So, I guess thing 12 is all about reflecting on the social networks that we discovered and started engaging within the first couple of weeks. It’s seems almost like synchronicity that thing 12 has come up at the same time as the horrendous behaviour of so many individuals in London over the last couple of days. Living in Bangkok (which hasn’t always been known for political security), I was absolutely stymied at the idea that British people were rioting and looting in London, and that it is yet to have been stopped.
There have been several articles in the press connecting the riots (even blaming the riots) on the ease of speedy mass communication enabled by Facebook, Twitter and blackberries. I’m sure these did aid the riots – these are tools that aid groups regardless of what they are organising to do. As the 23 things for professional development blog notes, social media enable speedier communication, network building, and can strengthen long-term communities. These are all great things for promoting a library service, but also unfortunately also for organising mass violence. And also, more positively, for organising more high-minded political protests, as we’ve seen in the Arab spring this year. When I compare these two photos – for me this sums up exactly what the implications of social media are for our society.
Social media enable us to combine our forces and collaborate, and that does make us more powerful. As the endlessly repeated Spidy quote goes, “with great power comes great responsibility” – but that is not, as I recall, mentioned in the terms and conditions when you sign up for these things.
To include the obligatory library-related bit – yes these are great tools, they are worth using to get in touch with people professionally, and connect with people who might be interested in your library service. They’re particularly important in this economic climate, as you can do a lot of publicity for free (apart from time invested). And, to look at things from the other side of the coin, as librarians (especially if public/education), we should be working to educate our users on the potential of these social tools. However, whether their use is productive or not, and socially-minded or not, depends entirely on the user.
I would never condone an approach like that of China, which bans social networking sites such as Facebook – here’s a fascinating list of some of the websites that the Chinese government blocks. And I never intend to stop using them myself – including the sites such as this blog and Linked in, which I’ve only really got into through doing this CPD23. However, if you look at the way our hyper-connected society is heading, social networks are as powerful, shiny, and inspiring as a sharp steel sword. Admittedly, everyone having the same sort of sword, but sharp and pointy nonetheless. Librarians with swords will use them well (as an aside, I’m LOVING the Library Wars manga series! ) but different people use social tools for different purposes…