Friday, August 24, 2007

Twitter Revisited

After Sarah's (aka, The Librarian in Black) recent post about Twitter, it got me thinking again. Since I last railed against Twitter, I've become a casual user. I know, I know. I was SO against it. And a lot of me is still against it.

I'm against Twitter as another THING for librarians to jump on, sign up for, start using, end up only 'talking' and following other librarians, and then proclaim "I Twitter!" The problem with all these new technologies is that you actually need to use them, not just sign up for them, explore them, force them to fit into the library. You need to see how they're being used and then see if there's a way the library can use it that works within the confines of the technological construct.

Take Twitter for example. I follow a weird, small selection of people. (the link takes you to my profile) Very few are library people. OK, four out of eleven is approaching half, but I know there are a LOT more librarians 'using' Twitter out there. I chose to not follow them. Instead I chose to follow people like Henry Rollins, Wil Wheaton, Warren Ellis, Merlin Mann, Xeni Jardin, Gina Trapini, and Cory Doctorow (not many updates Cory!).

These people don't care about libraries like librarians do. Their passions lie elsewhere. When I approach new technologies like this, I try to explore as wide a variety of things as possible. How are people using it?

Henry Rollins posts about upcoming gigs. Great use for this service. Get your fans locked onto your account and let them know when unannounced events show up. Libraries could use the concept to announce hours change (for events or for the library), send reminders for upcoming events, changes to upcoming events, etc. Most likely, this would be in addition to every other way you announce such changes. It's doubtful that all your patrons will embrace Twitter as the only source for updates.

Everyone else? They just post random things they are doing. It's very voyeuristic, which is creepy and interesting at the same time. My latest post (as I write this): finishing my morning travel mug of coffee...wishing it would magically refill itself, wishing I lived near somewhere that sold good beans..." says something about me and my current mental state. You only have 140 characters, so it's tough to say anything substantial (unlike here where I go on and on and on).

I had another thought recently on how libraries could implement Twitter. This was an internal use. If you work at a big library, where librarians are constantly working in different places, you could use Twitter to help keep track of each other. For example, you might think Carol is at her desk, but when you check Twitter, she's updated to say that she's working on the historical map display. You could update to say that you're working at the reference desk (in case someone forgets the schedule). This would be particularly useful for people AT the reference desk who would have a one-stop check when receiving phone calls. "No I'm sorry, Pam isn't at her desk right now, can I take a message?" And Pam's Twitter could say 'working on displays' or 'no phone-calls.'

Of course, like anything, you need to get people participating, and participating regularly. It doesn't help if four weeks from Carol is still working on the historical map display (in Twitter) but in reality that display now showcases the library's Hello Kitty collection and Carol is working at a different library. And this problem isn't unique to technology. Leaving a clipboard with memos that need to be initialed fails the first time someone doesn't look at it.

The 'trick' is to make it something that people want to use. One of my bosses when I worked for Barnes & Noble used to hide $1 and $2 gift certificates on the book carts. Then, as you shelved the books, you might find a little surprise. Sure, it's not much, but it's more than you had when you started. You could do something similar with Twitter: "The first person to mention this notice to me can leave fifteen minutes early" or "I'll buy a cup of coffee to the first person who mentions avocados to me" or something else.

And while people should want to work hard and do well of their own accord, I find giving little rewards never hurts anyone.

1 comment:

Jeff Scott said...

My library is using twitter ( and the problem is that no one else in the community is. Just like when the first telephone rolled out, works great if everyone had one. Instant messaging, txt messaging, and the old-fashioned telephone can do the same thing.