Libraries that wha….? Don’t be afraid. You remember how the word “blog” is a contraction of the words “Web” and “log”. Well, a microblog is just a small (micro), focused, daily (or twice-weekly, or more, or many times a day) journal about what’s going on. But let’s face it: we’re really talking about Twitter. Twitter, according to their website, is “a real time information network” using “small bursts of information called tweets”, messages only 140 characters in length maximum.
In their book Twitter: Tips, Tricks, and Tweets, McFedries, Paul Cashmore, Pete Mcfedries explain the concept of Twitter as simply an answer to the question: What are you doing? Whereas libraries can use a blog like a newsletter, letting patrons know about what’s going on in the library, offering reviews of books and events and the like, a microblog like Twitter lets libraries and librarians offer short, to the point answers to the question, What are you doing?
Libraries can use Twitter like anyone else, to share information about what’s going on to interested subscribers, and to follow other libraries and organizations to stay in the loop within the information field.
Check out this Twitter page from the Broken Arrow Library in Oklahoma: Not only does the Library offer invitations to events, notify of holiday closures and point subscribers to library workshops, but they also provide links to event pages, tutorials and booklists that people can easily click on to be transported to tools and other interesting stuff.
Homework NYC is a Twitter site geared towards teens that also makes announcements about events, such as this tweet from November 10, 2010:
Brooklyn Public Library has a wonderful exhibition called Drawn in Brooklyn showcasing the work of 34 children’s book illustrators.
And links to homework help such as this tweet:
Dial-A-Teacher App Launches http://homeworknycbeta.org/2010/11/dial-a-teacher-app-launches/
I especially like seeing who libraries are following themselves, since you can click and link through some interesting pages and see what other people are up to in the library world and beyond. It was through this meandering that I found the microblog for Central Park, which is kinda cool.
However, as Sarah Milstein points out in her article Twitter for Libraries (and Librarians), Twitter is not just about broadcasting what you are doing, in a one-way manner for people to receive information about YOU. If the point is to actually connect with people, then Libraries must also be open to having a conversation on Twitter. Milstein recommends that Librarians take the time to respond to questions and otherwise engage with patrons. She also advises that before any library starts microblogging, it is important to first take a few days to get to know Twitter, seeing what people are doing and using the medium with intention.
As with any 2.0 technology, and tools in general, the point is to use them to your advantage and not just for the sake of using the latest technology. This wiki article by 2008 Florida State University LIS student Lindy Brown lists the pros and cons of Twittering for libraries. Briefly, the bonuses of Twitter include that it’s free to use, relatively easy to update, it’s collaborative and has at the core of it a value of providing customer service that targets the library users. Brown includes among the drawbacks: that it’s one more thing to update, a lack of support from library colleagues who may not understand its usefulness, a potential select audience, and the fact that it is brief (140 characters or less) may detract from communication.
Do your research. Will Twittering work in your library? Is there enough interest from library colleagues and patrons? Who will be responsible for updates? Will you be filling an information need, or just creating another project for staff? For more information, check out some of the links on the right.