Back in March I put out a call from this blog to fellow library and information professionals to contribute to a research project on the use of Google+. Grant Charters, one of my final year project students in 2013/14, had designed a survey to collect data for a project entitled Social platforms as business tools: An investigation into the use of Google+ by librarians for their professional development and in library and information services delivery. Grant was keen to consult with a range of professionals who work in libraries and information services to find out about their use on Google+ to support services delivery and/or for their own professional development.
Thank you to everyone who took part in this work: 119 people responded to the survey, the majority of whom work in higher education. Four people also kindly gave interviews about their experience of Google+.The project is now complete and I am pleased to summarise the main findings here.
Although librarians exhibit some interest in Google+, participants in this research reported a lack of awareness of what the application has to offer in the delivery of library and information services. Of those few who do use the application for this purpose, the most frequent deployment is for general communication with users who have a Google+ presence, the dissemination of news and current awareness, and the marketing and promotion of the library service. It was noted by these survey respondents that Google+ allows for a more participatory role for users in service delivery, particularly in the updating and sharing of resources. However, because Google+ has a low uptake amongst the general population (especially when compared with Facebook and Twitter), this mitigates against LIS professionals adopting it in this way. Librarians would rather engage with other established social software tools where a higher level of interaction with a larger audience is possible.
The findings in Grant’s dissertation report a slightly greater use of Google+ by library and information service professionals for their own professional development. Google+ helps support general communication, and networking and collaborating with other peers who have active accounts. There is particular enthusiasm for the Google Hangouts feature. Here several people can communicate in a live space simultaneously, for example to collaborate actively on projects. Google+ Circles were also highlighted as a means of targetting relevant resources at the “right” people. As is the case with attempts to deploy Google+ for services delivery, however, the low number of librarians with a Google+ presence means that its value for professional development is also limited.
The study concluded that the main barrier to adoption of Google+ by librarians for the purposes of both delivering library and information services and for supporting their own professional development is the low user base. For any technology until (or unless) there is a critical mass of active users, its potential value cannot be realised.