New Directions


This blog was created as an assignment for my Foundations of Information Technology course in the first semester of my MLIS degree. For the purposes of that assignment, the scope was restricted just to reviewing the Twitter usage of various libraries. I’ve decided to continue the blog, but rather than being restricted to this very narrow scope I plan to use it to explore a wider variety of issues and topics related to librarianship as I continue my studies. During the course of this first semester I often found myself working through things that felt like they should be put in writing, but weren’t well suited to academic papers or any of the assignments I was working on. This would be an excellent forum for such things.




Photo by martin_kalfatovic on flickr. Some rights reserved.

The Smithsonian Libraries Twitter feed (@SILibraries), feed of the “The world’s largest museum library”, as the description says, is used in a similar way to that of Library and Archives Canada, mainly as a collection discovery tool. I think this is fairly common for special libraries connected with museums or archives to use Twitter in this way. Tweets often link to images in a Tumblr account, as well as specific pages of digitized books at

The link to the Twitter feed is very accessible from the main page of the library, with a “Find us on” heading midway down the right-hand side, followed by a list of social media tools, including both their names and logos.

Something that is a little different about the Smithsonian feed is that it often posts collection discovery content from other collections like the British Library or Google Art Project. By doing so, the Smithsonian is situating itself in a larger community of museums while still providing content that would be of interest to users who are interested in the Smithsonian content. This seems like an excellent balance, much the way VPL balances information for its users and for citizens of Vancouver generally.

I’ve been subscribed to this feed since before I started this project, and even though I don’t always follow all the links, I do enjoy it. I plan to keep them on my following list.

The State Library of Victoria (@Library_Vic), located in Melbourne, Australia, has a very active Twitter feed, mainly peppered with individual interactions. While I’ve already discussed the pros and cons of this particular use of Twitter by libraries, the sheer number of tweets of this nature show that this library is using Twitter very successfully to communicated directly with patrons.

A lot of the things I might say about this feed have been covered in other posts, but I wanted to include it because of one tweet that showed up in my feed yesterday: “‘If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking.’ – Haruki Murakami”. No link, no relation to current events or occasions, just a quote. I liked that the writer of this tweet was making use of the 140-character limitation to do something that literary types have been doing for eons: sharing quips and quotations. I would love to see more library feeds make use of this, as not only is it an enjoyable injection into the feed that I receive, it could also serve as a sort of reader’s advisory complement. If the feed was composed of more of this I would consider remaining subscribed, but as it is I would hear too much about things that are totally irrelevant to me on the other side of the globe.

, via Wikimedia Commons“]Side note: I once wrote a paper in this beautiful domed reading room at the State Library of Victoria. It was heavenly!

The library’s website has a clear “connect with us” bar of social media icons right at the top of the page. Easy to find if you know what you are looking for, though not made for users just waiting to discover Twitter!

The UBC library’s Twitter feed (@ubclibrary) is not accessible from the main library page, but is very obvious and easily found on the “About Us” page. Much like VPL’s, this feed offers quite a few links to external articles and news items from around the internet that might be of interest to followers. Something I have a bit of trouble in determining with this feed is exactly who those followers are.

Let’s look at a few tweets to illustrate what I mean:

Patrons of the library?

March 31: “Filming today @ikblc Limited access to main entrance 10am-5pm”

April 5: “Easter weekend closure – A reminder that Rare Books and Special Collections, University Archives and the Chung Colle…

General Vancouverites/people interested in education?

April 5: “The Future of Public Education in Vancouver – The Vancouver School Board is has an article on the public opinion’s e…

March 26: “Teachers warn of new job action including full shutdown: ‘Our members are angry,’ BCTF president says

Other Librarians?

April 5: “Top Ten (10) Librarian Competencies in Evidence-Based Practice

April 2: “Contributions Librarians make to the R&D process – results of a survey

April 2: “Read all about it: UBC Library Spring 2012 Update in the BCLA Browser

The tweets generally contain quite high-quality links, but the bulk of them relate more to librarians than to students or patrons of the library. That said, there is not a clear distinction one way or the other. While many Twitter users use the short bio section to describe and define what they tweet about, this one reads “UBC Library has 21 branches, with over 5.8 million volumes, more than 833,000 maps, audio, video and graphic materials in its collections. Explore your Library”. This doesn’t really clarify things at all, as it seems to be inviting students in while also explaining the library system to outsiders.

I think this feed would do well with a little Twitter mitosis. I think it is entirely valid and important for the UBC library to use its Twitter feed to situate itself within a larger community of libraries and librarians, but that is an entirely separate ambition from trying to engage and inform students and other patrons. These separate goals could do with separate feeds. Tools like Tweetdeck and Hootsuite allow Twitter users to manage multiple accounts simultaneously, easily posting to one or the other feed, or both if the occasion arises.

I do plan to stay subscribed to this feed as they post a lot of very valuable links, but I’m doing so more because I’m a library student than as a user of the library.

This post is going be breaking from the mold, as I won’t be directly reviewing any library’s Twitter usage. Instead I’d like to talk about Twitter for beginners, and how libraries might play a part in teaching this tool to new users.

None of the libraries I’ve come across have specifically reached out to users who are new to Twitter in a way that’s linked directly to their Twitter feed. What I’m imagining is right below the box that says “Follow us on Twitter!” there might be another link that says “New to Twitter? Here’s how it works!”. As far as I’ve been able to tell so far, this exists only in my imagination. The links to the Twitter feeds assume access to and knowledge of the tool, much the way the phone number in the contact information assumes access to a phone and knowledge of how to use it. But because Twitter is a newer and valuable tool for information gathering, and libraries are about providing access to information, mightn’t they have a role in helping users who are new to the tool?  Of course, it’s just a matter of how they go about it.

The Vancouver Public Library hosts workshops and “Tech Cafés” on how to use computers and various internet tools, including Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. Their March 31 Tech Café discussed Twitter for beginners, which the @VPL account also tweeted about (presumably it was advertised elsewhere than just Twitter!). I’m sure that other libraries also offer similar programs, although libraries who don’t actually have a Twitter feed or don’t make very good use of theirs may be less likely to do so.

Another way that libraries can support new Twitter users is by structuring their feed in such a way that is friendly to beginners. I consider myself to be fairly comfortable with technology, and didn’t expect to have any difficulty understanding how to use this new tool when I fist came to Twitter. I was, however, quite daunted when confronted with a seemingly unintelligible stream of @ & # symbols, shorthand like RT, and these strange, shortened links. Librarians using Twitter can ease this difficulty by ensuring that they use enough descriptive text to explain what the links they are including are about. They could also make an effort to minimize the direct patron interaction, as those messages where we only see half the conversation can be quite confusing. I suppose there is a balance to be struck between making the feed accessible to new users and using it to its full potential with experienced users.

I’ve made some effort to find writings and blog posts about teaching twitter to library patrons, but haven’t come up with much. I’d love it if readers would point me in the direction of anything they know of! Most of what I’ve found has been geared towards teaching librarians how to use Twitter in their libraries. This does pose a challenge for teaching Twitter to patrons; if librarians do not feel very comfortable using it on their own, they are unlikely to be willing to try to teach it!

Vancouver Public Library Interior Courtyard
Image by Brandon Godfrey on Flickr
The Vancouver Public Library (@VPL), like the other Public Libraries examined so far, has a fairly diverse use of its Twitter feed. Much like the GVPL, there is a certain amount of individual interaction, and much like the RDPL they use it to highlight features of the library or catalogue, both old and new. One recurring monthly tweet is for new subject headings in the catalogue, for example a recent April 2nd post read “New catalogue subject headings this month: military morale, team roping, social problems in mass media, iCloud, introduced birds”.

Aside from all these uses, I find that VPL manages to situate itself in the larger world better than most library Twitter feeds I’ve encountered. They are not so focused on things going on within the library, but provide connections for their users/followers to related things in the outside world. On March 15 one tweet read “Do you enjoy dystopian YA fiction? This article from The Telegraph may interest you.“. This makes a lot of sense, to be directing followers to readings and articles around the web (and world) that are related to what library users might be interested in, but are not specifically about the library.

Many of these outside links VPL provides are to local papers and happenings around the city. On April 2nd they tweeted the following, “Check out this very neat “Cancouver” exhibit. The fourth pic from the end is a Library Square made entirely from cans!“. Having followed VPL on Twitter for some time, the overall feed does give a sense of the library being a part of the larger city. This is something the RDPL hinted at, but VPL does quite successfully. To me it demonstrates someone behind the feed who is quite comfortable using the medium, but it also makes it feel more genuine overall and less like incessant self-promotion.

The VPL homepage has a “Connect with VPL” section with links to a number of social media tools. It displays the most recent tweet, much the way the GVPL does, but this one is midway down the page like the RDPL, and worked right into the main content of the page rather than in the sidebar. All of which means it’s fairly easy to find.

The VPL feed is one that I followed previous to embarking on this project, and I intend to continue to do so.

The librarians in charge of the Twitter feed at the Red Deer Public Library (@rdpl) in Alberta are fairly prolific, with several posts each day. Topics range across things like announcements about upcoming events, highlighting features of the catalogue or the library services, to tying in collections to current events or occasions, as well as general local community information or observations.

The RDPL website‘s link to its Twitter feed is one of the easiest-to-find links to the Twitter feed I’ve come across. Located on the left-hand sidebar midway down the page, users do not have to scroll down at all in order to see it, and it features a “follow us on twitter” button with the bright blue, very recognizable Twitter title logo.

Red Deer Public Library Website Screenshot

An easy-to-find Twitter link on the left-hand side

I like the creative uses of day-to-day engagement this Twitter feed has. For example, on March 15 one tweet read “Et tu Bruté? Poor Caesar!”. The link, if followed, leads directly to a list of RDPL catalogue search results for “Julius Caesar”. This is very similar to what  a librarian would be doing in the physical library itself, but extended into the electronic realm.

Another way that this library uses Twitter, which I haven’t seen too much elsewhere, is in highlighting existing features of the library and catalogue. For instance, a March 25 tweet reads “Wanna remember what you just returned? Splendid feature in our new catalogue. –“. Another one from the same day reads “Did you know we have a Metis Collection? Got lots of other gems in Featured Collections! –“. I think it’s very easy for library users to develop habits in the way they use the library, and neglect to explore other ways they might do so. Little prompts and prods like these ones could be quite revelatory at one time or another. The Library and Archives Canada blog, which their Twitter feed often linked to, did a very similar thing but with more in-depth and instructional posts rather than using just the tweets themselves.

Occasionally, the RDPL posts items that are not related to the library at all. One example is a tweet from March 30, “If you have information about this missing #reddeer girl, please contact the Red Deer RCMP ph# at bottom of article.“. This shows how the  library situates itself as part of the larger community, and is not solely concerned with using Twitter as a self-promotion tool.

I am not going to continue to follow RDPL, as the posts are generally not relevant to anyone who is not a user of the RDPL or at least a Red Deer resident. If I did live there, I would have mixed feelings about it. The posts are quite frequent and might be enough to feel like a nuisance to me, as many of them relate to events I am not likely to attend. On the other hand, it might be worth it on the off chance I discover a whole new way to use the library that I’d never even considered, based on their feature-highlighting tweets.