Reaching Users Through Facebook: A Guide to Implementing Facebook Athenaeum
By Wayne Graham / The Code4Lib Journal / Issue 5, 2008-12-15
Facebook Athenaeum is an open source application that integrates library resources directly into the Facebook website. Facebook is one of the single most-visited websites in the world, and its popularity among college-aged students provides a unique opportunity for libraries to redefine how they interact with students. This article walks you through the deployment Facebook Athenaeum, and discusses some of the usage trends and pitfalls of deploying applications using the Facebook API.
In 2007, Facebook was positioning itself to overtake MySpace as the number one social website. Until this point, Facebook had only been available to higher-education institutions, but they were in the process of opening the site up to all users and rolling out an API to allow developers to create “useful” applications. Seeing an opportunity to provide our own “useful” social application, we set out to integrate an existing tool developed by Tom MacWright, a student at William and Mary, with our library’s RSS feeds and catalog/website search.
MacWright developed a nifty little application that allows users to click on a map of the library and generate an IM status link (or anything else that accepted a hyperlink) so your friends could see where you were located [http://swem.wm.edu/services/swemsignal/]. Swem Signal was used by quite a few students, and we even got the code donated to the library to run on our servers. After the Facebook API launched, we thought Swem Signal would be a really cool social feature to integrate into a library Facebook application. The real impetus, however, was to expose our search tools to users who may spend more time socializing than studying.
What does the future hold for Facebook Athenaeum? Well, one of the features we want to work on is integrating with VuFind (http://www.vufind.org) to pull search results from VuFind into the Facebook application. As VuFind grows to enable libraries to index and search more diverse content types (it currently supports indexing MARC content), all of this will also be directly available through Facebook. The other big item on the roadmap is to migrate the database storage from a relational database system to Facebook’s Data Store API. This will allow you to keep most of the user interactions directly on Facebook’s cloud, decreasing the number of resources this application consumes.
So, should your library have a presence in Facebook? I am perhaps biased, but I think the site provides a unique opportunity for libraries to redefine how they interact with students and how libaries can facilitate the interaction between students. I’ll be quite honest though, when the Facebook site first launched and I created my account, I really did not see what the point was, and I know I am not the only one who had this reaction. What brought me around was seeing just how many students actually use the site on a daily basis. Being able to interact with these students on a platform they are comfortable with seemed like a natural extension of what the library has traditionally done in developing its web content and outreach activities. We have further found that when we advertise an event on Facebook, we get far more participation than we do through posters, news feeds, and other outlets.
About the Author
Wayne Graham is the Coordinator of Emerging Technology at the Earl Gregg Swem Library at the College of William and Mary. He is the author of Facebook API Developer’s Guide (APress, 2008) and contributes code to the Vufind and Solrmarc projects. Wayne occasionally blogs at http://www.liquidfoot.com, and you can always shoot him a note on Facebook.
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