Continuing in my series of “no excuses” rants, I’m moving onto a biggie. Facebook. Except my rant isn’t so much against FB – everyone has done a better and more eloquent version of it in one form or another from one viewpoint or another. It’s more a rant against us librarians as consumers of FB (and yes this will be posted on FB – no irony?)
I’m writing this today in response to Philip Williams posting Alexandra Samuel’s “Can we build a better Facebook” on Twitter, and following the links in the article to Beth Kanter’s article on the “Perils of Fake News” . You see I do agree Fake News is an issue. And I do see the valiant efforts of fellow librarians and concerned critical skeptical intelligent people putting the “fake” stamp on some of the rubbish twirling around. As I put in a comment, my concern with FB is that it is just like the stupid women’s magazines I eschewed from an early age.
The problem is even worse than you describe for reasons even beyond fake news and privacy and selling data. Basically FB is a useless tool that even information professionals like librarians have flocked to because of critical mass. But while it caters to our short term, immediate gratification needs it is terrible as a curation tool, unlike the relics of the past, the various internet groups which are still publicly searchable but went defunct around the rise of FB.
So now you have the “magazine cycle” in FB. Someone asks a question, gets 500 likes, 54 responses (the last 42 invariably just repeat what the first 12 said) and then gets buried. And then in a few days / months / quarters the same question comes up again. We don’t build knowledge. We don’t even build information.
I have a FB habit that consists of scrolling in the morning and evening, posting some of my shareable resources such as the PYP booklists, MLA8 posters , my blog posts and share any library worthy news. I ask questions about teacher-librarian practice, about books or booklists. But at the same time I am immensely frustrated by it. For these reasons.
Filing and searching
The same questions keep popping up regularly. Of course, because life has a cycle. But there is also a combination of laziness and the complete uselessness of the search function in FB. Many questions begin with the preamble “I know I saw X somewhere but I can’t for the life of me find it” On the left is one of the groups I’m a member of – it has 1,318 members. There are some great conversations that occur there. I went to check out “files” section – the one place where a semi-permanent record of anything could be kept. In the last 10 months exactly 20 files have been posted. That’s actually good – the “The School Librarian’s Workshop” 5,879 members and only 14 files since 2014!
So let’s take one of those things that regularly pop up – “Academic Honesty”. If I search the
group, I have quite a few options (honestly I think most people don’t even bother searching before asking a question – but that’s a whole different psycho-existential matter – like do we need to ask a question in order to “exist” / “be heard” in a group?). But the one option that would make a REAL difference in turning FB into a more useful tool for curation and knowledge building doesn’t exist – there is no option to search the files. So don’t we look at the files (no way of telling if they’re looked at) because they’re not searchable from the main menu (or in fact at all, so that’s a REAL disincentive to use them / add a lot of files to them) or because we don’t think to add to the files so we don’t use the files?
Whatever happened to databases?
Back in 1997 when I was doing my MBA I did a course on Knowledge Management (KM). It was to be “the” subject of the future. Actually it was more about how to extract employee knowhow and customer intelligence and make it accessible so as to make any given employee under the executive suite dispensable and therefore resistant as heck to it. During my MIS in 2015, I enrolled for the librarian version of KM, thinking I’d make it my major so I could then go in either direction, KM/corporate or librarianship. And found that in 18 years it hadn’t really moved much at all. Nothing new under the sun. What has changed in the years that I’ve been on a computer, is that some type of database software used to be pretty standard issue with say the Microsoft suite etc. and now it’s not. I find that interesting in the same way I find it interesting that children’s fascination with space seems to have declined somewhat in proportion to the diminished ability to see the night sky due to pollution. And phobia for insects and dirt increasing in relation to the amount of time spent indoors and under protection of parents and iPads, along with a frightful decline in insects and birds. Yes, tools like Excel have become way more sophisticated and can take on many of the functions that older databases used to. But we’re not using Excel really to its full extent are we? Most people can’t even make their way around the basic google “sheets” tool.
Again it’s a search and curate problem. We have this “hive mind”, we have vested and interested and willing people. We don’t have the tools. Take an easy little book list challenge. I won’t ask you to find a middle grade book by an Austrian author translated into English in the last 4 years. Let’s just take something really easy like a book about bullying. So where are all the usual suspect places we can look?
- Google search – 803,000 results, most in the form of “# books about bullying”.
- Goodreads – search function 5,521 books, list search 63 lists – some with some VERY interesting descriptions.
- Amazon – gives me 22,266 books, that I can narrow down to 942 if I chose age 6-8 and hardcover. I cannot however restrict it to published in the last 2 years, only the last 90 days
- Bookdepository (which is just Amazon really, but a very different selection) – 5,889 down to 122 with 6-8 and hardcover.
- I could (theoretically, but how many of us do this?) search some other libraries catalogs… but how do we know their protocols / subject set up?
But the more important question is what can I do with these lists? And the unfortunate answer is you can scroll through them, print them out, vote on them or add a book (goodreads), visually compare them. But you can’t import them into a database or spreadsheet. You can’t click on them to create a new list by combining parts of different lists. Librarians spend a LOT of time with booklists. Too much time if you really think about it. It really should be easier.
LibraryThings is much better in many respects. It’s partially open, and partially you need a subscription (like for the very useful TagMash tool). You can upload your holdings, so that means you can easily see which books you already have. But how often in the last year or so has someone referred you to LibraryThings when you’ve asked for a book list recommendation? How often have you used it (if at all)? But now, I get a tagmash list and again WHAT CAN I DO WITH IT? Nothing. I can’t add that tag to the 119 books I have (of which only 60 were tagged with bullying), I can’t add any books I like the sound of to a “to buy” list centrally – I’d have to click on each individually. I can’t easily share the list.
Why does all this matter?
Well one of the things that is important to me is the whole diversity question. But as mentioned in my last blog, diversity looks very different in different contexts. Putting on my librarian hat I want to help great initiatives like GLLI. I want to make sure that my collection reflects my students. I want to have lists readily available and extractable (hence my database rant), so that when people say my school is 80% American born Chinese, or 50% Vietnamese, or 70% Thai or 80% of mixed parentage, or give me a Bulgarian book translated into English suitable for 6-8 year olds published in the last 4 years, the lists can be reconfigured and re-sorted and spit out the goodies. And can be added to and updated. I’m tired of stagnant static lists.
Likewise, if I have a folder of the academic honesty policies of about 20 schools that I used when our librarians were involved in setting up our school’s new policy – it should be easily and readily available to everyone who comes after me trying to do the same thing. But I’d prefer that the easily and readily available platform is NOT FB. Is NOT in a closed group.
So yes, resist FB, but not just because of Fake News etc. Resist it because it’s a useless platform that we’ve invested way to much time and energy into. Because we should be spending the time thinking about what we really need and creating it. Because we should be pressuring platforms that more closely meet our needs to improve their products.