Twitter: Tweeting the message of libraries
Twitter is the second most popular social networking site (Strickland, 2012), with over 140 million users (Marketwatch.com, 6/11/12). The site operates as a microblog, where users post messages, or “tweets” that cannot exceed 140 characters. Users can “follow” others who tweet, and can in turn be “followed” by others. Tweets can be “retweeted” by followers of the person or entity that created the tweet, and users can reply to tweets of those they follow. Links can be posted to items of interest in a tweet as well, utilizing bit.ly or other sites to shorten the URL if needed.
Twitter is a great way for libraries to promote their facilities, but like everything there are pros and cons to using it. The biggest pro is its ease of use: it is a simple way to build rapport with patrons because it duplicates conversation (Loudon & Hall, 2010). Ideas, comments, and questions can be tweeted by followers and responses can be made by library staff. The limit of 140 characters forces clear and succinct communication. It allows librarians to go where patrons are located rather than waiting for them to come to the library (Dickson & Holley, 2010), and it is also easy to access across a wide range of platforms, thus allowing a library to reach an even larger number of patrons. However, for this to be effective staff must be able to respond quickly. For large libraries, this could mean a large part of the day would be devoted to staff updating the library Twitter page (Dickson & Holley, 2010). Also, large facilities such as academic libraries would have to utilize staff from different subject areas to ensure all inquiries would be expertly answered (Dickson and Holley, 2010).
A social networking site only works well if all users share their information, which is perhaps the major con working against libraries using sites such as Twitter. In academic settings, students may be reluctant to follow university librarians because they are seen as authority figures (Dickson and Holley, 2010). Social networking sites are mostly used by students as a distraction from class work; they socialize with friends on them, not with university librarians. There is also a concern that university officials would have access to their personal information, and indeed this concern reflects a violation of the ALA code of ethics: its Policy on Confidentiality of Library records states specifically that all records identifying the names of library users be confidential (Griffey, 2010). To be sure, many libraries are currently using Twitter for patron outreach, so the ALA may have to revise their Policy for libraries to remain relevant.
Twitter can also be a benefit to librarians for professional networking. Unimpeded by time and geography, library professionals can network and share information via tweets (Loudon & Hall, 2010). For those professionals learning to use Twitter (and indeed, patrons as well), the design of the site is ideal. Less-knowledgeable users can lurk on the sidelines of conversations in legitimate participation, and learn from more experienced members from their ideas and comments (Loudon & Hall, 2010).
I searched Twitter and examined three libraries in Michigan which are using it: the Detroit Public Library (https://twitter.com/#!/DetroitLibrary), the Canton Public Library (https://twitter.com/#!/CantonLibrary), and Wayne State’s library system (https://twitter.com/#!/waynestatelib). The DPL and the Canton Library use it in essentially the same way: they post information about exhibitions on display and upcoming events at their facilities, retweet posts by followers and patrons about their libraries, and tweet links to articles relevant to libraries in general as well as local news. The Canton Library also tweets available jobs at their facility. The DPL has 2,828 followers, despite the fact that their tweets are sporadic; as of today (6/21/12) there was one tweet made, with the last one posted five days prior (6/16/12). The Canton Library, however, utilizes it quite regularly with at least two posts a day and mentions of updates to their Facebook page. They have 1,631 followers, which is a sizable number considering the population of Canton.
The Wayne State Library system, however, seems to be a bit lost in how to use it. Tweets are hardly regular, with a gap of seven days between some. Tweets consist of information about EndNote tutorials, the “subject of the month” at the Purdy-Kresge Library, links to articles about “spectacular libraries” and the occasional announcement from SLIS. This could probably explain the fact that there are only 161 regular followers.
How can Twitter usage be improved? First of all, the mindset of some library professionals needs to change—many see Twitter as a recreational site for following celebrities, not as a viable way to reach out to patrons. When used correctly, such as the example of the Canton Library, it can be a great resource. By tweeting frequently, the library’s presence will be much greater and patrons will see it as an up-to-date and relevant utility. By linking their Twitter account to other sites such as Facebook, a blog, or library website the presence is amped up even more. For larger libraries such as university libraries, having a link to a Twitter account which is monitored daily where patrons can post inquiries would be an innovative way to use the site. Not only would patrons be able to receive help remotely in a timely fashion, but because anyone can see these tweets and conversations the library would receive free PR for their outstanding services. Of course, this visibility of user information leads us back to the violation of the ALA Policy of Confidentiality. It should be considered that anyone who uses a social networking site such as Twitter does so voluntarily, therefore this should be contemplated by the ALA and incorporated into their Policy. As information is constantly changing and updating, so must libraries.
Strickland, Jonathan. “Top Ten Social Networking Sites”. Retrieved 6/21/12 from http://news.discovery.com/tech/top-ten-social-networking-sites.html
“Twitter Users Have Quadrupled Over Past Two Years.” 6/11/2012. Retrieved 6/21/12 from http://www.marketwatch.com/story/twitter-users-have-quadrupled-over-past-two-years-2012-06-11
Hall, Hazel and Loudon, Lynn. (December, 2010). From Triviality to Business Tool: The Case of Twitter in Library and Information Services Delivery. Business Information Review, 27(4). 236-241. doi: 10.1177/0266382110390480
Dickson, Andrea and Holley, Robert P. (Nov/Dec 2010). Social Networking in Academic Libraries: The Possibilities and Concerns. New Library World, Vol. 111, No. 11/12. 468-479. doi: 10.1108/03074801011094840
Griffey, Jason. (Nov/Dec 2010). Social Networking and the Library. Library Technology Reports, Vol. 46 Issue 8. 34-39.