Article Review: Facebook use in libraries

This article was originally reviewed for my statistics and research methods class.

Aharony, N. (2012). Facebook use in libraries: An exploratory analysis. Aslib Proceedings, 64(4), 358-372.

The purpose of this study was to examine differences in how libraries use Facebook as a an outreach tool. The study focused on American libraries, and sampled the Facebook pages of a small set of public and academic libraries.

While I found this article to be interesting in that it addresses what is clearly an area that demands further investigation, I had some misgivings, both about the structure of the study and the structure of the article. There were several areas where I felt that an editor could have made things more concise and consistent, such as the part in the “Data Analysis” where the authors uses both “coder” and “classifier” to describe people who are analyzing the content (p. 362). However, the article was for the most part well-written and easy to understand; a few misused colons hardly make it the worst thing I’ve read in my tenure at library school.

Aharony is detailed in her explanation of both the methodology and the theoretical underpinnings of the analysis. At the same time, her explanation makes it clear that the sample size for this study is extremely small. The author’s choice to use a content analysis was clearly the right one, but her discussion of the results illustrates the pitfalls of such a small sample size – particularly, that a large portion of her analysis falls under the cateogry of “miscellaneous.” I am not the most sophisticated organizer, but it seems to me that if your second- and third-largest categories are miscellaneous, then you need to re-examine how things are being grouped, or come up with a more descriptive name. Then again, this could most likely be refined with a larger pool of data or a more detailed, iterative study.

Aside from those issues, I felt that the author of the study did well in separating and analyzing the categories, with the caveat that it was not clearly explaing until the conclusion of the article how exactly all the categories fit together. A simple diagram showing the categories and sub-categories for each group would have made this much more apparent.

This article seems more to be directed at researchers studying the effects of social media than as an aid towards librarians who might be considering Facebook as a tool for outreach, particularly since the author offers no suggestions for how libraries who wish to use the platform more effectively might up their game, so to speak. Aharony does, however, mention that libraries seem to mostly be using Facebook as a one-way information dissemination tool, rather than as a venue for discussion. What sorts of discussions is the author suggesting? Also, how does the author reconcile this finding with the multiple studies from her literature review that indicate patrons are “disinterested in using library online social networking services”? (Aharony 360) This study is going in the right direction, but I think that on the whole, its results are too preliminary to make any larger conclusions, other than that more research is needed.