This past week I read several articles that were thought provoking and intertwined in the issues that they raised. Social media allows people all over the world to connect. It gives people the ability to create a persona that may be different from their real life persona. Is that a problem or an issue? Is it misleading? Can it affect your professional life? All of these are questions that ran through my head and I would like to share my thoughts.
The person we are online may vary greatly from the person we are day in and day out. Perhaps you have always felt shy and timid in social situations. You have hated being the center of attention and lingered in the background. Online though, you have the freedom of being behind a screen and keyboard. Nobody can stare at you; all eyes aren’t on you per se. This gives you the confidence to voice your opinions and thoughts without fear of ridicule. Your online persona allows you to practice some social skills that you may have been lacking. The you behind the screen is the same you, just magnified a bit. Is this wrong? I don’t think so. You aren’t trying to be something you aren’t. You may lack the courage in real life but find it behind the screen.
When it becomes wrong is when you purposely mislead people to make them think you are something you are not. When it crosses the line is when you say things that you wouldn’t say to someone’s face. When one hides behind a keyboard and screen to spew venomous thoughts and words they are out of line.
An interesting question was raised this week. Should library professionals friend their patrons on social media? I feel that this decision should be a personal one but I will share some criteria that I would personally use to decide this.
My social media pages reflect who I am as a person. I share personal stories, photos of my family, and personal jokes with friends. My sarcastic side tends to come out a bit more as I treat my social media accounts as conversations with friends. Would that tone come off as snarky and unprofessional? Perhaps to those that don’t know me that well. Should I have to tone it down because a patron may be seeing my feed? Would that patron be offended? I don’t want to have to hide who I am.
In a professional setting I am courteous, helpful, and polite. I will go out of my way to help you and will share a smile, a kind word, and a laugh with anyone. As you get to know your patrons you may share a different side of your personality. You may be less guarded and your interactions may become a bit more personal (i.e. asking how one’s children are or sharing a funny mishap you recently had). All of that comes with familiarity and repeated interactions. You build up relationships with your patrons over time and get to know them better. You may find similar interests or even interact outside of the library through mutual friends. Friending those patrons isn’t a problem for me.
However, if I became friends with someone that I really didn’t know that well but merely interacted with a few times at the library they may wonder about the difference between me in person and me online. Would they question my credibility if I seemed one way in person and a different way online? Would I feel the need to have to modify my online interactions because I worried about judgement from patrons?
The bottom line for me comes down to creating an online space that represents who I am as a person. When I leave work I like to leave work. I want to be able to be me and not worry about the ramifications professionally of what I say or do. I want to know that if I share my thoughts on current politics, for example, that I can freely do so and not worry that my online friend the patron may be judging me or hold my thoughts and opinions against me. I don’t want to have to worry that someone may think that my views are synonymous with the library’s views and risk offending them and losing them as a patron.
So where does this leave me in regards to friending patrons? I opt to go on a case by case basis. What I have learned with social media is there is no set of rules that is one-size-fits-all. Each platform allows for different types of interactions and different levels of sharing. I take each request and weigh the above factors.
As is the case in real life, we should be free to be ourselves and not have to worry about being judged. I don’t want to have to monitor and censor my opinions and what I share due to the fact that I could potentially offend someone if they shared different opinions.
I’d love to know your thoughts…..would you friend a patron?