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MySpace in Public Libraries

Sep - 28 - 2006
Nicole C. Engard

There is a good thread going on on the PA County Libraries mailing list that I have permission to share with you all.

It started with this message:

The Dauphin County Library System has noted an increase in some user behavior violations due to myspace dot com and other social networking sites. Teens gather in groups and talk loudly, disrupt others, etc. while clustered around the workstations — inappropriate activities addressed by our user behavior policy, but the increase in frequency has us concerned. Furthermore, we have evidence of unsafe practices triggered by these websites, i. e. youth meeting strangers in our parking lots, etc. These unsafe practices are also being noted by other patrons who may make this into a public relations concern for the library if they express their objections to our providing access to the sites.

We are interested in hearing from other libraries who have noted this phenomenon and your strategies for dealing with it.

Points to consider:

  • We acknowledge that these social networking sites provide dangers, especially to young people, who are posting private information and engaging in other unsafe activities prompted by their Internet transactions;
  • We know that these sites also perform a useful function for networking among sports teams; medical support groups; church youth groups and countless other positive interactions;
  • We have Internet safety resources and strategies on our website but wonder about the efficiency of brochures, signs, etc. in light of teen persistence in using these resources;
  • There are Internet bandwidth use issues related to the photos and videos on these websites;
  • We hold First Amendment freedoms of speech in the highest possible regard and do not wish to block these sites unless they violate CIPA.

Your comments and suggestions would be appreciated by Friday, Sept. 29; I will post summaries to this board. Thank you!

Cathi Alloway, Public Services Director, Dauphin County Library System

Cathi just posted her summary and I thought you’d all like to read that too:

Earlier this week, I posted a request on pamailall for info regarding libraries’ experiences with myspace.com. Thanks to all of you who responded. Someone suggested I also post to papublib, which I am doing here.

This is a significant dilemma for our libraries, as evidenced by the wide range of responses from 20+ libraries (more messages continue to arrive).

  • Seven public libraries already block myspace.com, or block chat sites, due to user behavior problems triggered by the site. Several mentioned they will unblock it for adults per CIPA rules. Another said they would advocate blocking.
  • One library allows only one person per computer to reduce user group behavior problems.
  • A librarian shared details of her teen daughter’s use of myspace.com, which included some very worthwhile and productive activities for the teen.
  • But another library commented that many older men were viewing photos of scantily-clad teens on myspace.com, an activity very disquieting to staff.
  • PC World calls myspace.com “the worst website” – see http://www.pcworld.com/article/id,127116-page,7-c,sites/article.html Their comments contrast with one library that pointed to myspace’s safety warnings and tools.

Overall, most of us recognize the safety and behavior issues that social networking sites generate and the tension between those problems and freedom of speech. Libraries must be aware that politicians are very concerned about these sites, and bills are underway that would block access of these sites in schools, tax-supported libraries, etc. Also, public relations problems can erupt suddenly if a crime or other abuse of myspace use is reported in your community which generates resident outrage. (Are you prepared for the reporter who will stop by, unannounced, to interview you and youthful patrons about myspace?) Unfortunately, there aren’t any tested, effective methods for resolving the issues. Three proposed solutions:

  • Blocking, as mentioned above, but problematical from a constitutional viewpoint – although one library said that the profanity on myspace may qualify for blocking under CIPA regulations.
  • Workshops for teens. One of our staff suggested that “teens teach teens”, which may improve attendance or interest….we may have sessions on “how to make the most of myspace” but then go heavy on the safety message. However, we all know the limited audiences and usefulness of such attempts.
  • One library is going to start requiring that Internet users ages 13-17 attend an “Internet orientation” delivered via PowerPoint, before they are allowed ongoing Internet privileges. They will receive a sticker for their library card indicating that they have viewed the information. We hope that library will post info on this strategy after implementation.

At this time, Dauphin County Library System is not going to block myspace.com, or chat sites. We will continue to use the user behavior policy to address noisy teens. We are looking at our Internet safety info on our website and will be talking with teens about the best way to reach them about their online practices. I am still interested in hearing from other libraries about effective methods for promoting Internet safety…another marketing challenge, similar to getting people to use our electronic databases.

Thanks for a productive exchange of ideas on this matter.

Feel free to contact Cathi with further questions/comments – she is very interested to hear what you have to add.

Cathi Alloway
Public Services Director
Dauphin County Library System
Email: calloway@DCLS.ORG
Phone: 717-234-4961 x107
Fax: 717-234-7479

2 Responses so far.

  1. Wow, this is really tough issue to deal with! There was a good article on the pros and cons of MySpace on the cover of US World & New Report recently that some other librarian bloggers were linking to as they felt it gave a fair run down of the site.

    I think there are huge benefits to sites like this and let’s face it, they’re not going anywhere(!) and there are benefits to networking, meeting new people, etc. However, the dangers are undeniable given the nefarious people that are out there these days.

    I think the biggest thing is teaching kids safety. They need to know what’s appropriate online and what’s not and who to go to if they come across something improper. There are some great sites out there right now (cybertipline.com for reporting, NetSmartz for education, etc. etc. ) The MySpace parent page also has some great links. In addition to teaching kids parents need to keep their finger on the pulse! So many parents barely know how to turn on a computer it’s scary!

  2. There are good and bad aspects to all technologies. The key is to learn how to use the technology safely.

    According to an article in Fortune, more than 50% of MySpace users are over the age of 35. We would have to assume that most of these people (like me) are legitimate users — people connecting with their market (e.g., musicians) as well as people connecting with family and friends. This is a site where teens will be interacting with a broad range of people — just as they do in real life — so they need to apply the same rules here as they would if they were riding a NYC subway.

    It should also be noted that young people are engaging in polychronic learning when they use these tools. They have adapted to this learning style, which is something we’ll need to keep in mind.

    Jill
    (Born & raised in Dauphin County)


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