First, let me make something very clear. Both Greenville and Spartanburg Counties have outstanding library systems. The services both of these systems provide are vital to the education and health of our communities, and we would be much poorer without them. That being said, I have noticed some distinct differences in how each system addresses information in the digital age, and specifically social media applications.
Spartanburg County Library is embracing social media. From their main website one finds links to their YouTube channel, their Twitter stream, their Flickr account, and their Facebook group page. All of these accounts are very active, and appear to be updated regularly. I was most impressed with their YouTube channel, which features a video podcast twice a week. The one for this week is embedded below:
The message this sends is that Spartanburg County Library is interested in building communities by reaching out through new media options.
Contrast that with the Greenville County Library. Greenville has a YouTube channel, but there are only two videos on it, and it doesn’t look like it’s been updated in months. Not only does Greenville not have a presence on Facebook or Twitter, but those resources are actively blocked by their network.
I did a quick check at the main branch of the Greenville Library last night and found the following:
- Twitter – blocked
- YouTube – open
- Flickr – open
- Facebook – blocked
- MySpace – blocked
- Blogs – open, in general
- Google applications – open, including Wave, Voice, etc.
- Ning – blocked, sort of. Individual Ning sites may have some content available, but no formatting or CSS comes through.
As the image above indicates, anything that fits within the “Online Communities” category on their filtering system is blocked. But this doesn’t seem to be carried out consistently. The library’s Acceptable Use Policy states that users “may not participate in online chat.” However, some Google (Google Wave, for instance) and Yahoo applications serve the same purpose. Also, is instant messaging considered “chat?” Access to individual e-mail is not blocked. Note that the library’s AUP says nothing about online communities.
Like the school districts, all libraries are bound by the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) to provide some level of filtering if those organizations are to receive any federal funds for Internet access. Clearly obscene or illegal material should be blocked, but beyond that organizations have some leeway. Greenville chooses a stricter regulation of access, whereas Spartanburg does allow access to these resources through its network.
I’m not saying that Greenville Libraries should jump on the latest bandwagon and start up a Twitter account, Flickr, YouTube, etc., etc. I am saying that it doesn’t make sense to block these resources if your primary mission is the transfer of information. This especially makes no sense when these blocks and be easily circumvented with other applications that don’t fit into that “online communities” category.
Greenville County Library has a history of being innovative with technology. In the early 1990’s they provided free dial-up service to the Internet through their GREMLIN (GREenville MetropolitanLINk) system. This was before most households had any kind of Internet access, including dial-up services such as AOL or CompuServe. When monies were made available through the state K12 Initiative, and later through E-Rate for connections, part of the agreement was that services such as Gremlin had to be discontinued so that they wouldn’t be in competition with the telecoms like Bellsouth. Greenville also moved quickly to put their catalog online. Like Spartanburg, they have made accessible a variety of digital resources such as online audio books and videos. This makes it even more puzzling to me as to why they block access to social media resources.
I think this is just a matter of not thinking things through. I had another example of not thinking things through over the summer when I was doing some research in the library. I found a DVD in the South Carolina Room, but was not allowed to remove it from that room. However, they made no provisions for viewing the DVD there. There were no players, and the DVD function had been disabled on the computers in that area. It was like being given a book, but being told that you couldn’t open it. Fortunately, I was given special permission to check out the DVD for one night, as they realized the dilemma this created.
With rapidly changing technology it can be hard to keep up. Something will come along in a year or so that will supplant Twitter and Facebook. It’s not necessarily the application itself, but the learning community it helps foster that matters. Blocking these online communities sends the wrong message. Opening access and embracing them will just enhance all of the other wonderful things that the Greenville County Library is doing.
9 thoughts on “Two Libraries, Two Attitudes”
When you speak of blocking access, are you talking about on library owned machines, or are you talking about blocking if a person is using their own machine via wifi? I can understand blocking some apps (facebook, myspace) IF you are concerned that some people will sit there and tie up computers just to talk online instead of using the library resources a bit more deliberately. If you have sufficient computers available to where this is not an issue, that is one thing. But it’d be a pain to need access to a resident system, and not be able to because somebody is having a long chat about their boyfriend or girlfriend online. IMHO. DEFINITELY lots to consider here, and a great post.
They block both – hard-wired library owned machines and computers that attach via WiFi. I can understand not wanting folks to tie up library owned computers, but having it block the WiFi is a pain.
FWIW, I was at the Middle Tyger Branch of the Spartanburg Library and saw at least one user on Facebook.
Thank you for the positive comments and the recognition. We have a very talented group of young staff and they have helped us develop these tools.
Mr. Cothran makes a good point. Time limits help control use and equalizes access. There is an old story about a patron complaining about another patron’s reading habits of the NY Times newspaper. “Can’t you take the paper away from them?”, the patron complained to the librarian. “I have important things to read about, and they are just reading the comics!”
We are all still learning and trying to grasp the power of this technology. Btw, Derrick just posted our Monday Minute to Youtube: http://www.youtube.com/user/spartanburglibraries
I grew up in the Kennedy Library on Pine Street. REALLY glad to see the system is prospering.
Not exactly about “social media,” but I wonder when/if libraries are going to be in a position to have resources digitized and accessible through the library’s web for “reader” devices like the new iPad or maybe a Kindle that is more open to varied media than just Amazon stuff. I doubt this would be something accessible at a distance due to copyright issues, but maybe there would be the chance of reading locally via the WiFi. Kind of like Clemson now does some of its electronic books and journals. Maybe access is limited by library card somehow.
I think libraries in general are struggling with these new technologies. Assuming something could be worked out with Amazon’s quirky DRM, I think they would be able to set up something like what they currently do with video files. Both counties have access to a video check-out system, where you can watch videos online for a limited period of time. Availability is restricted to the number of licenses they currently have available.
I find this to be quite a pain. I teach Modern Communications at a local university. Part of the class is learning social networks and how the work etc. I have many student who have to now go to Spartanburg or McDonalds if they need to do homework and have no internet access at home.
For an article that make mention of a site not being maintained, to any viewer in mid 2010 or beyond this information is very old. GCLS launched a FB 6 months ago. It’s implementation really blows Spartanburg’s away.
No mention of GCLSm (Greenville County Library’s mobile app)…? Been out since 2011 as well and again compared to SCPL’s, really puts it to shame. The other technologies mentioned are all available in GCLS, Facebook included. And when you get to the ILS / Catalog Search of both libraries, again GCLS wins hands down.
One fact this article did have correct, both the Greenville County Library System and the Spartanburg County Library System are top-notch organizations in nice towns. Other than the embarrassingly out-dated content, as with most blogs, you really have to take them with a huge lump of salt…?
As of when this blog post was written, this was EXACTLY what I found, and I stand by those comments. My most recent visit to the library (a couple of months ago) showed that most social media was still blocked, and that the acceptable use policy still contains antiquated language prohibiting “chat.”