A Social Media Policy Guide for Teenagers at the San Francisco Public Library (SFPL)

guide for social media policy (1)

I read an article in the San Francisco Chronicle about the new teen center which the San Francisco Public Library is planning. It will have multimedia equipment and mentors and is modeled after the Youmedia teen center at the Chicago Public Library. The teen librarians in the cubicles next to where I work in the children’s department are  very enthusiastic about this center. Many teens use social media according to a Pew internet study. It says that 95% of teens between 12-17 are online and 80% use social media. I thought that because teens are frequent users of social media, and the library is planning to increase its use of these networks that writing a guide to policy for teens was a good plan.

I began to plan my research for this guide. I first contacted some of the teen librarians. I also contacted a children’s librarian familiar with social media. I then contacted the librarian in charge of digital strategy at SFPL. The following are the contacts I made:

(Collins, J. personal communication, March 22, 2013) ( Davidson, C.L.personal communication, March 23, 2013). (Hannan, E., personal communication,  March 22, 2013) (Hannan, E. personal communication, March 23, 2013), Hannan, E., personal communication, March 26, 2013), (Worona, J., personal communication March 25), (Worona, J. personal communication, March 26, 2013). (Worona, J., personal communication March 27, 2012), (Worona J. personal communication, March 28, 2013).

I discovered that many other relevant sources were on the library’s web site. They included: Internet and Computer Use Rules and Policies, Guidelines for Library Use, the Library Privacy Policy, The Library Bill of Rights, and the library’s mission statement.

Others included policies from Facebook and Twitter, including the Facebook policy on privacy, Facebook’s policy on safety, Facebook’s policy on community standards, and Facebook’s data use policy. I also cited Twitter’s privacy policy.

I discovered more examples of these policies such as one from the Monterey County Free Library (MCFL). This policy is current, has some useful ideas, but had a rule against people discussing politics on social networking sites, which appears to violate the First Amendment.

Other sources I used included the the Young Library Services Association (Yalsa) Toolkit, which had information about how librarians can work with teens, to write social media policies, and a book called Teens, Libraries and Social Networking: what Librarians Need to Know which had many useful references.

I also found the article from the class readings, called “The Need for Student Social Media Policies.” to be useful because it described the purpose of social media policies and how to write them.

However, it seemed that there was a dilemma in the information on SFPL’s web site, including The Library Bill of Rights which says that libraries should challenge censorship, and the information I got through interviewing one librarian who said that the public affairs department at SFPL deletes posts that are “off topic.” The challenge in writing this policy was to balance the language in the library’s policy against censorship with the library staffs’ practices in monitoring social networking sites.

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A Social Media Policy Guide for Teenagers at the San Francisco Public Library (SFPL)

4 thoughts on “A Social Media Policy Guide for Teenagers at the San Francisco Public Library (SFPL)

  1. Henry Mensch says:

    I suppose the real question here is “what is censorship, and what is off-topic?” Censorship is, to me, very finely nuanced … and I’m not sure that removing “off-topic” posts is always censorship.

  2. Elaine Tanzman says:

    Hi Laurie and Henry:

    I looked over my notes to see if I can clarify what is meant by censorship. The person in charge of digital strategy at the library said he thought the the words “off topic” were a way to “sidestep a censorship discussion.” That comment implies that his impression is that the people at public affairs who are monitoring these comments are practicing censorship. On the other hand, he added that they wouldn’t necessarily remove negative comments about the library because posting them could get a discussion going about library services. Because I can’t talk to the people at public affairs (because I work there) or see what they remove, it’s hard to know to what extent they are
    being censorious. However, the teen librarian said “Posts allowed are those that are relative to library services and collections while following FB guidelines on offensive language or behavior.” I hesitate to say this, because I work there, but I think to remove posts that are not directly related to library functions is a form of censorship. This is especially true because SFPL has the Library Bill of Rights, which urges librarians to actively challenge censorship on its web site.

    One of the polices I read from the Monterey County Library seemed particularly censorious in the way it moderates posts. It says “Posts that are deemed inappropriate for any reason will be removed.” I’m not sure what they consider appropriate but this is a very subjective criteria for removing information posted to a public space. This policy also said images and posts that are about “Political activities except library related informational items posted by MCFL staff,” are strictly prohibited.

    When I took a class on media law, we learned about court cases about the First Amendment and the kinds of speech and organizations it protects. For example, we learned that political speech is strongly protected by the First Amendment and that organizations that are publicly funded are required to follow the legal precedents which, for the most part, support people’s right to express their political opinions in and about public organizations. Furthermore, I think it’s in library’s interests to encourage discussions about controversial subjects on their social media sites to encourage lively debate on these sites.

  3. Elaine Tanzman says:

    I just noticed that the ALA has written an interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights called “Access to Digital Information, Services and Networks.” http://www.ala.org/advocacy/intfreedom/librarybill/interpretations/accessdigital. In the second paragraph it says that user’s access should not be restricted or denied for expressing, receiving, or participating in constitutionally protected speech. As far as I know, political speech is constitutionally protected. So if libraries have social media policies banning discussions about politics or political activities, they are
    ignoring the ALA’s code of ethics.

  4. I think when we are discussing censorship and how libraries are removing blog posts we must remember that the post will also reflect the library in both a positive and negative way. In either case, it could benefit the library. If the post was negative, the library could learn from it and also the same goes for positive. But should librarians actually remove the posts? A big part of that depends on free speech but let us not forget that the person who wrote the post could be held liable, in any case for what he or she wrote.

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