Teaching Twitter

10Apr12

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!

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