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




Reference Question of the Week – 6/21/09

   June 27th, 2009 Brian Herzog

Twitter @bloglinesThis week's reference question is one of my own. I use Bloglines to read rss feeds, and a couple weeks ago they changed their interface.

I didn't like the changes, so I used their Contact Form to express this and ask if there was an option to change it back. This was two weeks ago, and I still haven't gotten a reply.

Then it occurred to me that perhaps Bloglines used Twitter, and maybe I could ask them that way. I found an @bloglines user, but even though he's using the Bloglines logo, he indicates it's not an official Bloglines account.

I asked him my question anyway (noticing he was fielding the exact same question a lot lately), and got a reply in 5 hours. And best of all, his suggestion worked perfectly, and now I'm back to using Bloglines happily, the way that suits me best.

But this experience got me thinking. It's easy for organizations to let email messages slide, because only that one person knows they sent it in. But Twitter is public, and if someone is questioning or complaining, ignoring it won't make it go away.

Unofficial or not, @bloglines did exactly what I would have expected an organization to do - respond quickly and helpfully.

This is what librarians do, and it reminded me of Kate's post about their library suggestion box. I like that she's publicly displaying suggestions and answers, because in this case, one-to-many communication seems better than one-to-one.

So I thought, why not encourage patrons to use Twitter as a suggestion box? Being public, the library has to address patrons' concerns, but it also means all patrons can benefit from the answer, rather than just one.

I know a public forum isn't appropriate for every issue, and anonymity can be necessary, so I think traditional suggestion boxes (whether physical or online form) are still useful. But I bet there are some libraries already doing this very thing. I know I came late to Twitter, but it really is turning out to be a very useful tool after all.



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Conference Twittering v. Blogging

   June 16th, 2009 Brian Herzog

twitter logoA quick recap of my experiment to both twitter and blog the CMS Day workshop last week: I didn't like it.

And interestingly, while catching up with rss that night, I read Librarian by Day very nicely summing up everything I didn't like about it.

Blogging a conference is how I take notes for myself during the sessions - I don't know if it's helpful to anyone else, but it is to me, and I put it out there just in case someone else is curious. But twittering a conference ultimately felt like a series of inside jokes that only people at the conference would get.

Don't get me wrong - the conference was great, which is why I was trying to share it. So perhaps it is my lack of tweet skills, but it didn't seem that 140 characters, without the context of the conference, is very helpful (other than a laugh or two).

I'm still new to this, so forgive me if this observation has already been made: it occurred to me that twittering is the metadata of life. I can describe the conference or what I'm doing at any random moment, but it's still just a description of something else. Metadata absolutely serves a purpose, but when it comes to conferences, maybe the most useful tweets are those that point to resources available elsewhere (or that are humorous one-liners).

Or, perhaps more likely, I'm just doing it wrong.



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Time To Try Twitter

   June 11th, 2009 Brian Herzog

The Twitter Book coverI'm going to be at a CMS workshop Friday (sponsored by NELA-ITS), and I was planning on blogging the workshop like last year. I also got the idea that this might be a good opportunity for me to try Twitter, too.

So if you're curious, follow me at http://www.twitter.com/herzogbr - I've never done this before, so I make no promises. And hash tags: do I just make it up myself? If so, then I declare #nelaits09 #nelaits

And here's my nerd note for the day: so what does a librarian do to get ready to use Twitter? Why, research it, of course.



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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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Reference Question of the Week – 11/18/07

   November 24th, 2007 Brian Herzog

Turkey with 'eat ham' signSince I was traveling all week for Thanksgiving, I don't have a reference question for you. Instead, here's an interesting post about what libraries could be doing with reference questions.

It's a good idea.

I know some libraries are twittering their reference question, but this is even better (which isn't hard, considering my opinion of twittering). Finding the time to work this into your normal desk routine might be an adjustment, but it would be a great resource for current (and future) staff as well as patrons.

via librarystuff

libraries, library, reference question, twitter



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