Twitter: Beyond the Lunchbox

Twitter! Oh, that’s disappointing. That’s the place where you tell people about your lunch, right? Isn’t it a bit 2007? Well yes, Twitter has been around since 2007. And yes, there are a lot of lunch tweets. But Twitter just keeps getting better and better- and the uses of Twitter for research, outreach, analytics and more keeps growing. So this column will provide a quick recap of Twitter before exploring how Twitter is a major tool for librarians.
In a nutshell, Twitter is a program that allows you to send, read and receive short messages of 140 characters. Using Twitter, you can stay updated on new information from a variety of sources, as well as tracking opinions, trends and moods. And, with more and more people ditching blogs and RSS feeds in favour of Twitter, you can even just use Twitter to receive information without having to actually tweet messages yourself. Since being the biggest RSS evangelist in SALALM, I’m now almost 100% converted to the superior power of Twitter. For me, the benefits of being able to search real time information, as well as easy subscription and deleting of feeds and the sense of community quickly outweighed the occasional lunch posts, making this one of my professional tools of choice.
Outreach is one of the most obvious ways that libraries are using Twitter. Event promotion, resource promotion, service promotion; all great ways to share your message through another channel. Tie in promotion with news- when a book prize winner is announced, let patrons know they can check that work out from your library, for example. Twitter is a two way street though- and it’s an easy way to start engaging more with patrons too. Want feedback on furniture, events or student interest? Try to launch a quick poll of your followers. Want to introduce yourself (or new study areas etc) to students? Upload a photo/video and blurb to and tweet it to your followers. Want to know what people are saying about your library? Set up a search on your library’s name, or use the advanced search to set up a search for the word “library” near your town’s name. Reply to positive and negative comments about your library and start building the online community. It’s another great feedback mechanism too- last year my library gathered all the negative comments and used them to push for more study tables. Not enough time in the day to tweet? Try to schedule your tweets in advance.
Twitter can be used for collection development too; many publishers are also on Twitter- and messages tend to be less annoying than the ones that clutter up inboxes. Try @DUKEpress, @EBSCOPublishing, @JSTOR and @LNAcademic for a start. Twitter can also be used as a great way to circumvent the big publishers too; use the powerful search to find small or independent publishers in fields you are interested in. A couple of hours research will enable you to embed yourself in the world of key people who are writing on a topic within Twitter- look at who they follow, the links they send out and join in the conversation- it’s amazing what you can find. You can also set up Twitter alerts on keywords that you are interested in using Tweetbeep or grab the RSS feed of a Twitter search to embed in a Libguide box: simply replace the word feminism here with they keyword you want to search on:
Finally, don’t forget uses for research. Twitter is almost synonymous with keeping up with current news, but Hashtags, Icerocket and Monitter will allow you to search the Twitter archive for historical tweets. The Twitter advanced search will allow you to track tweets between people while We follow and Twellow allow you to search for the most influential/popular people on Twitter related to a keyword eg Argentina, Cartonera. Trendsmap will allow you to search by country for news, trends and people. These tools are perfect for following or researching topics related to public health, politics, sports, and sociology among others, as well as for getting to know key tweeters on a topic and then following links that way.
Twitter is awesome! You can still use most of these tools without an account so give it a go, whether it’s lunchtime or not…