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The Relevancy of Twitter to Patron Usage and Workflow Processes in Libraries

By Michael Larson / October 2010

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The Relevancy of Twitter to Patron Usage and Workflow Processes in Libraries

October 28, 2010

The community library and the dusty tomes on the third floor of the academic library have found a new ally, and it doesn't have a pulse. Libraries and Twitter have been united to transform the functional environment of libraries into a more effectual classroom, community, and workplace. Twitter has the potential to change the workflow processes in modern libraries and be a relevant teaching and research tool for library patrons.

Authors Defebbo, Mihlrad, and Strong (2009) discovered that Twitter had a potential multi-spectrum of uses, such as a micro blog simultaneously functioning as a broadcast medium, as a reference tool, as a search engine, and manager of third-party information. Besides the already noted arguments for using Twitter in a library setting to enhance the training process and growth of community, the authors added the following concepts: "link farming", or the quick access of data queries on the Web; following Twitter accounts of preferred medical journal publishers; backchannel Twitter at conferences in real-time to communicate ideas between scholarly peers; and as a collaborative forum for the exchange of information with other librarians, physicians, and medical students (p. 216-219). They did note, however, that there were three distinct limitations to be considered: First, the 140-character limit on posts; second, the short 14 day archive time limit for posts; and third, the lack of a reliable method for authority checking (p. 219-220).

In her inset article, Sonja Cole lists 20 ways that librarians can use Twitter (as cited in Carscaddon & Harris, p. 25). Cole divides her suggestions into four categories, starting with the need for librarians to seek out information at a professional level, such as making a personal connection with other librarians by sharing their favorite new book, video of the day, quote of the day, or blog post; and, schedule to meet fellow librarians at a conference, or organize a professional tweet-up in your area.

Porter and King (2009) add their own contribution to Cole's list by suggesting that Twitter allows the library academic staff to interact with their library technology colleagues utilizing an instant feedback tool with instant feedback that does not require a formal technology work request. It also allowed them to learn what was going on with library staff regarding specific subject matter with an associated flair of "appropriate humor, mystery, and some selective silliness while the serious work is taking place" that could potentially lead to "higher quality ideas, conversation, and results" while in the moment (p. 30).

Parslow (2009) echoes this sentiment by stating the need for a communication system that must allow for messaging, but also discussion and a degree of enjoyment (p. 255). Twitter communication would also go a long way towards the collegial brainstorming sessions that are necessary for librarians and staff to have when co-authoring journal articles when the necessary time is not available for frequent meetings or wordy emails as in the past. The authors could pose a question tweet to be pondered and researched while each person goes about their regular schedule of activities. Ideas and suggestions could then be instantly bounced back and forth, much like a real-time peer review of the ongoing work.

The second recommended use of Twitter by librarians is to help the patrons in various ways. Some innovative uses not delineated in the literature review would include the example by Kroski (2008) of the Casa Grande Library in Arizona using Twitterfeed (an RSS tool) to post the authors and titles of new books to its profile page. The site has an attached link back to the catalog record that allows patrons to instantly place a hold on the item using any internet-connected device. Because this library provided greater access to larger collections of media reserves, the public loved the service (p. 35). In Nebraska and Maryland, the libraries are putting a new twist on its virtual reference service. According to Kroski, the Nebraska Library Commission routed all of its incoming reference questions submitted by citizens through their 'Ask A Librarian' service for more streamlined real-time responses (p. 35).

Joshua Kim, in a 2009 blog post on Inside Higher Ed, explains how the concept of reputation is vastly different on Twitter than other community-based resources, like blog aggregators or RSS readers:

The learning technology community is small enough that I can pretty quickly begin to filter by reputation. If one person consistently links to material that I find useful and interesting then I'm more likely to click on her links. Rather th[a]n going to particular blogs, or presentations, or videos, or articles based on the title or site (as I do with an RSS reader), I go because of a colleague's recommendation (p. 1).

Cole further suggests the possibility of using Twitter to write a book list one tweet at a time, provide a daily tip or word or book of the day, or celebrate timely events, such as authors' birthdays and Banned Books Week (p. 25).

The third recommended use of Twitter by librarians is to promote ourselves as professionals to the public. Farmer (2009) notes that librarians are starting to 'crowdsource', or ask the global online community to be participants in open forums and policy-making (p. 27). On a large and similar track, database powerhouse OCLC regularly posts articles about current events and promotional opportunities within the national library community (p. 27). As libraries devote more resources to building online relationships with patrons, administrators might need to create new job titles and responsibilities for staff to perform exclusively in the area of ongoing Twitter and Facebook reference management and library promotion. On the other hand, a careful allocation of time, training, and technology can help make the experience of Twitter usage for the employee a more seamless addition to their work responsibilities.

Finally, the utilization of Twitter in libraries by librarians is important because it allows them to make connections. David Parry, of the University of Texas, observed that "�if we do not adopt the technology of our students (patrons), we will be seen as irrelevant to their lives" (as cited in Parslow, 2009, p. 255). He is not advocating fraternization, but using Twitter to break down social barriers that can get in the way of patrons getting the full use of libraries and staff members. As stated by a colleague that oversees the Twitter feed at the Evans Library at Texas A&M University, libraries should be concerned with "reputation management" (D. Fos, personal communication, October 5, 2009).

Fos further noted that the campus library Twitter feed posted the news of a nearby chemical spill in July 2009, complete with information specifying the affected areas, and subsequent road closures to the 190 active Twitter followers before the campus-wide "Code Maroon" warning notification system could post a formal statement. The act of receiving a tweet, in and of itself, is an exercise in connectivity.

Marshal McLuhan, noted communication theorist, once asserted that the medium of technology can become the message. Since there is not anything new about utilizing social networks, the real change comes when new technologies like Twitter become so ubiquitous that they begin to shape how we communicate. While it is possible that the brand name Twitter might disappear in the future, concepts like geo-tagging and uploading and broadcasting resources, information, or just one's thoughts is here to stay. So, local library, tweet all you want on the technology in my pocket. I like the song you're singing.

About the Author

Michael Larson works as a library public services and research specialist at the Evans Library on the campus of Texas A&M University. He is a former junior high school teacher who specialized in technology integration with curriculum programs and alternative learning strategies for at-risk students. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

Further reading

How can libraries benefit from following patron Twitter feeds? Mathews, B. (2008). Twitter and the Library: Thoughts on the Syndicated Lifestyle. Journal of Web Librarianship, 2(4), 589-593., doi:10.1080/19322900802473829.

What are the advantages and drawbacks to using Twitter in virtual book club meetings? Bell, M., and Kuon, T. (2009). HOME ALONE! STILL COLLABORATING. Knowledge Quest, 37(4), 52-55.

What marketing techniques can librarians use Twitter? DeVoe, K. (2009). Bursts of Information: Microblogging. Reference Librarian, 50(2), 212-214., doi:10.1080/02763870902762086

How can Twitter be utilized as a communication tool between staff members? Cameron, A., and Webster, J. (2005). Unintended consequences of emerging communication technologies: Instant Messaging in the workplace. Computers in Human Behavior, 21(1), 85-103., doi:10.1016/j.chb.2003.12.001.


1. Bell, M., and Kuon, T. (2009). HOME ALONE! STILL COLLABORATING. Knowledge Quest, 37(4), 52-55.

2. Barack, L. (2009). Authors Connect on Twitter. School Library Journal, 55(3), 16-17. Retrieved from Academic Search Complete database.

3. Cameron, A., and Webster, J. (2005). Unintended consequences of emerging communication technologies: Instant Messaging in the workplace. Computers in Human Behavior, 21(1), 85-103., doi:10.1016/j.chb.2003.12.001

4. Carscaddon, L., and Harris, C. (2009). Working the Social: Twitter and Friendfeed. Library Journal, 134(11), 24-26. Retrieved from Academic Search Complete database.

5. Cuddy, C. (2009). Twittering in Health Sciences Libraries. Journal of Electronic Resources in Medical Libraries, 6(2), 169-173., doi:10.1080/15424060902932284

6. Defebbo, D., Mihlrad, L., and Strong, M. (2009). Microblogging for Medical Libraries and Librarians. Journal of Electronic Resources in Medical Libraries, 6(3), 211-223., doi:10.1080/15424060903167385

7. DeVoe, K. (2009). Bursts of Information: Microblogging. Reference Librarian, 50(2), 212-214., doi:10.1080/02763870902762086

8. Farmer, D. (2009). Twitter's Complex Simplicity: How Small Is the Next Big Thing? Music Reference Services Quarterly, 12(1/2), 25-27. doi:10.1080/10588160903032309.

9. Kim, J. (2009). Twitter and the learning technology stream. Inside Higher ED,

10. King, D., and Brown, S. (2009). Emerging Trends, 2.0, and Libraries. Serials Librarian, 56(1-4), 32-43., doi:10.1080/03615260802672452.

11. Kroski, E. (2008). All a Twitter: Want to Try Microblogging? School Library Journal, 54(7), 31-35. Retrieved from ERIC database.

12. Li, L., and Pitts, J. (2009). Does it really matter? Using Virtual Office Hours to Enhance Student-Faculty Interaction. Journal of Information Systems Education, 20(2), 175-185.

13. Mathews, B. (2008). Twitter and the Library: Thoughts on the Syndicated Lifestyle. Journal of Web Librarianship, 2(4), 589-593., doi:10.1080/19322900802473829

14. Milstein, S. (2009). Twitter for Libraries (and Librarians). Computers in Libraries, 29(5), 17-18. Retrieved from ERIC database.

15. Parslow, G. (2009). Commentary: Twitter for Educational Networking. Multimedia in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Education, 37(4), 255-256.

16. Porter, M., and King, D. (2009, January). What Are You Doing Now? Public Libraries, pp. 29-31. Retrieved from Library, Information Science & Technology Abstracts with Full Text database.

17. Summers, L. (2009). THE VALUE 0F SOCIAL SOFTWARE IN SCHOOL LIBRARY. Knowledge Quest, 37(4), 48-50. Retrieved from Academic Search Complete database.


  • Mon, 26 Jul 2010
    Post by Online IT Training Courses

    Teach student's point of view rather yours(experts view point). Student must enjoy your class. Sometimes it has been seen that during the class students are frequently follow their watches rather concentrating on lesson it seems that they are in prison and want to leave it as early as possible.

  • Sat, 17 Jul 2010
    Post by Larry

    I have often thought that teaching through a semi-factual novel would be very interesting experience.

    At the time that I was in manufacturing, Eli Goldratt & Jeff Cox came out with The Goal (ISBN-10:0884271781.) Here was a realistic story that included all facets of life, home and corporate management.

    I purchased several copies and gave them to my employees to read then we had discussions on primarily the manufacturing aspect. I did ask if they thought The Goal was a novel or manufacturing text and most thought it was a novel.

  • Mon, 12 Jul 2010
    Post by Rick Walker

    The use of storytelling in teaching should begin with many fairy tales, as described by Bruno Bettelheim in The Uses of Enchantment. Then progress to the great novels, then to philosophy, and then to the dramatization of business and science case studies. Some dramatization takes place with authors such as John Maxwell, Developing the Leader Within You, and David Armstrong, Managing By Storying Around. I earned a master's in literature partly in order to better understand the personal dynamics of the workplace. Since then I've read mostly nonfiction, and have been working recently to meld the two worlds in my work and for clients. Students crave discussions, so written dialogue helps to satisfy that craving. Rick Walker

  • Wed, 07 Jul 2010
    Post by Hayley Goldsmith

    A very interesting article and of course teaching through stories is the basis for the case method within management education. The 'story' is the business situation within the case and is generally written in an engaging style. The learners then discuss the case within the classroom and the professor helps guide the discussion to reach the teaching objective(s). Very often the case discussions are lively, interactive, informative and allow the learners to understand and deal with different points of view, cultural & ethical issues as well as business and management topics. Many cases are based on real stories which makes it even more exciting!

  • Mon, 05 Jul 2010
    Post by Jessica McCann

    What a great article and a great idea. One thing my children often complain about when required to read novels in school is that they "don't get it." "What are they supposed to be learning?" Writing an engaging novel that specifically meets the objectives of a class is the perfect solution. Not only would it teach the subject matter, but I suspect it would also help with reading comprehension and create a better understanding of how fiction can expand the mind and enrich real-life conversations. And it might prompt a student, when picking up a classic, to ask himself "What am I supposed to be learning?" and be eager to find the answer.

    Jessica McCann