Solo Librarians & Twitter

Many libraries nowadays have Twitter to promote themselves to the public and their users, but what about how librarians are using Twitter for themselves. If you’re a librarian, I want to know: do you have a personal/professional Twitter account? If your answer is ‘yes’, then I also want to ask: do you ever use Tweets to connect with other librarians for assistance with job-related tasks?

Whether or not you Tweet, undoubtedly you are aware that Twitter is a powerful and increasingly ubiquitous online social tool to communicate and share information with others… in 140 characters. However, have you considered Twitter’s potential as a resource for helping you solve problems and frustrations while you’re at work? I’ve given this some thought lately, and have wanted to generate some discussion about Twitter-use amongst the solo librarian community. For many public and academic librarians, it’s typically listervs, their manager(s), and arm’s-length colleagues who serve as sources of assistance for job-related queries, but have you ever wondered how solo librarians fare with solving their unique workplace challenges?

Solos are usually the only staff member at their organization’s information centre. When faced with any kind of obstacle (e.g. tricky reference question, Director’s request for you to justify the library’s existence, or to evaluate new open source library software), solo librarians will very often reach out to other librarians and information professionals. More so than librarians in traditional library settings, solos rely heavily on listservs and close colleagues via email.
When I started my current job in a library at a think tank, I wanted to subscribe to some SLA listserv communities in case I ever needed support (plus, I felt a bit isolated from other librarians). From the start, I recognized that the librarians participating in the SLA’s Solo Librarians Division listserv (SLA-DSOL) are some of the most generous, kind, and helpful of librarians. SLA-DSOL includes a very wide range of issues (on shelving options, library policies, reference questions, article requests, best practices, etc!), and it seems that most requests for assistance are addressed and solved. A reoccurring criticism of SLA-DSOL is that messages aren’t always acknowledged or responded to quickly. The listserv is a great resource, but I wondered if any of the solo librarians on the list are using Twitter for the same kinds of issues.

One way for solos to do this is with the use of the hashtag (#). Twitter hashtags work to link tweets to one another when used consistently by others. Most Twitter-users apply hashtags sporadically and sometimes ironically, but when applied properly, they can have a very useful purpose. Here’s a scenario of how they can be successful: Recently I was having trouble with the open source ILS platform at my library (it’s called Koha), and was feeling frustrated with the lack of systems support. Overall Koha is an awesome system, but I couldn’t solve a weird bug related to the serials module. After sufficient frustration, I composed the following pathetic plea for help:
To my surprise I received a reply within minutes by a friendly Koha-savvy librarian. Via Tweets, she helped me to locate the appropriate documentation and set me up with a community wiki where I can go for future Koha support.

A second use for solos (and all users) on Twitter is the lists function. Create lists for Twitter users that you follow, such as Friends, News sources, Librarians, etc. When you follow someone on Twitter, youโ€™re able to add them to these lists. My recommendation is to create a group of contacts in a list of solo librarians. When you check your Tweets, rather than scrolling through your entire feed, you can limit your new Tweets to those written by the solos who you follow.

Twitter is just one more way that soloists (can I call them that?) should reach out to each other. If there is a combined effort to use a consistent hashtag for the challenges of being a solo (e.g. #sololibrarians), then I think it would be a fantastic compliment to the existing listserv. Take a look at Catherine Trinkle’s article about the use of Twitter for creating a personal networks of professionals: “Twitter as a Professional Learning Community” (School Library Media Activities Monthly, December 2009).

Overall, I’m interested to know if and how solos are using Twitter. Yesterday I sent a message to SLA-DSOL to inquire about individual Twitter-use. Hopefully Iโ€™ll receive some encouraging responses, and maybe then pull solo librarianship into web 2.0 ๐Ÿ˜‰