The desire that individuals have to know that they are using the ‘right’ kind of information or resources leads them to ask for help within their personal networks. The composition of those networks shifts over time and the visitors and residents (V&R) interview data reflects that last year of high school/secondary school students and first year college/university students consult parents, siblings and friends about academic work.
The upper division undergraduate college/university students indicate they consult their room-mates, classmates, and siblings who have taken similar classes before and the graduate students consult graduate school peers and professors (but reach out far less than any other educational stage). Faculty most often consult their peers.
|Human sources||Emerging (Last year of high school/secondary school)||Establishing (First year college/university)||Embedding (graduate students)||Experiencing (faculty)|
The point is that individuals seek what they need within the relationships that surround them. As they move through the educational stages, their networks are increasingly populated with people who have relevant subject expertise, so that by the time individuals are faculty members, when they say they called a ‘friend’ about an article, it is nearly certain that the friend is also an expert in the field.
Relationships continue to be a major component in how individuals get their information and whom they choose for collaboration and one of the reasons for engaging with technology (Connaway and Radford, 2011).
The diagram indicates the mix of sources participants of the V&R project mentioned when discussing their information seeking approaches in both study/professional and personal contexts.
This tree diagram shows the relative frequency with which key themes were mentioned by participants in the V&R study across all four of the Educational Stages. The larger and more green the square, the greater the number of coded occurrences for that theme. Notice the importance of friends and colleagues, peers, and even parents before experts, professionals, or librarians. We have excluded ‘online search engine’ from this diagram as this is not in itself a source. Google search and other search engines were frequently mentioned and as expected were the starting point for the majority of information seeking online.
In the V&R interviews, the tendency to collaborate is most evident in the participants in their last year of school/first year of a degree, it decreases sharply for upper division undergraduates, and then increases again for faculty. This may reflect not only the need for collaboration in their work among secondary school students and first year undergraduates, but also the emphasis on individual/isolating work for upper division undergraduate students as well as graduate students. The high level of faculty collaboration is an interesting contrast to the sort of training the graduate students apparently are receiving in their respective fields.
Thought should be given to identifying ways to help graduate students connect with their peers in other institutions since these individuals may be their professional colleagues and collaborators as they gain specialised knowledge in their field of study. Social media, and Resident forms of online practice, can be a tool for decreasing the isolation of the graduate experience, and better preparing them to be senior scholars and knowledgeable professionals in their respective disciplines
The importance of embedding services and resources in trusted relationships with our users cannot be overestimated. We recommend that institutions consider digital and face to face community building as a cornerstone of their enterprise-wide policies. Social media tools can be used to build such relationships, but not without careful thought. Many individuals carefully compartmentalise their social media presence into ‘personal’ and ‘professional/institutional/academic’, and institutions risk alienating the very people with whom they wish to connect if they overstep boundaries.
It’s also important to account for the fact that you represent the authority of the institution and are likely to be regarded with suspicion in online social spaces. This can be problematic if you are represented by an institutional profile rather than a personal one.
If you do decide to represent your service using a personal Social Media account then you need to consider the possibility that the personal and professional aspects of that individual’s life might become blurred online. This is especially likely if they are already Resident in a particular platform before they take on the role of representing the library via their profile. Concerns about the collapse of institutional and personal lives into one messy category were sounded repeatedly at the Visitors and Residents expert session during the 2013 American Library Association (ALA) annual meetings in Chicago.
The tension between the need to be visible, and to make connections, with the desire to keep private lives private, and to have safe places where individuals can be more than just their professional self, is a concern for professionals and users alike, as the following quotes illustrate.
"I’ve kept [Facebook and Twitter] separate from the beginning. I was an early adopter of both but very clear [about keeping them separate]… I realise that I’m not a really private person, but in terms of my online identity, I’ve become really careful. I used to use Twitter, lots of IM, SecondLife, travel sites…I’ve chosen not to use any of those anymore because I don’t need the world to know exactly where I am and who I’m with."
Library professional – V&R workshop ALA conference 2013, Chicago
Individuals who are senior in their field are far more likely to have personal networks that overlap heavily with their professional networks. Undergraduates and junior scholars tend to have much more discrete circles and far less collapse in the personal-institutional continuum of their Visitors and Residents map.
Professionals and students alike have different personae that they adopt in the contexts (online and offline) that they inhabit. Providing for people to be comfortable with the personae they interact with and can inhabit in the institutional contexts in which they find themselves is crucial groundwork for the construction of effective relationships.
"I work with grad and high school students and there seems to be a division of what they use for institutional use. We’ve seen this migration to Instagram and Vine. There’s been a disconnect because at some point…what they think they post online that they thought was not visible to the universe is. My kids are absolutely leaving Facebook and have charted the [migration] from MySpace to Facebook, but it’s interesting that more adults are becoming resident (many nod). They’ll have more than one profile or a decoy cell phone."
Library professional – V&R workshop ALA conference 2013, Chicago
It is very difficult, if not impossible for institutions to predict at any given point what tool, persona, or agenda individuals will have when engaging with institutional staff. Institutions would benefit from providing a variety of possible ways for individuals to connect, and by acknowledging that a range of modes of engagement is expected by individuals, not only in their personal lives but also in their institutional/professional/academic lives.
Institutions should therefore commit to a diverse presence in both digital and physical spaces.