Move your library?s value to the Twitterstream
This article was first published in the July 2010 issue of OCLC eNews
One of the greatest advantages that tools like Twitter and Facebook offer our profession is simple—you can put stuff out there. Too simple, right? But when you think about it, as librarians and information specialists, our core responsibility is to—without bias or passing any sort of judgment—provide services that guide patrons to the resources they are looking for and equip them with the tools they need to further explore whatever their hearts desire.
More than ever before, libraries are leveraging Twitter to broadcast everything from new books and library hours to special interest groups and local community events. But I think it’s important to keep in mind that the quality of the guidance we provide in every post is amplified. Each communication is an opportunity to demonstrate our value and expertise as information professionals. Even if a tweet or a post is directed at an individual, your entire community can see it, and many more could benefit from the information you provide.
Last year, we implemented Twitter at Tompkins Cortland Community College (TC3) Library (Dryden, New York). As a long-time blogger (Baby Boomer Librarian), this was certainly a project that I was eager to spearhead. From the start, we outlined some of the results that we wanted to achieve using Twitter and Facebook (along with some of our existing Web-based tools), including:
- Provide customized reference services, as well as tips and tricks to access information
- Create a comfortable environment where students could initiate conversations about our resources—a place where we could have two-way conversations with our students
- Disseminate alerts to special interest groups
- Be a voice, a lifeline, on behalf of our community college, in a way that enhances the institution’s sense of community among our many non-traditional students
- Ask our students for input
- Schedule regular reviews of feedback to determine what workflows need to be adjusted, or what new initiatives should be considered for implementation.
I would venture to guess that most of these goals probably apply to many other types of libraries or museums looking to get started with Twitter. I would also recommend that you develop some basic guidelines for your staff to follow that clearly state your library’s goals and other things that will help you maintain the appropriate level of professionalism and quality service that you want to cultivate through this medium.
Do not expect instant contact with your students or patrons. Our Twitter account is still primarily in one direction. Growth in people following TC3Library on Twitter is slow but steady. This is no real surprise as others have had the same experience when implementing new social networking tools in their libraries. Twitter, as well as other social networking tools, is an opt-in tool. No one can require their patrons to use it. Twitter is an experiment but is a low risk one. The only risk is that you may increase contact with your patrons.
You can use these same tools to help you keep your finger on the pulse of the profession and your patrons. Using Twitter, you can follow library associations and other library leaders, or even state representatives or local officials to stay current on trends and issues that impact you, your profession and your patrons’ communities. There are endless possibilities and combinations of tools that you can use to build on what you and other librarians and tech gurus have built. It’s what we do. We share ideas, resources and insight. So whether you have something to share or you are looking to learn from others, staying connected is key when it comes to tools like Twitter.
A recent example that relates to OCLC’s exploration of Twitter is its Innovation Lab, which recently announced a new trial service, #Ask4Stuff. It is a simple tool for using Twitter to find stuff in WorldCat.
When you send a tweet with the tag #Ask4Stuff (for example: #Ask4Stuff lake erie shipwreck), you get a tweet back that says something like: @YOURNAME A few things about lake erie shipwreck in #Ask4Stuff, check out http://is.gd/cY7gi. The link takes you to the WorldCat.org search result for “lake erie shipwreck.” You can even localize the result to a WorldCat Local instance by including the local library name as another hash tag. This gives you a way to do quick searches and share the results with others via Twitter. Innovative and fun to use!
If you are interested in talking more about Twitter and other tools, I invite you to join the Emerging Technologies Interest Group on the OCLC Americas Regional Council (ARC) Member-to-Member social networking site. This group is dedicated to OCLC members who are engaged (professionally or just for fun) with social networking and other types of new media. Anyone is welcome to join the group, ask questions or share what you are doing at your library with the rest of the group. You don’t have to join the site to read the comments, but you do have do join to post or respond to comments that other group members have provided. Or, you can also check out my Baby Boomer Librarian blog or follow me on Twitter.
This work is licensed under a  Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States License