One Tweet at a Time

Twitter can help library users draw the connection between pop culture, current events and library services.  This is what Rudy Leon argued last week during her presentation — “One Tweet at a Time: Developing Critical Thinking, Library Connections & Information Skills with Twitter” — at the Library Technology Conference at Macalester College.  (Her presentation slides are available here.)

Leon is a Learning Commons Librarian at the Undergraduate Library of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC).  Earlier this decade, UIUC conducted a study in which they learned that: Freshmen are totally smart! And they will circumvent the system in order to work around whatever they can’t figure out at the Library.  At the time, the Undergraduate Library (UGL) system was extremely decentralized, and Leon and her colleagues were trying to figure out how they could revitalize their services and help students.  Fortunately for Leon, her predecessors had already embedded a Twitter feed for @askundergrad into the front page of the UGL Website, and she was able to repurpose this feed in order to centralize information about the Library in a highly visible location.

Leon stressed that different tools work in different situations; Twitter worked in this instance because the infrastructure was already in place.  But if FaceBook or blogs had been more active within the UGL community, these tools may have been more appropriate.  She cautioned against letting the tool drive either the problem or the solution — smart advice for Libraries who are trying to decide which tools to invest in.

So how exactly does the UGL use its Twitter feed?  For starters, they built a list of basic principles — which is good practice for any library or institution.  Foremost on this list is to connect students to their intellectual curiosity, and to help them make connections between library resources and life in general.  The Twitter feed also celebrates the vitality of the UGL, highlights the collection, informs students of what resources are available, and alerts them to the possibilities.

In concrete terms, then, the UGL aims to tweet 7-10 times per day, about:

-Alerts: is the elevator broken?
-One tweet per day highlighting a reference database
-One tweet per day re: “Today in History”
-Intellectual curiosity & the University (even if it doesn’t tie directly into the library)

Leon also recommended that institutions break up their tweets throughout the day, in order to avoid dominating the stream at any given moment.  To help with this, she recommended the lovely and talented HootSuite, which is my new favorite Twitter client and can be used to schedule tweets ahead of time.

And the UGL has already seen multiple successes with their Twitter account.  @askundergrad now has 734 followers, over 100 of which are actually undergrads, and the UGL is a growing voice on campus.  They have also started to build relationships with the larger Champaign-Urbana community, and are in frequent contact with local journalists via their Twitter feed.

Leon closed by pondering how institutions should interact with their followers in social media contexts.  For instance:  if they tweet at you, do you tweet back?  And is there a difference between how you should interact with followers on FaceBook versus Twitter?  The UGL and other libraries are still teasing out the answers to these questions.  I plan to join in and see what I can help find out!

(click here to see more links for LibTech 2010)

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