About two months ago I wrote a post called Ambient Awareness in Twitter for Reference. I came up with the idea of setting up targeted search alerts in order to capture questions that people didn’t even know they had — questions in which the library could assist them.
Laura, a London law librarian, asked in the comments of the post how this idea was working out. So, I figured I would share my experiences.
So far, things have been fairly positive. If I find someone from our college is doing a paper I may send them a link to a possible useful resource, or even just wish them good luck. Sometimes I don’t hear anything back, sometimes I do.
Erik Qualman said in his viral video Social Media Revolution “in the near future we will no longer search for products and services. They will find us via social media.” That’s what’s going on here. Social media, powerful search capabilities, and RSS make it possible to have a form of ESP. We can deliver value to our patrons when they are not even expecting it and maybe even make them say “wow” like in the example above.
Like I said, not everything has been a success. Sometimes I don’t hear back from folks, but hopefully they find the support useful. But the alerts I’ve set up also give me a lot of insight into the research and study habits of students. There’s a lot of talk of procrastination, and a number of late night posts or posts about the rigors of writing papers. Some students post multiple tweets about the paper they’re working on, and you can see that their being pretty diligent about it.
The value of Twitter, and social media in general, is not just delivering services but also listening and learning more about your users. These alerts are doing both.
A couple weeks ago when I was down in our stacks I noticed that someone had written the above message on one of the signs telling you which call numbered books are where. Apart from it being a cute little saying I read more into it. I took it as meaning that the real answers are not simply out there in a book or on the web. To get to the real answers you need to sink deep into your mind and reflect.
These real answers come when you actually reflect and think more deeply on bits of information you’ve found. How does this information connect to me personally and what I already know? What is the significance of this information? Does this look like anything else I’ve seen and can I connect it to another piece of information?
The web is great for getting answers. Who wrote Jenny (867-5309)? You can settle a bet at a bar. You can get information from the web, libraries, TV, friends, anywhere. But libraries in specific are good environments to get to those real answers, those deeper answers.
I was helping a student last week come up with a topic for how she could connect her major (business) to the constitution. We did a little searching online, but then we decided to go down to the stacks to the section on business ethics. There we thumbed through a few books. I asked some questions and suggested a number of different things topics or ideas that I found. We eventually hit on social responsibility and business and the student seemed pretty excited about it as a topic.
Librarians are good at connecting people not just to information, but information that has meaning to them. We provide guidance and another perspective. Going to the business ethics section was simply another approach to the problem. In addition, the library purposely creates a space where people can “seek deep into their mind” and be reflective.
Google is good at getting us facts. Libraries and librarians assist people in creating answers from those facts that have personal meaning to them.
image cc on Flickr via brunkfordbraun
You have a library website. People go there, learn about your library, get help, and access your resources. But that’s not the only place where people should be able to do those things. The library website should be thought of as a larger critter, with tentacles that stretch out in lot of different directions, trying to scoop in unsuspecting patrons.
What do I mean by tentacles? Tentacles are other places, spread out on the web, where people can connect with the library. This could mean customizing your library Facebook page, to add a chat widget or links to library resources. It could also mean having notes on pictures in Flickr that link to a catalog record. It could mean a lot of things:
- Library resources in your LMS (Angel, Blackboard, Moodle, etc)
- Creating search alerts in Twitter to snag patrons who didn’t even know the library could help
- Library blogs
- Library videos on Youtube or Vimeo
Your official library website should be a sort of home base where people can learn everything about your library and what you have to offer. But having tentacles can be very useful in showing the value of the library and catching users who may never go to your website.
An LMS is a good example of a tentacle. Some users (especially distance users) may never even think about the library. But if you have a section or page in an LMS then the library may become more visible and get additional use. The same goes with Twitter. Users may not be following you library account, but if you set up alerts for a few library related words, you can contact them and make them realize that they have access to a library and that it could be of value to them.
Get bits of your content out to numerous places on the web. Don’t think of these things as watered down versions of your website. Think of them as tentacles stretching out across the web, extending your services and resources to unexplored nooks and crannies.