Bibliographic Record

In conversation with a colleague, I mentioned that I was a bad Social Networking Librarian, because I do not maintain a Facebook profile. I am not privy to Farmville, Mafia Wars, etc. I cannot become a fan of your cause or respond to your informal poll. And recently, I find that roughly 15% of the weblinks I follow dead-end at content locked behind the Facebook wall.

It’s hard to remember that just because you’re invested in a social/communication network doesn’t mean that everyone is. This is obviously true for Facebook, but includes any communication scheme, including email. Further, just because someone maintains a node on a network (an email address, say, or a Facebook account) doesn’t mean that if you hit that node you’ve effectively communicated with that person. He or she may check his email account infrequently, if at all. And this lead us to consider what I think is the fundamental — and fundamentally difficult — thing to remember about people online, which is: your online presence is not you.

And since we’re librarians, we instantly leaped to this analogy: you are a book and your web presence is merely a bibliographic record. It’s a stand-in for the real you. Just because you’ve accessed the bibliographic record, don’t think you’ve read the book. You may be cutting large swaths of your intended community out of your communication network simply because you’ve conflated their selves with their representations of themselves. An email (or a Tweet, or a Status update) does not communicate until someone reads it, and only a subsection of the people you’d like to reach will — or can.

It’s hard to believe this is true in 2010, or that it applies to any but the aged or the very very young, but it is and it does. If you post it on Facebook, you will not reach me.

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