or, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Fear and Loathing at a Public Library Reference Desk


Be Careful What You Tweet For

   April 14th, 2009 Brian Herzog

chelmsfordlib on TwitterTwitter has been around for a long time, so all the press it has gotten recently surprised me. Personally, I never really had much interest in it, so I just more or less ignored it.

Until a few months ago, that is, when I found a way to use it for the library.

The snowfall and storms this winter seemed particularly bad, and we had quite a few early closings or delayed openings. Whenever this happens, one of the ways we get the message out is to announce the change in hours prominently on our homepage.

However, it's the library director who makes the decision to close the library, but she had no easy way to update the homepage from home. She hasn't coded in html for years, and installing an editor and ftp program - and then her having to remember how to do everything - seemed like an unnecessary barrier. So, she asked me to find an easier way for her to update the homepage.

Ah-ha, I thought - I know libraries are displaying their Twitter feeds on their homepage, so why can't we?

homepage with embedded twitter feedI signed up for a Twitter account, learned how to customize the feed display, and added it to the library's homepage. I set the feed to only display one message, and after some trial and error figured out how to send a blank message (use the html code  ). That way, after the storm passes, we could send a blank message to remove the announcement from the homepage.

Then, to make it as easy as possible for my director to update from home, I also created a Twittermail account. Using Twittermail, all she needs to do is send an email message to our account, and whatever she types into the subject line with then display on our website (centered on the very top of the page). Neat.

When I demo'ed it for her, it worked like a charm, and she was very happy. But of course, we haven't had a snowstorm since.

And see, that's the problem - I created this Twitter feed for a very specific purpose, and we haven't had much of a need for it yet. However, since I created it, seven people have started following the library on Twitter.

We don't promote it, so how'd they find it? They must have gone looking. If our patrons are expecting us to be on Twitter, and voluntarily pay attention to us, doesn't it make sense that this is a tool we should be using? To me, it does.

So, in addition to storm closings, I've lately been trying to think of other "announcements" that deserve top billing on the library's homepage - just so I don't feel guilty about these Twitter followers not getting their library tweets.

This is very much a case of "if you build it, they will come." Now I need to live up to the implied second half of that saying, "when they come, make sure it's worth their while."



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