social information networking literacy

First off – the SAG awards are tonight, which might be our only awards show opportunity this season and Ryan Seacrest called in sick. It is like it is my birthday.

So this morning Barbara Fister pointed out a recent survey by the Annenberg School (the USC one) – a survey trying to examine “gaps in media usage between communicators and the general population within the United States.” They gathered data from three groups of people:

  • influencers (“the 10%-15% of the population who exercise influence and control the levers of change in society as defined by Roper)
  • communicators (communicators and marketing industry professionals who have responsibility for what their company communicates to external audiences… and at least 5 years of experience in that field)
  • the general public (the general public).

So the researchers wanted to find out a couple of things: where people turned for they information they used to make decisions, and whether there were differences in the perceived value of different information sources among these three groups of people. Fister points out that it doesn’t look like “libraries” were even presented as an option to people given the survey, which is worrying. But she goes on to examine what the survey does show about information seeking, evaluation, and the effectiveness of marketing strategies — all topics of deep interest to librarians.

Two things jumped out at me in this study — first, the conclusion (on slide 17) that “the general population appear to be more skeptical of all factors than influencers and communicators.” This is something I’ve noticed on an anecdotal level for a while – that the students I teach increasingly distrust all sources, online sources, mass news, broadcast news, scholarly sources, alike. I think there’s something really significant in this for us in how we approach the question of evaluating sources with these students – I’ll probably revisit this topic soon.

(“factors” here means things like – do you consider factors like the type of media story, the media outlet, the journalist or reporter, etc.)

What I really want to talk about is the second thing – the significance of word of mouth marketing when it comes to connecting people with information sources. This one struck me today because it brought a couple of things together in my head.

The Chronicle reminded me about the Librarian in Black’s recent post about the University of Michigan study that suggested only 17% of teens think they might talk to librarians on social networking sites. LiB says, “it’s possible we were wrong to believe that a social networking tool would attract all of its users to our services.”

I liked that statement, yes, because it was validating for me — I’m someone who’s not great at going out and seeking contacts, even on social networking sites – and I’ve always been skeptical that they were a logical gateway to librarians for many students. But I really liked it because it left the door open for the idea that there might be lots of other reasons why librarians should use social networking sites. As a data geek, that’s the exciting thing about research for me – yeah, maybe one hypothesis gets blown, but that opens the way to new ones, right?

So anyway, that was in my head when I read ACRLog this morning, and it got me thinking abut marketing, word of mouth, social networking and information literacy. Here’s what I mean…

The Annenberg study finds that advice from family and friends is the number-one source of information for people when they make decisions. I don’t think many of us would find that statistic surprising. Thinking about this from a marketing perspective, though, this points to the significance of word of mouth. And as the Annenberg folks say “personal media is the ideal platform to trigger WOM.”

Now yeah, there’s definitely something hinky about the idea of phony word of mouth, or overly manipulative marketing campaigns – and that’s not where I’m going with this. I’m also not really pointing to the idea of Facebook or MySpace as a place for “OMG the stuff I get at the library is great” messages.

What I’m thinking is that there are lots of ways, on the web right now, that people can point their friends and family to the information sources they think are useful, authoritative, or otherwise worthwhile. Whether it’s sharing items using Google Reader, networks, or StumbleUpon, I think a lot of us have found really useful communities that have formed around this very thing – we use them to get advice and pointers to good information sources. Personally, I rely on my network beyond all reason.

Now, here’s the thing – I really don’t think many of my students are using these personal media tools — the ones that seem to most clearly fit in with the idea of using one’s friends and family to find good information sources. When I talk to students about the read/write web, which isn’t all that often, I don’t find that many of them have ever heard of tools like or StumbleUpon or Digg. Is this true? Have others found this? I tried to find statistics on this kind of usage among teens, or undergrads, and was unsuccessful. Does anyone have any research on this?

Don’t get me wrong, I know they know how to tag, because YouTube uses tagging. And I know they’ve forgotten more than I will ever know about connecting socially online. But do they use the tools that are about organizing, using and evaluating information — where the social aspect is specifically designed to help people navigate our crazy information landscape? I don’t think they do.

And the report Barbara links to really makes me think — shouldn’t they? Shouldn’t pointing our students to the tools and networks they can use, while they’re in school and after they leave, to find the good stuff on the web be an essential part of information literacy instruction? Not only to point our students to the tools they’ll need when they get out of school (which is important) but as a way to help them while they’re in college as well?

I spoke on a panel with Ann Lally from the University of Washington last spring – she was talking about the work the UW libraries have done to embed links to their special collections in Wikipedia. One of the things I remember the most from her presentation is the statistics she presented about how people were getting to the UW collections. StumbleUpon was on of the main things people were using to find the UW collections — I found that fascinating.

Basically, I think the resources our students can access because of our collections, our licenses, and our subscriptions are deeply useful – when I present article databases as a way to access “premium content” – I’m pretty convincing. I think our students would point each other towards these resources if they had a way to do so. And I think that pointing each other towards the “good stuff” will be an essential skill for them when they leave the university. So figuring out a way to get them at the tools that will help them do that – in college and after they leave – should be part of our information literacy instruction. Now I just need to figure out how to make that happen.

3 thoughts on “social information networking literacy

  1. Your sense that students don’t seem to know about is sure borne out in my classes. Whenever I mention this, no one admits to knowing about it or having their own page – and surely they would, wouldn’t they? They oooh and aaah and say, that’s cool, but I don’t know if they race out to get their own. Last weekend I spent several hours with a rent-a-nerd getting help for my anti-virus (removed Norton, added AVG) and the consultant with 20 years experience (so he said) did not know – which really surprised me. So it isn’t just the students. And I wouldn’t have had it without your help, so thanks one again for keeping me not entirely behind the curve here.

  2. Oh, and of course we have a account for our class – thanks to you! – and I don’t know how many have ventured around that new territory, either. In fact it was pretty discouraging how many said they never read the news. Now, with the Opinion Portfolio assignment in class, they have to and seem to enjoy it, though only one of 50 students knew that Kennedy had endorsed Obama – not that it’s earth shaking, but it is news and somewhat unexpected.

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