The 21st Century Voice

Dog and soldiers listen to a grampphone

Photo: National Library of Scotland via Flickr Common

I’m intrigued by the idea of “voice.”  In feminist theory, we talk about voice in terms of being able to know who we are, and to speak our minds even though the patriarchy tries to repress us.  There’s also the idea of a scholarly voice, which is being able to speak in the formal language and conventions of your discipline in order for other scholars to respect your work.  And when I managed the grocery store I would train people to find their customer service voice through the analogy of the way they might speak to their grandmother, versus the way they would speak to their friends.

In my job search, I use my professional voice to try to convince people that I would be a sane and valuable asset to their organization.  I think this idea of a professional voice is becoming increasingly blurred.  And I blame social media.  I’m in the middle of reading several articles which present research on whether students want to interact with libraries via Facebook.  The findings so far indicate that in 2007 most college students felt that being friended by a librarian would be “awkward.” Students regarded Facebook as their territory and felt confused and suspicious when librarians or faculty appeared on the scene.

But that was 2007. Facebook was first developed in 2004, opened to high school kids in 2005, and then opened to the public in 2006. So in 2007 it was still largely the domain of college students.  Now however, there are more Facebook users who are over the age of 26, than those who are under.  All these older people have friends who are business or professional contacts, in addition to a younger person’s friendbase of childhood chums and fellow students. And they buy in to the idea that marketing is necessary and worthwhile, enough that the idea of a library or business having a Facebook page is also now more of a norm than an anomaly.  To ice that cake, some of those people over 26 are actually the grandmas of the younger people on Facebook.

So when these people with personal and professional friends, and these businesses and libraries, and these grandmas, all interact on the same social platform the lines between how we speak to different people get blurred.  The voices that we use for work, for family, and for friends become one voice.

Today I polled my Facebook friends to ask them if they used Facebook for a) for fun only b) professionally/for work and also for fun c) professionally/for work.  Of my 19 respondees, 10 said they used it for fun only, 6 said fun and work, 2 said work only, and one was a smartass (that makes a very low smartass coefficient which indicates that this is a very accurate poll).

Of my 19 respondees, 7 were personal contacts (family, friends from childhood or my undergrad degree, and othersuch), 8 were former coworkers, and 4 were from my graduate degree.  So even though the majority are using Facebook for fun, the majority of respondees were also actually professional contacts (albeit professional contacts who are also fun or friends or both).  They brought up some great points too, about how work actually is fun for some of us, how work acts as a Facebook conscience, and how many people only friend ex-coworkers in order to preserve the Facebook fun zone.

I can’t wait to see what these blurred lines look like in another ten years.


Bietila, D., C. Bloechl, and E. Edwards. (2009). Beyond the buzz: Planning library Facebook initiatives grounded in user needs. Paper presented at the ACRL National Conference, Seattle, WA.

Chu, M., & Meulemans, Y. N. (2008). The Problems and Potential of MySpace and Facebook Usage in Academic Libraries. Internet Reference Services Quarterly, 13(1), 69-85. doi:10.1300/J136v13n01_04

Connell, R. S. (2009). Academic libraries, Facebook and MySpace, and student outreach: a survey of student opinion. portal: Libraries and the Academy, 9(1), 25–36.