Twitter: A new discipline

Over the past few weeks I’ve been making an effort to shift my use of Twitter over to being a way to reach out and connect with students and faculty studying (or interested in) business and management.

Looking back over my recent tweets, I would say that my initial attempts could be described as Twitter-as-microblog, where I share not only status updates, photos, and links to library resources and news, but links to news articles and other things that I come across that I think might be of interest to my audience.

This approach has been somewhat successful. According to Twitter, all my metrics are up over last month (which I need to remember was a month of being in-between positions and so my efforts on Twitter may have been somewhat lacklustre).


Still, I haven’t been able to shake the feeling that I’ve been /  am doing it wrong. It feels too automatic, too habitual, too much like I’m going through the motions. I’m pushing the metrics but I’m not sure that I’m connecting. I don’t want this to just be a feed. I want it to mean something, both to me and to the people that follow me.

With that in mind, I’ve reflected on how I might be able to improve my practice in this area, and have come up with the following guidelines that I’m going to try to keep in mind going forward.

Focus on time. What is happening now? What am I doing? What am I seeing? What have I accomplished? What will be happening in the future?

Avoid sharing news or items of interest. People who want to know what is happening in the world, even what is happening closer to home, have other (far better) ways of finding this out. They don’t need me to cull/curate the daily news stream for them. The exception might be when these things are closely related to me and/or my work. When in doubt, don’t share. (I also know from Twitter’s analytics that these kinds of tweets get very little in the way of engagement.)

This is actually going to be one of the hardest changes to make. I’ve formed a deeply ingrained habit formed over the past 15+ years of scanning news feeds and sharing what I come across. This started with blogging and shifted to Twitter and Facebook. I actually find it hard to scan/read and not share. But I know this is a twitch habit, a pacifier, and that it doesn’t bring all that much value to myself or my readers/followers. Having said that, I do have a few pressure valves that I can use to redirect this habit: pinterest (images) and pinboard (links). And of course there is this blog, but the overhead of writing a blog post is so high that I don’t expect it to happen very often.

Avoid sharing too many links to Library resources. This might sound counter intuitive, but my thinking is if my tweet stream is primarily links promoting library services, resources, and news then it (I) am going to come across as more of a marketing bot than as a real person who is interested in sharing and connecting with others. I can talk about and point to these things as they relate to what I am doing in the moment, but a steady stream of “did you know” and “looking for” and similar links isn’t likely to provide much value to anyone.

Now I know from even a few weeks that I have a lot of work to do to raise awareness and help students learn about the resources and services that the Library has to offer. But dumping these into a Twitter stream isn’t the way to do it. (Worse is that the metrics might make me feel like I am accomplishing something, when in fact I’m not.)


These are small changes, easy to understand but possible hard to put into practice. It means changing habits and also changing how I think about Twitter. But I still believe that there is a real potential in using Twitter to connect with my community, so  it is an effort that is worth making.

Using technology to create connections between students and librarians

Like many academic libraries, we’re in the process of moving to a ‘single service point’ model in most (all?) of our branches, where instead of being scheduled to work at the reference desk librarians will be scheduled to be on call, only brought in if the question is one that requires a librarian’s assistance.

One of the risks of this change is that librarians will become further isolated from students. Out of sight, out of mind. This would be a problem if the reference desk was the primary means of interacting with students. While I do believe that the reference desk is a very important contact point, these days librarians have many more opportunities to contact and engage with students in ways that are potentially more meaningful and helpful for students.

Having said that, there is still a risk that librarians will retreat to their offices and focus on maintaining subject and course guides, on carrying out project work, committee work, research, writing, and getting published. All necessary things, of course, but ones which leave them invisible to the student population.

While librarians are clear on their responsibility to support students, this understanding may not be shared by students, as indicated by this quote [source] from a 2009 study of student behavior in and perceptions of academic libraries:

“Librarians are believed to do work unrelated to helping students, or work that, while possibly related to research, does not entitle students to relationships with them.”

All of the outreach work (or liaison work, as we call it) carried out by librarians helps to address this problem. Librarians who give information sessions during orientation or to specific classes are, in addition to teaching information literacy skills, helping to establish in students a more accurate perception of what librarians do and how they can help.

As a systems librarian, I don’t do much in the way of outreach. However, my team does have a major role to play in developing tools that librarians can use to interact with students in new ways. For example:

  • Our Library Blogs platform allows librarians to share updates, resources, and information seeking tips with their subject communities on an ongoing basis. These blogs can also give students a glimpse into the work of a librarian, and can show them how librarians are there to help them.
  • McGill’s new learning management system (Desire2Learn) has the potential of providing librarians with opportunities to interact with students directly in the context of their courses. We’re in the process of determining how best to accomplish this, specifically how to make course-specific resources available to students as efficiently as possible.
  • Librarian profile pages, not yet implemented on our site, can provide a richer online presence than our current listing of subject areas. Years ago (and before my time here) there was a concerted effort to reduce/remove the presence of librarians on the web site, and while at there may have been valid reasons for this approach, it is clear to me that we need to go in a different direction. Students, all people, are seeking human connections. Students want to interact with people, not with systems. Library profile pages will not only raise the profile of librarians on our site, but will provide students will a better understanding of who they are as librarians and as people.

These initiatives are just the beginning, and while none of them are on the cutting edge of librarianship, they are important initiatives that we’ve made a priority in our development plans. Anything we can do to establish a human presence on our web site will not only improve students’ perceptions of the website and the Library, but will also drive home to them that there are people here that are ready, willing, and able to help them succeed in their academic endeavors.

What tools do you think are most effective at creating connections between students and librarians? Share your thoughts in the comments below.