while communicating with instructors was the least frequent.

Pempek et al. (2009) identified the same mentality regarding its use in academia. They found that communicating with friends was the most popular reason to use Facebook and finding help with schoolwork was among the least. In addition, a survey conducted by Valenzuela et al. (2009) recorded that 51.5% of its users do not read or post on groups as part of their daily activities, and 64.3% rarely visit the profiles of groups they have joined. Selwyn (2009) found that only 4% of a total of 68,169 students' personal wall postings he analyzed were related to education.

Kirschner and Karpinski (2010) and Karpinski and Duberstein (2009) surveyed undergraduate and graduate students and found that Facebook users had lower GPAs (Grade Point Averages) compared to non-users and that they also spend fewer hours studying than non-users. The findings of the two papers were challenged by Pasek et al. (2009) whose study found no evidence that Facebook use affects academic performance in a negative way.

Hew (2011) concluded that high school students use it mostly for social interaction, primarily focusing on maintain their existing (off-line) friendships, an argument that might also explain the limited interest that users show in accessing Facebook library pages. He also stated that results of previous research showed that Facebook had very little educational use.

3.2 Libraries on Facebook

There are, naturally, several papers that attempt to explore the possibilities and drawbacks that using Facebook might have for libraries. Jacobson (2011) found that current literature on Facebook use by libraries falls into five areas of interest; "how-to" studies, library-centered case studies, student-based research, service-provided analysis and perceived-use study.

Hendrix et al. (2009) surveyed academic health science librarians to find out their opinions and perceptions of how and why libraries should or should not use Facebook. They concluded that the two most cited reasons that a library did not set up a Facebook page were a) the lack of time, and b) the belief that Facebook would be of little or no use in an academic setting. In addition, they found that most libraries use Facebook mainly to market the library, push out announcements to library users, post photos, provide chat reference, and have a presence in the social network. Jacobson (2011) tried to investigate the reported versus actual use of Facebook in libraries using the results of the previously cited 2009 study by Hendrix et al. The results of her study differ, with the exception of the marketing/announcements category, which is also the most popular use of Facebook in libraries. She found that OPAC (Online Public Access Catalog) search and requests for response (RSVP) to events are more popular than the previous study had shown, while displaying photos, attempting to be where users are, reference services, and providing a forum for users are the least popular features of Facebook.

Mack et al. (2007) claimed that there is an "apparent willingness of undergraduate students to communicate with librarians by means of Facebook," a statement that should be reconsidered and updated to allow for today's libraries' Facebook format and content, as well as in the way college and university students use it to further their academic work.

Dickson and Holley (2010) reported some of the drawbacks that libraries face when they engage in social networking which are, among other things, that libraries' networks experience low use, and that students do not use services like Facebook to connect with libraries, an argument supported by this study as well. Moreover, Chu and Meulemans (2008) argued that students might hesitate to connect with libraries via Facebook and that they consider email to be a more appropriate means of communication for that purpose. Also, they suggested the use of Facebook for content delivery, reference assistance, information literacy instruction and outreach. Connell (2009 p. 32) found that only 17% of the students she surveyed would proactively add a library as a friend, while 58% would accept the library's request but not be proactive about it, and 25% would not accept a request to become friends with the library.

Graham et al. (2009) shared a positive experience when they decided to use Facebook to publicize library services, and they consider it to be a professional tool. They also raised some questions with regard to the accuracy of measures used to determine successful implementations of Facebook in libraries, such as the number of friends/likes, rate of updated information/number of posts, number of questions asked/answered, etc., several of which are also used to determine its successful implementation by academic libraries in this study as well.

Regarding the synergy that Facebook holds for academic libraries, Loving and Ochoa (2011) advocated its use, referencing the number of students that are currently using it and the amount of time they spend logged on to the website. This is an example of how some librarians believe that the "generic" use of Facebook (i.e., for social interaction and communication) will favor its ad hoc exploitation as a tool for libraries. In reality, this synergy should be determined based on exactly the opposite grounds; the more time users stay logged on to satisfy their need for social interaction, the less likely it is that they will visit a library page.

Similar arguments to the ones expressed by Loving and Ochoa (2011) can be found in several papers published since the advent of social media and networks. Usually, the authors of these papers overestimate the popularity of the medium and focus less on the products that the library delivers through those services (e.g. Click and Petit, 2010; Rogers, 2009; Mitchell and Watstein, 2007; Abrahm, 2006).

Mitchell and Watstein (2007 p. 521) claim that "today's reference and information literacy librarians have a unique opportunity to step up to the multifaceted challenge of 'visibility' in these environs" (such as Facebook and YouTube) based on the fact that these online environments are the places where students and scholars "exist." This has been another misleading element of applications like Facebook for many libraries and librarians. We do not have to be where our users are, nor do we have a better chance of increasing library use because we decided that it is now time to follow them around their virtual socializing and message exchange with their friends.


4. Research methodology

The 20 American academic library Facebook pages were randomly chosen from the list of the best universities in the world in 2010 according to the QS, World University Rankings. The author browsed the list in order to find university libraries that have a Facebook presence with a satisfactory number of wall posts. Ultimately, the list of the 20 sample libraries was finalized when it was considered that 3,500 wall posts was a sufficient sample to investigate. The data collection covered the period of time beginning on 1 January 2010 and ending on 3 March 2011. Five libraries were on Facebook for a shorter period of time: Pennsylvania State University Libraries, University of Michigan Library, New York University Libraries, University of Washington Libraries, and University of Virginia Library. After choosing the libraries, the author became a "follower" of each library by pressing the "like" button.

User participation is defined in this study in terms of posts that include their likes and comments. In addition, the term "feedback" is used to describe a post that contains either a "like" or a comment. Also, if a post includes both a comment and a "like" from the same user, only the comment is counted, while library comments or "likes" are not counted at all. Furthermore, since it was not possible to trace back every user who posted on the walls to determine if he or she was a student, it was decided that all comments would be recorded as user comments. It should be clarified that a "like" on the page is akin to the "add friend" feature that individuals use to "friend" each other and enables the person who "liked" the library to follow its news and updates (see also Figure 1). A "like" placed on a comment is similar to leaving a comment, but it is mostly an indication that someone agrees with the original post.

Comments were divided into several categories following two approaches. First, the author designed a basic categories context based on his own experience and perceptions of Facebook use and online library services. Second, an initial investigation of every page in the sample was conducted by browsing those pages in order to identify additional categories. Ultimately, it was decided to divide user comments into 22 categories, shown below. Twelve categories are related to the library as a building, an institution, or a virtual place. The other ten categories are user comments that, although any of them may be found on the library pages, are not directly related to the library or its posts.

Library related (R) Not library related (NR)
  • General information about the library
  • Reference questions
  • Working hours
  • Directions
  • Complimentary comments
  • Funny comments
  • General comments related to library posts
  • Comments related to library equipment/hardware/software
  • Complaints
  • Lost and found service
  • Thankful comments
  • Suggestions
  • Advertisements
  • Hate speech
  • Friendship
  • Complimentary comments
  • Funny comments
  • Other institutional services
  • News
  • Offensive language
  • General comments
  • Religious/Political comments

The following should be taken into consideration:

  • "General information about the library" category includes information about the library's operation, loan privileges, etc.
  • "General comments related to library posts" is a category that includes comments not assigned to any other category and is mostly "conversational" in nature; for example, a user expressing his wish to get library mugs or someone commenting on the coming of spring.
  • "Thankful comments" category includes replies from users expressing their gratitude for a reply posted by the library.
  • Advertising comments are not exclusively commercially related but may advertise other institutional services as well.
  • "Friendship" category refers to messages exchanged on a library page among friends (e.g. greetings) that are not related to the library or the original post.
  • "Other institutional services" category includes comments from other agencies affiliated with the institution that the library is part of; for example, a procurement office or student enrollment office.
  • "General comments" (NR) includes comments not assigned to any other category.

5. Research findings

The first element recorded when visiting the 20 pages was the number of "likes" for each page (shown in Figure 1 below). Although the author does not credit it with being the most important element of this study, it does provide a measure of the level of interest that libraries attract on Facebook. As reported above, some libraries at that time had been online on Facebook for only a short period of time (e.g. New York University Libraries and University of Michigan Library).

Figure 1 also provides evidence that library pages on Facebook are not among the most popular or at least the most known pages on Facebook, especially when we consider that the libraries in the sample are among the most popular and well known academic libraries in the world; and a small number of followers/"likers" may impact the success of using Facebook as a marketing/promotional/outreach tool.

Figure 1: "Likes" on library pages on Facebook (March 2011)

5.1 Users' comments on the wall

The author browsed the wall of each Facebook page during the data collection period. Every comment found was added to one of the 22 categories. There was a total of 477 comments recorded from the 3,513 posts examined (0.13 comments per post). Most comments on the libraries' walls were complimentary (32.91%), followed by general comments regarding the posts made by the libraries (29.77%). The majority of the compliments came from colleagues and former employees of the libraries who used the wall to comment. There were, of course, some cases where students complimented the library, e.g. regarding a collection, but that was rare.

There were only six reference questions (1.26%) and there were five categories that had no comments; no user asked for directions via the wall and there were no comments related to offensive language, hate speech, fun (NR), or news. Forty-three comments (9.01%) were funny/humorous (or as Selwyn (2009) calls it, "Banter"), and 35 (7.34%) comments provided some suggestions for the library (for example to provide more natural light in the reading room or to stay open 24 hours during the period of examinations).

Comments Category Total Number Percentage
Complimentary 157 32.91%
General comments on library posts 142 29.77%
Funny/Humorous 43 9.01%
Suggestions 35 7.34%
Advertisements (NR) 21 4.40%
Complaints 16 3.35%
General comments (NR) 11 2.31%
Other institutional services (NR) 10 2.10%
Thankful comments 9 1.89%
General information about the library 8 1.68%
Reference questions 6 1.26%
Religious/Political comments (NR) 6 1.26%
Library equipment 5 1.05%
Working hours 4 0.84%
Friendship (NR) 2 0.42%
Lost and found 1 0.21%
Complimentary (NR) 1 0.21%
Directions 0 0.00%
Hate speech (NR) 0 0.00%
Funny/Humorous (NR) 0 0.00%
News (NR) 0 0.00%
Offensive language (NR) 0 0.00%

In many cases, the wall contained comments confined to 2 to 3 categories, most often "complimentary" and "general". Georgia Tech Library is an exception; it had the largest variety of comments in different categories, and it is among the few, if not the only one, where its users actually asked questions. It does not, however, escape the rule of limited user participation in general. As a side note, the Georgia Tech Library did not reply to a reference question posted on 16 September 2010 and missed a question regarding working hours on 31 July 2010.

Table 1: Analysis of users' comments per library in the Appendix provides a more analytical view of user comments, based on the number of comments related to the library and those that have no relation to the library as an organization or its services. The column "user posts on wall" provides data on users as authors of wall posts instead of the library; those comments are not counted as a different statistical data and their values are counted in the previous two columns, as well. The Dartmouth College Library page includes the most comments generated by users in the sample (74) and New York University Libraries, University of Michigan Library, and Pennsylvania State University Libraries have zero comments. Dartmouth College Library again ranks first in the library-related comments category (73), while Cornell University Library has the most comments not related to the library (17). Also, Perry Castañeda (PCL) & the University of Texas at Austin Libraries' page on Facebook includes the most user posts on the wall (12), while Yale University Library was the only one that did not allow users to start their own post.

5.2 Facebook as an outreach and marketing tool

It became evident in this research that even for those libraries that have a limited flow of feedbacks, it is usually a small group of people that provide them, e.g. UNC University Libraries and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Main Library. Users posting those feedbacks are often colleagues — most likely from the same institution — or librarians working in that particular library. In both cases, they use their personal accounts to post and they are not actual library users (or at least students), like users at Perry Castañeda (PCL) & the University of Texas at Austin Libraries, the Fondren Library — Rice University, and especially Pennsylvania State University Libraries. Surprisingly, some libraries choose to "like" their own posts rather often, such as the Perry Castañeda (PCL) & the University of Texas at Austin Libraries and the Washington University Libraries — Olin Library.

Another aspect of Facebook use that needs to be mentioned is that in some cases librarians create posts that could be characterized as unnecessary, or even unprofessional. In a more detailed review of Dartmouth College Library's page, the question asked by the library on 3 November 2010, "What book did you absolutely love when you were a kid?" received six comments/responses, out of which one was by a Dartmouth employee and five by employees at the Dartmouth College Library. The same situation occurred when the Fondren Library — Rice University posted, on 7 October 2010, a close-up picture of a librarian walking to work. That post received one comment from a fellow librarian and seven likes, six from Rice University librarians and one from a librarian working in a different university. Besides the nature and origin of the comments/"likes" in that post, it is unlikely that a library user would consider commenting on a photograph like this, and it is puzzling why a library would upload this photo on its outreach/marketing/ promotion/"let's go where our users are" tool.

Users' limited and infrequent responses to the efforts of libraries to reach out through the use of Facebook activities or posts do not, in many cases, permit the efforts to be considered successful. For example, when Dartmouth College Library asked the question "Here's what I'm currently reading. What about you?" on 16 February 2011, out of the more than 500 people who hit the "like" button and those that read the post, there were only three responses; most likely none of them came from students at Dartmouth College. A few days before, on 27 January 2011, when the library posted another question: "For a video project, please tell us: What are your favorite library study spaces and why do you choose them? Do you crave quiet? Need face time? Prefer natural light? Tell us where and why," only one comment and one like was received. The same situation was evidenced at the Pennsylvania State University Libraries when they asked on 27 August 2010: "[Penn State University Library] is curious: what's everyone reading these days? Is it good?" The question received two responses, one of which was from the library supervisor.

It was documented that posts with photographs attract more feedback than other posts. For example, on the Columbia University Libraries' 21 January 2011 post, photographs uploaded by the libraries received 18 feedbacks; 17 were "likes" and one was a comment. The same situation occurred on 6 May 2010; the post including photographs had 15 feedbacks; seven were "likes" and eight were comments (seven complimentary), and on the UNC University Libraries post on 24 June 2010, there were 27 feedbacks; 23 "likes" and four comments (all complimentary).

This research indicates that because only a small percentage of feedbacks come from students and actual library users, and even reaching out to users by asking questions or posting interesting (or even unprofessional-seeming) photographs does not result in a significant or sustained number of feedbacks, it is unlikely that Facebook would be considered an effective outreach and marketing tool by any of the academic libraries surveyed.

5.3 Feedbacks, likes, and comments

Another interesting aspect of this research was determining how many of the posts included comments or "likes" and how many had none. These numbers provide more data regarding how often users return to, and participate on, the wall activity. What was apparent in almost all cases was that there was a very high percentage of posts that contained no comments at all and often there was not even feedback (either a comment or a "like"). On average, 63.42% of the posts examined included no feedbacks and 90.83% had no comments; out of the 3,513 posts, 3,191 had no comments and 2,228 had no feedbacks (see also Table 2), clearly showing that overall, users rarely create content (comments) or participate ("likes").

Table 2: Percentage of posts that had no feedbacks and comments shows that an analysis of each library indicated that there were noticeable differences in the amount of user generated content and participation percentages. For example, Yale University Library had some of the highest user activity on the wall, with only 34.91% of the posts with no feedback and only 82.08% with no comments, which is lower than the average. Princeton University Library, UC Berkeley Library, and University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Main Library library also had more user participation compared to the rest of the libraries. University of Michigan Library, University of Virginia Library, Perry Castañeda (PCL) & the University of Texas at Austin Libraries, and Fondren Library — Rice University had the highest percentages of posts that had no comments or feedbacks.

5.4 "Likes"vs comments

This study examined the ratio of "likes" versus comments on posts that include feedbacks. The author considers user participation via the "like" functionality to be of significantly less value than participation via a comment. The first shows a level of interest, but it has no real interventional power and it is rather an expression of popularity that follows a general trend on Facebook. Comments afford users the opportunity to challenge the library and its personnel, either by giving a suggestion, making a complaint, or even asking a simple question. However, because comments were rare, and most of the comments were complimentary, in this case, the comments resemble the "like" functionality.

Table 3: Ratio of comments and "likes" in feedbacks shows that on average, 82.75% of user feedbacks were actually "likes" and only 17.25% were comments; out of the total 2,766 feedbacks recorded, 2,289 were "likes" and only 477 were comments. This is also evidence of the low level of user interest in library Facebook pages, as a much lower level of participation is required when pressing a button than when posting a comment. It is possible that the whole mentality of how Facebook is structured (success is measured in raw numbers, should they be number of friends or number of "likes") has affected the way libraries operate on it as well. Although this is a virtual place, libraries that seek to improve themselves based on user feedback are not likely to find fertile ground on Facebook.

5.5 Relation of library posts to user participation

For the Perry Castañeda (PCL) & the University of Texas at Austin Libraries we can identify a pattern regarding user participation and interest generated by library posts. Although their Facebook page was ranked 1st among the surveyed library pages in total posts (607), it drops to 15th place when we identify the percentage of posts that had at least one feedback from users (455 out of 607 posts have no feedback). Their page moves up to 5th place when we count the total number of feedbacks, regardless of the number of posts that generated them (there are a total of 219 feedbacks) but drops to 15th place if we count the percentage of posts that include user comments (575 out of 607 posts have no user comments). It moves up again to 5th place when we calculate the total amount of user comments; a total of 37 user comments in various posts (data from Tables 2, 3, and 4).

This verifies an earlier conclusion which likely applies to other library pages as well, that traffic (e.g. user, or to be more accurate, colleague feedback) increases because of a specific event (e.g. an exhibition) or a pleasant occasion (e.g. photographs or the retirement of an employee where everyone wants to express their wishes) for a short period of time before the wall returns to its usual low level of participation and interest. This is supported by the fact that, in most cases, user comments do not receive additional comments or even likes by other users. This is either an unwillingness on behalf of users to return to their original comments and continue a conversation or an unwillingness by the rest of the users to actively engage in a conversation already in place.

Table 4: Number of feedbacks and comments per post provides additional arguments; it shows the feedbacks and comments available in all sampled Facebook pages per post. On average, of the total 1,285 posts that include at least one feedback, 1,116 posts (86.8%) had 1 to 3 feedbacks, 123 (9.6%) posts had 4 to 6 feedbacks attached, 25 posts (2%) included 7 to 9 feedbacks and 21 posts (1.6%) had more than 10. The same pattern was recorded in posts with comments. Out of the total 332 posts that include at least one comment, 310 posts (96.3%) had 1 to 3 comments attached, seven posts (2.2%) had 4 to 6 comments, four posts (1.2%) included 7 to 9 comments and only one post had more than 10 comments (Dartmouth College Library on 4 March 2010).


6. Conclusions

This study recorded the lack of a steady flow of feedback (especially comments) on any of the 20 academic library Facebook pages examined. Rather, one can see infrequent spikes of interest and excitement triggered by an event, a comment, or a question. An exhibition, photos, or questions might draw some (digital) attention for a limited time before the wall goes back to its normal state, including only library posts, along with some "likes" every now and then.

All of the data collected indicate a low level of interaction between users and the academic library via its Facebook wall. The metrics reveal limited user participation as reflected in the number of comments left on the wall and the number of followers. Most library posts include no user comments (over 90% average) while over 60% of the posts do not include "likes" at all.

Another conclusion that can be drawn is that continuous updates and posts are not necessarily the most effective way to attract attention to the wall. A library that wants user comments and posts should carefully choose an area of interest to users and invite students to upload information and comments on that subject instead of using the wall to disseminate information about events and other library activities that are not likely to interest the majority of library users. However, neither of these approaches guarantees success.

It was recorded that when users decide to participate on the wall they do so by pressing the "like" button in most cases (over 82% on average); a finding that shows that students may like to check a library's Facebook wall, but not participate actively on it. Even when there is a topic of interest and posts contain user comments, it is most likely that there will be only a limited amount of them and that the online conversation will stop after 1-3 user comments.

The study supports the conclusion that Facebook may never be a very effective marketing tool based on the fact that the 20 Facebook pages have, on average, a very small number of followers (mean number is less than 600 followers) and a librarian that quantifies the popularity of the medium (Facebook) to the number of followers for the library's pages presented in Fig. 1, he is certain to conclude that putting much effort into using Facebook as an outreach/marketing tool is probably not worthwhile.

Interestingly, "Facebook groupies" appear to be the source of most comments and "likes." These are small groups of people who are willing to devote some of their time to posting and commenting on a wall, thereby making the owner of that wall feel that there is some success behind his or her efforts. An estimate is that they make up 1-5% of the total fans (or "likers" for that matter) and that in most cases they are not students. Also, based on the examination of wall posts on the 20 pages, it was apparent that libraries' Facebook pages have become, in several cases, a "family" place for colleagues where they can chat with each other, rather than a professional outreach tool or even an efficient marketing tool.

It was not possible to trace every person who generated a feedback on the library walls to determine if he or she was a student, but by analyzing the content of the feedbacks it can be safely assumed that over 70% of those feedbacks did not come from university or college students. On the contrary, most feedbacks are generated by people who work or have some past connection, such as alumni or former employees, with various agencies or departments, most likely in the library, of the institution that the library is affiliated with. In many cases, the percentage of non-students who left a feedback exceeded 80% or 90% of the total feedbacks.


7. Discussion

This study examined the use of Facebook at 20 academic libraries. We cannot assume that efforts to use Facebook as an effective tool to promote library services and "invite" more users into the library's digital (and physical) space have had the same outcome everywhere. In fact, although hard evidence is lacking, it seems safe to assume that there are cases where users are actively participating and using library pages on Facebook. We can further assume that the solid efforts of some librarians to engage students via the library's Facebook page are successful. However, we must also recognize that students everywhere have certain habits, activities, and social preferences in common when it comes to the tools they choose to benefit their academic work — and based on this this study, most appear to reject connecting with their libraries on Facebook.

Based on this study, the total number of comments on library Facebook pages would be significantly lower overall if it were not for the library staff posting on their own library walls and commenting every few weeks, and this should be taken into account by librarians who are considering initiating a Facebook presence or terminating one already in place. It is, of course, only one of the elements that librarians should consider, but a significant one none the less.

Developing a Facebook page as a new tool to reach out to a library's current or perspective users, but finding it is supported primarily by its own staff, cannot be considered a complete failure, but it would be no more effective than a library repeatedly circulating a collection of books that appeal more to library personnel than users. If becoming "friends" with the library and user comments are two measurements of the success of the outreach and/or marketing efforts, then we can safely say that, based on this research, Facebook is thus far not an effective outreach/marketing tool for libraries.

Finally, this research clearly shows that although users are willing to share personal data on social networking sites, even when they know that there are important security issues to consider, regarding the possible exploitation of their personal data by the social networking for-profit companies, they do not, at this point in time, share information on library Facebook pages. Maybe they read the posts but have nothing to share, maybe they do not want to upload information about themselves inside a digital space that is directly related to their academic affairs, or maybe they simply find it an unattractive environment. If we consider how easily students "like" a page, add a group, post personal information, or simply interact with Facebook pages, then we must face the fact that library pages are amongst the least attractive to students. This does not come as a surprise to those who have not been taken in by the "social web" hype.


8. References

All electronic resources were last accessed in November 2011.

[1] Abrahm, S. (2006), "What can MySpace teach us in special libraries?", Information Outlook, 10 (5): 34—35.

[2] Chu, M. and Meulemans, Y. N. (2008), "The problems and potential of MySpace and Facebook usage in academic libraries", Internet Reference Services Quarterly, 13 (1): 69—85, available at: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1300/J136v13n01_04#preview.

[3] Click, A. and Petit, J. (2010), "Social networking and Web 2.0 in information literacy", The International Information and Library Review, 42: 137—142.

[4] Connell, R. S. (2009), "Academic libraries, Facebook and MySpace, and student outreach: a survey of student opinion", Portal: Libraries and the Academy, 9 (1): 25—36.

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University Libraries Selected for Study

Library Facebook URL
Yale University Library http://www.Facebook.com/yalelibrary
MIT Libraries http://www.Facebook.com/mitlib
Columbia University Libraries http://www.Facebook.com/culibraries
Princeton University Library http://www.Facebook.com/PULibrary
University of Pennsylvania Libraries http://www.Facebook.com/pages/Penn-Libraries/42107751900
University of Michigan Library http://www.Facebook.com/pages/University-of-Michigan-Library/110483979013559
Cornell University Library http://www.Facebook.com/cornelluniversitylibrary
UC Berkeley Library http://www.Facebook.com/ucberkeleylibrary
New York University Libraries http://www.Facebook.com/NYULibraries
University of Washington Libraries http://www.Facebook.com/uwlibraries
UNC University Libraries http://www.Facebook.com/UNCLibrary
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Main Library http://www.Facebook.com/universitylibrary
UC San Diego Libraries http://www.Facebook.com/ucsdlib
Perry Castañeda (PCL) & the University of Texas at Austin Libraries http://www.Facebook.com/utlibraries
Washington University Libraries - Olin Library http://www.Facebook.com/WUSTLlibraries
Dartmouth College Library http://www.Facebook.com/dartmouth.college.library
Pennsylvania State University Libraries http://www.Facebook.com/psulibs#!/psulibs?sk=wall
Georgia Tech Library http://www.Facebook.com/GeorgiaTechLibrary
Fondren Library — Rice University http://www.Facebook.com/pages/Fondren-Library/15587285151?sk=wall
University of Virginia Library http://www.Facebook.com/pages/University-of-Virginia-Library/136530559704906

Table 1: Analysis of users' comments per library

Library   User comments Library related Not related to library User posts on wall
Yale University Library   29 22 7 0*
MIT Libraries   15 10 5 3
Columbia University Libraries   23 22 1 4
Princeton University Library   9 8 1 1
University of Pennsylvania Libraries   0 0 0 0
University of Michigan Library   0 0 0 0
Cornell University Library   37 20 17 7
UC Berkeley Library   34 32 2 2
New York University Libraries   0 0 0 0
University of Washington Libraries   29 22 7 4
UNC University Libraries   23 23 0 0
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Main Library   41 39 2 1
UC San Diego Libraries   30 28 2 0
Perry Castañeda (PCL) & the University of Texas at Austin Libraries   37 32 5 12
Washington University Libraries - Olin Library   22 22 0 0
Dartmouth College Library   74 73 1 4
Pennsylvania State University Libraries   21 21 0 3
Georgia Tech Library   41 40 1 7
Fondren Library — RiceUniversity   7 7 0 2
University of Virginia Library   5 5 0 3
  Total: 477 426 51 53
*Not allowed

Table 2: Percentage of posts that had no feedbacks and comments

Library   No. of Posts Posts without a feedback % of posts without a feedback Posts without a comment % of posts without a comment
Yale University Library   106 37 34.91% 87 82.08%
MIT Libraries   139 84 60.43% 128 92.09%
Columbia University Libraries   250 181 72.40% 235 94.00%
Princeton University Library   53 21 39.62% 46 86.79%
University of Pennsylvania Libraries   42 32 76.19% 42 100.00%
University of Michigan Library   73 64 87.67% 73 100.00%
Cornell University Library   217 103 47.47% 193 88.94%
UC Berkeley Library   68 29 42.65% 52 76.47%
New York University Libraries   20 20 100.00% 20 100.00%
University of Washington Libraries   175 76 43.43% 148 84.57%
UNC University Libraries   232 131 56.47% 216 93.10%
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Main Library   125 53 42.40% 99 79.20%
UC San Diego Libraries   229 159 69.43% 210 91.70%
Perry Castañeda (PCL) & the University of Texas at Austin Libraries   607 455 74.96% 575 94.73%
Washington University Libraries - Olin Library   122 68 55.74% 111 90.98%
Dartmouth College Library   431 307 71.23% 391 90.72%
Pennsylvania State University Libraries   206 124 60.19% 189 91.75%
Georgia Tech Library   165 90 54.55% 133 80.61%
Fondren Library — Rice University   148 114 77.03% 141 95.27%
University of Virginia Library   105 80 76.19% 102 97.14%
  Total: 3513 2228 63.42% 3191 90.83%



Table 3: Ratio of comments and "likes" in feedbacks

Library   No. of feedbacks No. of likes % of likes No. of comment % of comment
Yale University Library   208 179 86.06% 29 13.94%
MIT Libraries   93 78 83.87% 15 16.13%
Columbia University Libraries   172 148 86.55% 23 13.45%
Princeton University Library   64 55 85.94% 9 14.06%
University of Pennsylvania Libraries   10 10 100.00% 0 00.00%
University of Michigan Library   10 10 100.00% 0 0.00%
Cornell University Library   284 247 86.97% 37 13.03%
UC Berkeley Library   94 60 63.83% 34 36.17%
New York University Libraries   0 0 0.00% 0 0.00%
University of Washington Libraries   232 203 87.50% 29 12.50%
UNC University Libraries   207 184 88.9% 23 11.11%
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Main Library   191 150 78.53% 41 21.47%
UC San Diego Libraries   125 95 76.00% 30 24.00%
Perry Castañeda (PCL) & the University of Texas at Austin Libraries   219 182 83.11% 37 16.89%
Washington University Libraries - Olin Library   144 122 84.72% 22 15.28%
Dartmouth College Library   278 204 73.38% 74 26.62%
Pennsylvania State University Libraries   184 163 88.59% 21 11.41%
Georgia Tech Library   154 113 73.38% 41 26.62%
Fondren Library — Rice University   63 56 88.89% 7 11.11%
University of Virginia Library   35 30 85.71% 5 14.29%
  Total: 2766 2289 82.75% 477 17.25%



Table 4. Number of feedbacks and comments per post

Library Feedbacks per post Comments per post
  1 to 3 4 to 6 7 to 9 10+ Total posts 1 to 3 4 to 6 7 to 9 10+ Total posts
Yale University Library 49 14 4 2 69 14 0 0 0 19
MIT Libraries 51 4 0 0 55 11 0 0 0 11
Columbia University Libraries 59 6 0 4 69 14 0 1 0 15
Princeton University Library 27 5 0 0 32 7 0 0 0 7
University of Pennsylvania Libraries 10 0 0 0 10 0 0 0 0 0
University of Michigan Library 9 0 0 0 9 0 0 0 0 0
Cornell University Library 91 17 1 5 114 23 0 1 0 24
UC Berkeley Library 34 4 1 0 39 13 2 1 0 16
New York University Libraries 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
University of Washington Libraries 85 9 3 2 99 27 0 0 0 27
UNC University Libraries 93 6 1 1 101 15 1 0 0 16
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Main Library 56 13 1 2 72 25 1 0 0 26
UC San Diego Libraries 64 5 1 0 70 19 0 0 0 19
Perry Castañeda (PCL) & the University of Texas at Austin Libraries 147 4 1 0 152 31 1 0 0 32
Washington University Libraries - Olin Library 42 8 3 1 54 10 1 0 0 11
Dartmouth College Library 108 7 7 2 124 37 1 1 1 40
Pennsylvania State University Libraries 68 13 1 0 82 17 0 0 0 17
Georgia Tech Library 67 6 0 2 75 32 0 0 0 32
Fondren Library — Rice University 31 2 1 0 34 7 0 0 0 7
University of Virginia Library 25 0 0 0 25 3 0 0 0 3
Total: 1116
1285 310



About the Author

Photo of Michalis Gerolimos

Michalis Gerolimos is a Lecturer at the Department of Library Science and Information Systems of the ATEI of Thessaloniki. Prior to joining the ATEI of Thessaloniki, he worked as an Academic Librarian at the Ionian University of Corfu for several years. His research interests focus on online information retrieval and online library services. He holds a PhD in Library and Information Science and a BA in Archives and Library Science from Ionian University.

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