Monday, August 31, 2009

The Satisfaction of Already Being There

Limenitis arthemis (aka Red-spotted Purple butterfly), Blackwood campus

I created a library twitter account (@camdencclibrary) a few months ago, and I'm happy to report it is now paying off: I'm starting to see our students, faculty, and staff on twitter.

For once, the library already has an established presence. We're not rushing to catch up, we're not trying to figure it out after a critical mass is using it, we're not looking at something from afar and wondering how it applies to us. We're there now, and ready for them. We're ready to provide a service in a serious, immediate way, and not as an afterthought.

I've noticed that higher education often acts when prompted by data, which is fine -- why jump into something blindly? -- but in this case I'm glad we didn't wait. We didn't poll students about whether they wanted the library on twitter, we didn't ask people what they thought of twitter and if they were using the service themselves: We built it, and they came (or at least are coming).

In the recent book What Would Google Do?, Jeff Jarvis outlines how companies must engage with their customers online or risk being completely defined by them. I think this applies to any entity selling a service. I understand that education is not considered a business in the strictest sense, but whether we like it or not our students, staff, and faculty are discussing our college online. I for one would prefer to be part of that discussion. Particularly when someone goes on a rant about something that went wrong for them (you know who you are), I'd prefer to be there to help as much as possible, rather than the person freely (gleefully, at times) trashing the college or library and assuming we won't respond.

This part of why I feel justified spending my time on twitter, despite the awareness that it might come and go, and that next year (or month) I'll be chasing down the next latest and greatest web tool. I truly believe it's important for the library just to be there.


  1. When I first suggested our library use twitter..the suggestion was to poll students first..which would take forever...inspired by yours and other library twitter accounts, I jumped right in. Thank You.
    How have you made students/staff/faculty aware of the library twitter account? Did you market it or did they just find you?

  2. So far we haven't done any marketing, but TweetDeck has allowed me to find them. In a way I think we're still dealing with early adopters, but there may be a point when it would be valuable to put our twitter handle on the library web site and promote our presence there more aggressively.

  3. A very fine point you make Olivia.

    Some months ago our five-county 27 branch library district went out for a LID lift to save ourselves in a bit of a budget crisis due to a timber sales shortfall, among other things. In the lead-up to voting, there was a lot of back-and-forth on the major local newspapers article comments, much of it criticizing the library district and its principles, and a lot of it spreading misinformation. Why we didn't provide an official presence within that medium is anyone's guess, but the result is that this misinformation took root and contributed, in some small part, to our ballot measure not passing. This was a golden opportunity to connect with our public, but it was lost because our administration and communications department underestimated its value.

  4. Nice illustration Patrick -- I've recently been hearing rumblings about combining our county's public library system with the college's library (we do already share a catalog), & for a variety of reasons I think this is not a great idea, but I wonder if the college librarians will ever get a chance to say their peace. I'm keeping my ears to the ground in terms of how to become involved in the debate!