As part of an ongoing discussion on the LIS-LINK JISC mailing list I posted some ideas on using Twitter, both on an individual and library basis. One or two people kindly suggested that I should blog my response as well, hence this post.
I have to say that I found it very depressing to see the report that Twitter is blocked (even on one site, though I suspect a lot more) and I would be fascinated to know what, if any, justification is used. My prediction is that any such justification is going to be based on media hype (which is seldom accurate) and without any actual experience. A lot of the people who I follow do actually work in legal settings - for some reason this particular niche of users has really started to run with it.
Of course, when Twitter is 'banned' that may mean a whole host of different things. It could mean that it's not possible to get to the website itself for example. If that's the case then it shouldn't be too hard to simply set up an RSS feed to pull the content through to a newsreader or home/start page and view content there, use a resource like Tweetdeck to read/post to it (though I'll accept that if an organization is closed minded enough to block access it's unlikely that it will allow unfettered download of useful applications), or use a texting service to send updates directly to Twitter.
It may be useful to provide some justifications for the use of the service by libraries or librarians. Speaking from my own experience I use Twitter for a variety of different things:
Social networking - this is by far and away the most minor use that I have, but I use it to chat to friends and colleagues, share snippets of information and so on. I would happily defend this use however - one could easily draw a comparison between this use and the general networking we all
do in the coffee and lunch breaks at conferences. I can't see even the most hard hearted employer telling staff not to do this when sending them to conferences!
Information updating - a tremendously useful way to find out what's happening - either in the world in general or in specific subject areas that interest me. I usually have Twitter open in a window automatically updating itself and I've really now lost count of the number of times I've first heard of some event via Twitter before email, news resources, television, radio and so on.
Trending information - what are people talking about right now? You simply don't get this material using the dinasaur search engines like Google. Most of the time it's not of particular interest, but now and then a trend does pop up that I really want to know about in more detail.
Searching for information - the Twitter search engine is pretty good and in actual fact uses functionality that I've not found anywhere else - it really is a powerful tool.
Asking questions - if I need some information of almost any kind a quick question to my followers gets me an answer in minutes. Similarly it's just such an easy way to provide assistance to other people.
Self promotion. I have my blog entries posted across to Twitter, which alerts followers to what I'm talking about in more detail. I also feed the Twitter posts back to the weblogs to point out to blog readers what I'm doing on Twitter.
Identifying experts in an area. Who is talking about subjects that interest me? What are they saying, and where are they pointing? Again, you simply don't get this by using traditional resources in the same way or with the level of immediacy you do with Twitter.
Keeping up to date with company developments. I don't have the time or the inclination to go to a company website to read the latest software developments - indeed, why should I? I expect information to come to me these days, and Twitter delivers it very effectively.
I could go on, but hopefully I've made my point - on a personal level this has quickly become a tool that is extraordinarily useful. It is absolute *insanity* to ban the use in an organizational setting. Now, let's briefly look at how libraries can use the tool - since I'm not obviously a library myself you'll need to take that into account.
General information updates - opening/closing times
Staff information - new staff, old staff, anything about staff
New resources - new materials perhaps, collections of resources in particular areas, brief notes on resources that can be used for specific purposes/projects
General information - a library is there to provide access to knowledge, so why not do it via Twitter as well - 'this day in history', local events taking place in the town, pointers towards resources to supplement information on specific news stories
Countdowns for events taking place in the library
Linking to images of/in/about the library
News alerting services - take feeds from the BBC and CNN for example and reTweet (copy and send on) to your followers
Notify students/staff/users/clients about any and everything the library is doing.
Be involved in any conversations that take place regarding your organisation, library or subject area of interest
Current awareness with regards specific subjects for specific groups of people
Updating a news RSS feed on your library page
Share best practices with other libraries
That's a dozen different things straight off. In short, if you're doing things in your library, you need (in my opinion) to make people aware of them. It's a superb tool for doing this - and if you don't have the time to blog about what you're up to, a Twitter posting every now and then is a fair substitute.
Could I also try your patience just a little more - I'm aware this is turning into an essay, so I'll stop asap. I've noticed a couple of things that a number of libraries/librarians are doing when they're using Twitter, which in my opinion stop them from fully utilising the system, though there of course isn't a right/wrong way to do any of this stuff, so feel free to ignore entirely. I see a lot of libraries who are posting to Twitter but who are not following anyone. That's akin to standing in a room talking without
listening. Twitter is a resource to encourage discourse, to share ideas back and forth. If you do not follow anyone I am absolutely not going to follow you, because you're not engaged. If you just want to say something in the sermon on the mount approach, use a webpage or a weblog without comments
enabled. It's really not using the resource to its best ability. Secondly, there is an option when you start to post (which you can change of course), to 'protect' your updates. This means that unless someone subscribes/follows you, they can't see what you're saying. I find it very annoying (though of course this could easily just be me!) when someone follows me, I go to see who they are to decide if I want to follow them back, only to see a screen that basically says 'if you want to know about me, you have to ask first'. I'm unlikely to do that unless I already know the person themselves. If I don't, then I'm probably not going to bother to try and follow them. Really, if you're saying stuff that you don't want people to read, then perhaps you shouldn't be using Twitter for that purpose, or you should create a very private, personal account for a small group of close friends. However, that's all just my opinion; feel free to entirely ignore it!
Finally, if you want to follow me at Twitter (it's in part a promotional
tool, what can I say?) you can take a peek at https://www.twitter.com/Philbradley On a more serious note - it's a fantastic tool and I really would recommend trying it out, though the usual Web 2.0
caveat remains in force - if you don't see a value in it, don't use it, and come back in 6 months to try it again.