For my free post this week, I decided to explore in some depth the tool that I have been most interested in this semester- Twitter! Although I had a Twitter account prior to the class, I used it only to ‘lurk’ and rarely to share or seek out others. The various exercises we have taken using Twitter this semester have left me thinking about how an academic library can leverage Twitter to spread awareness of what we do, but more importantly, to increase our impact upon students.
Two of my favorite Twitter feeds for libraries are UT libraries, and NCSU libraries. What draws me to both of these feeds is the interesting melding of news, research tips, personality, and direct interaction with students. They portray the library as connected to and part of the pulse of the campus community by spreading information about what is happening on campus as well as in the library. Far from being just a promotional tool, these Twitter feeds are all about conversations with the wider community. The UT libraries feed, specifically, will often connect current news to library collections or exhibits, raising awareness of library services in a really dynamic and relevant way. Occasionally, conversations with individual students arise, notes on items that were returned to the lost & found are posted, and notifications of fire drills, etc. are sent out. On the NCSU feed, faculty will often post about how happy they are to assign their students to award-winning instructional activities, or use equipment such as the new 3D printer. The library allows others in the community to do the posting for them.
What I love about these feeds, ultimately, is the sense of personality and community that emerges. Both of these libraries, by virtue of their participation in these online communities alone, come alive and appear much less daunting. But I wondered if Twitter could help with the isolation that students doing their research entirely online sometimes encounter.
In a fabulous article, Valerie Forrestal describes how RSS feeds can be used to detect whether anyone mentions the word ‘research’ or ‘library’ within a mile radius of the library location. A well-connected librarian can then reach out to that student through Twitter to offer assistance. While this may appear too intrusive to some, it is a powerful way to break down the barriers of distance and that online research can pose.
In another article, David Lee King and Michael Porter stress the power of “calls to action” as part of online outreach. So, instead of simply reaching out and saying “We have over 2.8 million items in our collection!” A link can be added that says “Get a library card”. This wording is much more effective than just “library card sign-up form.”
The level of engagement witnessed in these two feeds, the orientation around action and outreach, and the friendly, approachable tone of the communications on the feed seem to really exemplify best practices for libraries in social media. I would love to see our library at the University of Delaware undertake a project such as this.