Social Software in Libraries: Building Collaboration, Communication and Community Online

Sarah McNicol (Evidence Base, Birmingham City University, Birmingham, UK)

New Library World

ISSN: 0307-4803

Article publication date: 28 March 2008




McNicol, S. (2008), "Social Software in Libraries: Building Collaboration, Communication and Community Online", New Library World, Vol. 109 No. 3/4, pp. 198-199.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2008, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

As social institutions, rooted within communities, it is essential that libraries find their place within online, as well as physical social networks. Virtual communities are becoming ever more important to library users, and potential users, of all ages and backgrounds and libraries need to ensure that they reflect this development if they are to be seen as relevant, modern organisations.

Meredith G. Farkas is a practising librarian who works at a university in the USA and her practical knowledge has obviously helped her to write a book, which not only describes and explains various social software technologies, but more importantly, illustrates how they can be used effectively in a library setting.

The book has a wide and fairly comprehensive approach to the topic. After defining what is meant by social software, Meredith Frakas considers a variety of applications in turn: blogs, RSS, wikis, online communities, social networking, social bookmarking, online reference tools, mobile devices, podcasting, vodcasting and gaming. Furthermore, within these chapters are sections about instant messaging, Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), SMS, screencasting and collaborative filtering.

For each type of technology, the author explains what it is and what it can do, before considering how it can be used within libraries. Crucially, she does not focus on one type of library, but includes examples and ideas from across all sectors. Although the many examples of what has been achieved come mainly US libraries, they are sure to offer ideas and inspiration for anyone thinking of ways to implement social software in the UK. As well as descriptions of what other libraries have done, there are extracts and interviews where librarians explain in their own words how social technologies have, and can be, applied; what the potential problems are; and what they see as the main benefits. For some technologies, there are also useful lists of practical considerations, which would be especially useful for anyone new to particular tools.

To prevent the range of technologies which have been described seem overwhelming, there is a chapter which helps readers to consider what mix of tools will work best at their library given the local population, type of library and so forth. There is also advice on how to see the idea to users, and also to staff who may be initially reluctant to embrace new technology.

Of course, the main problem facing any author writing about new technologies is the rate at which information becomes dated. Meredith clearly recognises this and has set up a companion web site ( which includes links mentioned in the book and other resources, blogs, etc. and will be updated with new articles, posts and tools. In addition, the penultimate chapter of the book is devoted to ways of “keeping up” including suggestions of professional literature to read, blogs, online communities and conferences.

The final chapter of Social Software in Libraries reflects on what might emerge as future trends in social software, while acknowledging that “In the future of social software only one thing is certain: things will change”.

I would highly recommend this book. It is readable and has a good balance between the technical and more human aspects of working with social software. It would be a valuable resource for librarians across all sectors who are interested in the potential of social software to connect with users. While it provides background information and basic introductions for novices in this area, it also offers ideas and approaches for those with greater experience and looking to introduce new online services or improve their existing offer.

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