Last week I asked a question on both Facebook and Twitter:
What three words would you use to describe what libraries mean to you?
I had been thinking for a long time that the number of followers for both the Voices for the Library Facebook Page and Twitter account would mean that gathering their thoughts on what libraries are about might be an interesting exercise and, hopefully, draw a wide range of response. So it turned out to be with over 50 people contributing in excess of 150 words. The product of this process was an interesting (well, I think so anyway) word cloud:
Before going any further, it may be worth pointing out something about the contributions themselves. The question was asked, as I said, on both Facebook and Twitter. Whereas it is fair to say that responses on Facebook would have come solely from people who have signed up to ‘like’ the Voices for the Library page (meaning they are possibly more likely to be library workers or library supporters), Twitter was an altogether different proposition. As Twitter is ‘open’, more people were exposed to the question and consequently, this potentially led to a more varied response from a greater range of people (beyond the usual librarian/library user responses). In short, basically this wasn’t just a collection of responses from librarians or library workers, it was far broader than that, which is why some of the responses are interesting.
Note, for example, that although several words imply a relationship with books (‘reading’ and ‘literacy’ for example), ‘books’ itself is barely noticeable (it is just under the ‘c’ of ‘community’). Compare that with words such as ‘knowledge’, ‘community’, ‘freedom’ and ‘information’, all of which feature prominently (word clouds size the words according to the frequency with which they are used – small for rarely used words, large for commonly used words) . So what does this tell us about how people view libraries in this admittedly limited experiment? It seems that the most important aspects of the service are the provision of information and the access to knowledge, in all its forms. So whilst books are important, does it not also suggest that anything that is considered ‘information’ or that imparts ‘knowledge’ should be considered central to the library service? It would appear so.
It is also interesting to note that the ‘community’ aspect is considered vital. For many people, community spaces have rapidly diminished. There are few places left for groups of people to come together and create that sense of community. Some might argue that that is no longer important as technology has plugged the gap, but I would argue that communities still need that social space. Who knows, maybe this lack of communal space has helped to exacerbate the individualistic nature of modern society. He says writing on his blog.
There does appear to be a paradox at play here though. Whilst it is easier than ever to build connections with people in distance lands, connections closer to home appear more distant than ever. Although the growth of the Internet has broadened our horizons, has it also blurred the foreground? That said, are the recent events in the Middle East proof that this is not the case? Do the uprisings in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya indicate that communal bonds have been strengthened to such an extent that they can tear down (or at least attempt to) repressive regimes that attempted to keep communities from uniting?
Well, this was supposed to be a post about the word cloud created from a simple question about libraries. That little diversion was not supposed to happen. Ah well.
The other thing I found interesting from collecting this data (and interesting in a fairly minor way), was the difference in responses from people on Facebook and Twitter. Whereas there was limited interaction from the ‘followers’ on Facebook, there was a continuous flow from Twitter. It rather suggested to me that Facebook users are a little more passive than Twitter users who prefer to engage and discuss rather than simply observe. But then I guess that reflects the type of person attracted to Twitter, it is not exactly well suited to observation and passive engagement – which is perhaps why many people who try out Twitter for the first time find it hard to get into.
Anyway, getting back to the central driver behind this post (the word cloud remember?!), I’d be interested to hear what thoughts others have as to why words such as ‘community’, ‘knowledge’, ‘information’ and ‘freedom’ took precedence. Why are these more common responses than ‘books’? What do this mean for libraries?