Don’t shoot the BB messenger – (facebook/twitter) – thing 12

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.

Students creating a human barricade around the library of Alexandria

At one point during the political uprisings in Egypt, students in Alexandria got together and organised themselves to keep their new national library safe.

Looters in London, August 2011

By contrast, this is what the young people in Britain decided to do when the riots started.

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…


About angellibrarian

Children's/teen librarian working in an international school in Thailand.
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4 Responses to Don’t shoot the BB messenger – (facebook/twitter) – thing 12

  1. Claire says:

    Really interesting and thought provoking blog post. I was watching the news here in the UK this morning and they were doing a story on how social networking sites were also being used to organise the clean up after the violence. One woman said that they managed to organise a group of two hundred volunteers to clean up in eight hours using social media. So although it can be used for violence, it can also be used for good as well. At least there was a little bit of good news this morning!

  2. Hi Claire, thanks for your comment. You’re right, that’s a great example of how twitter is being used in a positive way, and also of how our society isn’t yet a despicable shipwreck! Thank you for making me more optimistic! Where do you blog at?

  3. Prince George says:

    Can we draw any conclusions form the fact that no book shops were looted during the riots? Was it because there is no money to be made in selling looted books? Is carrying books “uncool”? Are looters not readers too? Or do they only read on their e-books? Is there any correlation between intent to loot and intellectual capacity? I would like to hear other ideas as to why Waterstones escaped and so many others were wrecked.

    • Hi Prince George – That’s a very interesting point about the fact that no bookshops were looted, and one that hadn’t occurred to me until you wrote it. I guess an optimist might say that this means the looters already knew they could legally get those books for free at their public library, but somehow I doubt that was their reasoning…
      There’s an interesting (but fairly academic) article here – – about the transformative power of fiction. I would definitely argue that more libraries and reading for pleasure would be a great measure to prevent a second generation of looters!

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