Leap Day fun

February 29, 2008

A library must be useful but it ought to have a sense of humor as well. We want people to be happy to see us. That goes for our online presence, too.

This has nothing to do with libraries, mind you, but I’d love to see a library website fall apart like this retailer’s website in the Netherlands. Kudos to Hema [here is their normal website] for letting customers in on a little fun.

Over the years I’ve done a lot of goofy things on our intranet (mirror-imaged the home page, turned the “staff”web into a disease-ridden “staph”web, etc.) but we’ve been pretty tame on the public side.  Has your library website had fun?


Internet Utilities

February 27, 2008

The concept of Internet utilities intrigues me. Increasingly, I’ve been living it for the last three or four years, but hadn’t heard the term until last December when I read The Big Switch, a new book by Nicholas Carr. [My review.]

The concept is simple. The mundane computer stuff you have been buying and maintaining locally (i.e. software, upgrades, data backups, etc.) could be farmed out to remote services on the Internet thereby freeing you to create, process, and save.

I don’t have a separately purchased word processor on my laptop, for instance. I use Google documents and now Buzzword, too. They do almost everything I ask. For free. And the documents saved online are available anywhere I go. I seldom fuss with syncing copies or loading files to a traveling memory stick. A spare drive is handy at times but seldom crucial.

No email is stored on my machine. For about $25 a year I store most of my photos on Flickr. Not all are public, but all are accessible. I can pull images from my stockpile and use them in blogs and elsewhere. I use desktop photo and video editing software now, but I’m starting to fiddle with online photo editors, too. I use my laptop more than ever, but it holds little more than music and document drafts anymore.

In short, Internet utilities provide the applications, the functions, the storage, and the access for me. They also handle the endless upgrades and bug fixes.

In his book, Carr compared the advent of this era with the dawn of electrical utilities. Factories in the 19th century used to generate their own power. It was part of their business. If you made textiles, you built a mill on a river and ran your looms with belts set spinning by your waterwheel. If you needed steam power, you created it. Eventually, electrical utilities took on the power hassles. They could efficiently generate electricity off-site and supply it to subscribers. Businesses went back to what they were good at and let the utilities fuss with building power grids and transmission systems.

Internet utilities are starting to do the same. IT departments that occupy large portions of every organization might be increasingly freed from the hassles of upgrading hundreds of machines with each new software version or bug fix. Data backups could be automated and off-site. Scalable utility services could probably handle fluctuations in use and storage needs, too. Local IT would still need to handle hardware, troubleshooting, consulting, and parameter settings, but many of the tedious maintenance tasks could be handled by subscription.

Many services are free (or low cost) to individuals now. Organizations with much greater needs would pay more for such services but utilities will likely be more efficient and less expensive than current in-house operations. Many smaller libraries already subscribe to Internet services such as workstation management and catalog support.

Don’t get me wrong: It’s not all rosy. A slew of thoughts came to mind reading up on the subject. Issues relating to our data’s security [Is it backed up? How often? At different locations? How strong are the firewalls?], availability [How reliable is it? How fast is it? Can the bandwidth handle it? How often might it go down?], privacy [Whose property is it? Can others see it? Can the utility mine it for data? How much tinkering can we do with the parameters?] and permanence [If we delete something, is it really gone?] need to be addressed before any sane organization buys into the idea completely.

These concerns are real, but the concept of Internet utilities seems more a matter of when than if.


Learn More: RSS feeds and feed readers

February 24, 2008

[This is one in a series of self-paced discovery exercises for library staff venturing into the social web.]

If checking a website for information is akin to picking up a morning paper at a newsstand, then using an RSS feed is like subscribing to the newspaper. It give you the latest info and saves you the trip.

That’s the metaphor. In real terms, RSS (Really Simple Syndication) is a snippet of XML code that retrieves a website’s latest content. Paired with a feed reader (or aggregator), that content is delivered to single place: a web page of your own design. You choose the sources of information (i.e., blogs or frequently-updated websites that you hope to keep up with), and RSS will “feed” all that new info to your page.

MEANING FOR LIBRARIES

As a user: If you routinely check a dozen or more sources, a feed reader will make you more efficient. It could save you A LOT of time. Most (if not all) library-world blogs provide feeds. Blogging software, in fact, usually includes it as a basic tool. Many websites and virtually all news sites offer feeds, too.

As a provider: A library could (dare I say “should”?) include RSS feeds on many of its web pages, all of its blogs, and even within its catalog. When a page changes or a new blog is posted, subscribers will immediately see it on their feed readers. To maximize effectiveness, libraries should advertise the possibilities (or explain the feed concept) when opportunities arise. Don’t be content with providing an RSS icon; be proactive by explaining that RSS icon.

As a conduit: A library’s website could include RSS feeds from other sources. Do you know of a reliable RSS source of local traffic information? Does your town have a website with a community events feed? Maybe you could pipe that content (or content even more imaginative) into your page. When the information is updated on the original website, the RSS will feed it to the library’s page where your patrons can see it.

LEARN MORE BY PARTICIPATING

Some browsers (including Internet Explorer 7 and Firefox) have built-in feed readers which simplify the process but limit your feeds to one machine. Skip to the “get a few feeds” section below if you want that option. Follow the whole process if you prefer a web-based feed reader.

Start with a feed reader or aggregator.

  • Open a free account at GoogleReader, Bloglines, Technorati, or other feed reader or blog reader service.
  • Each site works a bit differently but I’m hoping you’ll be able to navigate the set-up process once you’re in. Look for links offering to help you add RSS, XML, subscriptions, or feeds. (This set-up is usually the most difficult step in the process. Fortunately, you will only need to do this once. Seek an experienced friend if you get stuck.)
  • This will be the beginning of the web page you’ll use to collect all those subscriptions.

Now, get a few feeds.

  • Open another browser window. (This is not required, but it will make returning to your aggregator much easier in a moment.)
  • Go to a blog or webpage to which you’d like to subscribe.
  • Scan the page for a (usually orange) button or link denoting RSS, XML, or FEED. It might also be an orange ’emitting’ logo like the one shown a few paragraphs above. (LibraryStream has an RSS box on its sidebar with an “Entries RSS” link, but the RSS/XML box right here works, too.)
  • Click that button or link.
  • Depending on the site and your browser, the page that opens might resemble computer code gibberish. That’s XML and you need not understand any of it. What you want is the web page address for all that XML. Right-click your browser’s address window, and click COPY.

Return to your aggregator.

  • Right-click into the aggregator’s RSS text box and click PASTE.
  • Once that address is entered, you should see the latest content (or a clickable title for the latest content) in your feed reader.

What you do next is your call: find more feeds to add to your aggregator,rearrange your aggregator’s display,adjust the feed settings (to display full content, titles only, number of posts to display, etc.),or close for the day. You can return to your feed reader at any time and see all the new stuff that your favorite blogs and websites have fed to you while you were away. And of course you can add other feeds whenever the need or mood strikes.

Make your feed reader work for you. Have all the stuff you like delivered. And why not? It’s your web now.


Creative Commons in the Catalog

February 21, 2008

An interesting initative: Michael Sauers, the Travelin’ Librarian, is working on a project at the Nebraska Library Commission involving materials published under Creative Commons licenses.* They have begun incorporating CC works into the library catalog, and — in some cases when the license permitted it — created spiral bound hard copies of books. This is a wonderful idea. The materials are available, their authors are willing, the selectors chose them. Why not help patrons find them in their catalog searches? See Michael’s post in the NLC blog for more info.

* Creative Commons is a cooperative licensing plan developed in the last several years and heavily used throughout the social web.


Buzzword: Web-based word processing

February 17, 2008

I’m jazzed about Buzzword, a new web-based word processor created by Virtual Ubiquity and now under Adobe management. It’s easy to learn and easy to use. After a simple sign-up process* I was up and running.

The screen is attractive and the tools are largely intuitive. In fact, the toolbars appear better organized than those I’ve seen in many PC-based word processor programs. So far I’ve found every tool I’ve needed or gone looking for: margins, tables, spell-check, text/background colors, images, headers/footers, etc. It even has an always-visible word count and a page-numbered scroll bar.

A comment feature allows meta info and the collaboration possibilities** seem at least as good as Google Docs. I’ll have to experiment more to be sure. I can save my documents as an online Buzzword file, plain text, rich text format, or Word document, and then access my files from anywhere. (Don’t you just love the convenience of online storage?!)

Downsides? Despite Adobe’s involvement with Buzzword, there’s no PDF format yet. And there’s an occasional delay in the typing-response time, but it’s not bad for an on-line application. Not bad at all. It’s just a teensy bit jittery. That might change depending on your machine and browser; I’ve only tried it on two of each so far and noticed a difference.

If you try Buzzword, please let me know what you think.


* Name, email, and password; it couldn’t be much simpler.
** Why email copies to several people when you can share a single document online?


Dead People’s Books

February 10, 2008

Meant to write about this a month ago

Last September, jbd1 (his screen name) embarked on an intriguing project to enter all of Thomas Jefferson’s books* into a LibraryThing profile. Jefferson would become, in essence, on online persona on the popular social networking site. We could browse his catalog and compare** it to our own as easily as that of any other LibraryThing friend. It’s as if we were running our fingers across the spines of books at Monticello [right].

I friended Jefferson and joined in on the cataloging project with jbd1 and about fifteen other people during that first week. My sections were astronomy and natural philosophy (personal interests of mine). I started with enthusiasm but got bogged down after entering about three dozen titles. These were pre-1815 volumes, after all, and required time-consuming searches for precise editions in academic library catalogs; no small task. The small group of collaborators finished the entire project a month ago. Check it out. It’s a wonderful resource.

Jefferson’s collection isn’t the only historical library of interest, however. Members of LibraryThing’s I See Dead People[‘s Books] group have completed or started working on the catalogs of about twenty other famous people ranging from Samuel Johnson and James Joyce to Marie Antoinette and Susan B. Anthony to Mozart and Tupac Shakur. I applaud this imaginative collaborative effort. It places a scholarly resource within a user-friendly environment and brings dead people’s books back into view. Oh yeah: It’s also just a cool concept.

* Specifically all the books Jefferson sold to the Library of Congress in 1815.
** I share 27 titles with Jefferson, it turns out. Newer editions, of course.


Learn More: Blogs and Blogging, pt 2

February 5, 2008

[This is one in a series of self-paced discovery exercises for library staff venturing into the social web.]

Welcome back. I’m terribly sorry I missed a week and left you hanging between Part 1 and Part 2 like that. If you’d like to review the basics of a blog, here’s an outstanding short video from the folks at the Common Craft Show: Blogs in Plain English.

MEANING FOR LIBRARIES

Individuals start blogs for many reasons. A family member coping with a medical condition or treatment might post progress reports with far less time and trouble than daily emails to individual family and friends. The same is true for people striving for a goal (running marathons, climbing mountains, losing weight, opening a business) or keeping a travel diary.

Libraries can help these individual bloggers by providing access, start-up assistance, and reasonable ongoing support. Your library might consider offering a blogging class for the public. If kept simple, even a novice can create an attractive blog and understand the basics within a single hour workshop.

Within the library world, Librarians use blogs to share ideas and experiences, prepare for conferences, and report news and issues from those conferences. Jenny Levine, The Shifted Librarian, is one of the masters of live blogging — describing a presentation while it’s still underway.

Libraries can dive into blogging as institutions, too.

  • An active teen group might consider keeping a blog to talk about upcoming events or rehash the last one.
  • Staff interested in reader’s or viewer’s advisory can review new books, movies, or music available at the library and solicit patron feedback. Reviews should be honest, though. Proudly book talk, sure, but be willing to rag on something that deserves it, too.
  • Reference staff might contribute some chatter about new databases, tools, and invaluable resources.
  • Directors can become more connected to their communities by writing about current library issues (rearranging floor space, offering new services or programs, funding issues) in a conversational style. Tell the newspaper about it. The growing archive of transparent library operations could become an invaluable addition to their reputation.
  • My favorite idea for a blog: An employee of any rank with a talent for entertaining prose and a healthy awareness of the library’s need for decorum and patron privacy could amuse readers on any subject he/she cares to approach. (“Funny thing happened as we were packing up from storytime today…”)

These blogs need not reach a wide audience to be successful, but they will likely find a niche once they’re advertised and talked up at programs.

My personal belief is that blogs shouldn’t be viewed as tools unto themselves but as part of an overall interactive strategy; an extension of personal service in the library; informal communication with chance of feedback.

Of course, any blogs on the Internet might also attract readers outside your traditional service area. That’s okay. But local publicity and a steady focus on your target audience should maintain a healthy balance.

Want to browse more varieties? Ellyssa Kroski, the iLibrarian recently listed 18 Different Kinds of Blog Posts.

LEARN MORE BY PARTICIPATING

Think about a blog you’d like to create.

  • Consider a topic. This could be a fun topic you use as practice, or a serious topic you plan to develop fully. Some ideas: hobbies, crafts, pets, experiences, traveling, reading interests, music, faith, politics, issue advocacy, etc. Just make sure it’s something you feel comfortable discussing in public!
  • Consider your audience. Who would you like to read your blog? (Examples: family, friends, coworkers, library patrons, fellow hobbyists, anyone?)
  • Consider a voice. How formal/informal do you want to be? You should write with your audience in mind.

Now create it!

  • Set up an account. There are many free platforms out there, but Blogger and WordPress are popular and have easy set-up processes. Blogging software can also be installed on a server of your choosing, too. Your library might have blog capabilities. Ask.
  • Paint the walls. Give it a name, choose a template (layout, colors, tools), and write a profile. Get comfortable with it.
  • Write a brief “Hello World” introductory post. Mention your objective. Be honest.
  • Post at least two other blogs over the course of the week. Practice your conversational voice and pacing. There’s no need to say everything at once. There’s always next time…
  • Solicit some feedback. Send your address to a few friends or coworkers and solicit their feedback.
  • Continue the blog indefinitely if you enjoy this exercise. Growing it may take some skill and marketing, but that’s another topic…

[Caution: Use your discretion how much personal information you are willing to divulge online. More on that in a future post.]


150 Years Ago Today

February 3, 2008

It’s Super Bowl Sunday so no one outside of Glendale, Arizona scheduled any events today. But there’s a quiet anniversary I’m happy to celebrate before and after the game. One hundred fifty years ago today, the Territorial Legislature granted a charter to a small group of community-minded folks in Steilacoom, WA. That document started the first public library in what became the state of Washington.

It’s a respectable milestone. Institutions back east might look upon Feb. 3, 1858, as downright recent, but it was still early pioneer days in the Pacific Northwest. The village of Seattle was less than ten years old and Washington statehood was still thirty years off. The library tradition up here started in the bustling Puget Sound town of Steilacoom.

The original library is long gone, but I have two connections to its successors. I work for the county library that serves Steilacoom today. I also remember a single-room library on the west side of the Town Hall when I was a kid. It was where I dabbled in research for the first time. I was nine years old, in the oldest town in the state, and curious to know the stories behind the events on the sign pictured above. I remember being trusted with a big folder of clippings and taking notes in my “detective notepad” with a little golf pencil. The librarian didn’t even flinch when I asked her if she had known Judge Thomas Chambers — an early settler who surely died more than 60 years before she was born! (The best librarians are wonderfully understanding when it comes to bad questions.)

Happy 150th birthday, Steilacoom Library. You started a library tradition in the state … and in me.

P.S. I could elaborate on local history (it has always interested me) but I’ll share just one feature about that first library that seems quite remarkable now. The 1858 charter called for the establishment of three things: a library of books, a reading room, and public interaction. They wanted a participatory library even then! It was written into the charter: “Procuring public lectures, essays and establishing debates.” Way to go, pioneers!


Library Participants

January 27, 2008

Helene Blowers posted a excellent revival of the “patron vs. customer” discussion on her LibraryBytes blog this week. She argued that both terms relate to an outdated “us and them” model of library service and she asks for a new term to fit the “us and us” culture we all want. I’ve never heard the debate put quite that way. (Leave it to Helene to get to the heart of an issue!) Her brief analysis got many people thinking and her readers’ comments were wonderful. Here are my two cents worth:

Thank you for “thinking about things too much”, Helene!” I’ve never liked customer but agree with you about the baggage even patron carries.

Suppose we use the term participant. It expresses the “us and us” concept but lacks the subordination of one “us” compared to the other. Isn’t participation the goal of a modern library? We strive to enrich our communities and welcome all participants — us and us alike.


Panera Fridays

January 24, 2008

Michael Stephens posted a photo yesterday mentioning that he holds his Wednesday office hours at Panera Bread. It reminded me of an effort I made last year to encourage some of our reference librarians to set up a weekly shift at Panera (or Starbucks or Safeway). It seems like such a simple idea to get the library out in the community — visible in a place our patrons are.

  • Talk to the proprietor. I’m sure most would be happy to support a public library in such a simple way.
  • Buy a sandwich and coffee/tea.
  • Prop up a sign “Got a question? Get an answer! I’m a librarian.
  • Turn on your wireless laptop.

A librarian with access to the Internet and the library’s online collection of databases could surely answer most questions on the spot. Difficult puzzlers might be solved with a quick email or IM to the folks back at the branch. Answers could be sent to a portable printer or the patron’s email address.

Busy people might not think of the library in their daily routine. Let’s change that! A consistent reference shift (say, every Friday from 11-3) at a local wifi hotspot could make the friendly librarian at the next table much more visible than the big library building itself.

No one in our library has done this yet because, so I’ve been told, there’s not enough staff to spare and no overall vision for this to fit. (Sigh.) Does it need to be a big, planned project? Can’t we just try it and see how it’s received? Tell the staff you’re going to take a long lunch tomorrow … and do the field research while you’re at it.

My question to readers in LibraryLand: Is anyone doing a “Panera Friday”? Would anyone like to give it a try?


Fun with barcodes

January 23, 2008

We in the library biz use barcodes to track our collections all the time. We still make mistakes sometimes, but we wouldn’t be efficient without them. So I’m sympathetic to the folks at the postal services in two different countries who accidentally delivered our package to Dalmeny, Saskatchewan after it was sent from North Carolina. It was supposed to go to Puyallup, WA – 1,100 miles away from Dalmeny – but someone slapped the wrong barcode on the label. In this case it took a human eye to catch the human error, while the automation in between dutifully routed it across the border.


Learn More: Blogs and Blogging, pt 1

January 22, 2008

[This is one in a series of self-paced discovery exercises for library staff venturing into the social web.]

Like the social networking topic we discussed a few weeks ago, blogging is simply too big to take in all at once. So much has been written about blogs that I’m a tad hesitant to add my text to the pile. For the sake of inclusion within this series, however, here goes. We’ll start today and continue with Part 2 next week.

People have been keeping private journals for centuries. A diarist might have carried on an ongoing conversation with himself and used it as a record of his thoughts and feelings as those thoughts and feelings developed. Authors, meanwhile, have written public works in books and periodicals for mass-consumption. The cost of production (i.e., materials and distribution) limited publishing access to writers with exceptional knowledge, skill, or monetary resources.

The Internet and easy-to-use software have removed the barriers to publication and the cultural shift that followed the advent of the social web has changed the nature of the journal-writing. Both effects may now be seen in blogs. A blog, by simple definition, is a journal maintained on the Internet. It was originally called a web log, then later shortened to weblog and finally, blog.

Setting up a blog and publishing to the world is free. It also requires no competency tests or admissions process. That’s bad in the sense that there’s a lot gunk out there that would have been filtered out by learned editors in the past. But it’s good because there are many gems that those editors would have rejected, too. Knowledge and skill play significant roles in whether the blog is widely read, but the audience can decide that. Assuming a writer has something to say and knows how to say it well, a blog can be an effective vehicle with which to express a point of view to the world. This can be done immediately at virtually no cost.

Some blog writers (a.k.a. bloggers) are online journalists, tracking traditional news in a nontraditional medium, or specializing in subjects that had no previous forums. Many bloggers are online diarists, making public what past generations would have kept private. And some bloggers post only for themselves, their friends, or family. They don’t seek vast audiences; they merely share with each other. Most bloggers allow readers to comment. They encourage it, in fact. It fosters discussion about the topic and lets everyone swap ideas and opinions.

The result of all this is a rich cacophony of conversation ranging from insightful to useless, written with talents varying from gifted to abysmal, and reaching audiences from millions worldwide to perhaps no one. The blogosphere (i.e., the collection of all blogs) is online self-publishing writ large. Anyone can participate as long as they’re interested.

PARTS OF A BLOG

  • Posts. The basic building blocks of a blog are the individual articles. They can very long — as long as the chapter of a book — or extremely brief. Some include links to other websites, photos, or video clips. Whatever their individual style, however, blog posts are usually displayed in reverse chronological order so that the newest posts appear at the top. Older entries get pushed down the page.
  • Comments. Blogs almost always allow readers to add or view comments. This invites everyone to get involved in the topic.
  • Tools. Often a blog has a collection of sidebar tools to aid the reader. These tools may include an archive of old postings, an author profile, and a “blog roll” of links to other blogs that the writer finds interesting.

Meaning for libraries

“Hmm,” the blogger murmurs while glancing at the length of this blog post and holding his fingers to his chin. “Let’s save this topic until Part 2.”

Learn more by participating

We’ll save the set-up and development of our own blogs for Part 2. Right now, let’s explore a bit. Visit a variety of blogs on two or three separate days this week (15-20 minutes each):

  • Obviously you’re already reading LibraryStream. Now visit a few of the library-related blogs listed in my blogroll in the right-hand margin. Explore, scroll, and click. Get a feel for the content and style of the various blogs.
  • Would you like to see more library blogs? There are many lists out there, including the blogrolls of other blogs. I encourage you to wander! I enjoy browsing Dave Pattern’s biblioblogosphere tag cloud for interesting new topics, too.
  • Want to break free of the library world? Go to Technorati or Google’s blogsearch and search any topic that strikes your fancy. Blogs are written about almost any subject you can imagine. See what’s out there.
  • Remember when I said that the blogosphere is “a rich cacophony of conversation ranging from insightful to useless, written with talents varying from gifted to abysmal”? I wasn’t kidding! 🙂

Now think about a blog YOU might create. Get your imagination humming. I’ll see you next week in Part 2.


The Library of Congress on Flickr

January 17, 2008

In the last two weeks, the Library of Congress quietly uploaded more than 3,000 photographs to its new Flickr page. The collection of images range from New York Christmas scenes to early twentieth century baseball. Pictures of Mexico, Texas, Chicago, ships, railroads, and landscapes are included, too. The Library selected the photos, in part, because they have no known copyright restrictions. Flickr members are invited to help add tags.

One photo that jumped out at me showed Joe Jackson in his first full major league season. He was fit, trim, and only 22 in 1911, but the future baseball great (and future black-listed White Sox) appeared older than his age would imply.

It’s wonderful to see libraries using Flickr to share portions of their picture archives with the public. The National Library of New Zealand was the first one I ran across last year. Several smaller libraries have scanned old community photos into Flickr. I hope many others join in 2008.

UPDATE: The ShiftedLibrarian mentioned PhotosNormandie in her blog today. That archive is also being uploaded to Flickr.


Childhood flyover

January 16, 2008


It always happens. Every time I open Google Earth to check something, I wander and end up in another part of the world. This evening I wound up “flying” over the little German town of Herbitzheim where my family lived when I was seven years old.

My dad was in the Air Force at the time and he found a rental in the Alsace countryside near the French border. Looking at it now, I’m amazed how little things seem to have changed since then. Our house, marked with the red arrow, is still surrounded by an orchard. (I remember throwing pears and apples … and stepping in rotted fruit.) The home of my sister’s friend Rosie is visible, too.

I can also see the triangular block in the center of town where we caught the school bus, the little grocery store where I bought my first gummi bears (Gummibären) for a few pfennigs, and the big sportsplatz down Mozartstraße where German kids watched my brothers and I hit baseballs on the soccer field.

I dug around for related ground photos and business names, too. (My gummi bear store is now known as Edeka Irmagard Rabung, by the way.) Finally, using the topography tool, I did what I always do in Google Earth: I slanted the satellite image to swoop down and fly around. The virtual 3D photo at left includes Rubenheim, the neighboring town in the distance where our landlord’s friendly groundskeeper Oswald lived.

I’ve been using Google Earth for two years, but I’m still blown away by the stuff technology allows us to do these days. Flying over my little childhood village this evening was a treat. Have you zoomed in on any of your old neighborhoods?


Learn More: Twitter

January 14, 2008

[This is one in a series of self-paced discovery exercises for library staff venturing into the social web.]

“It’s Monday? Again??”

That’s how I enthusiastically embraced the work week this morning in Twitter. Several friends saw the 20-character message because my random thought wandered out across the social web. The same thing happened when I was “kicking the day out of my shoes” and when I was “gardening – Olive Gardening.”

Many social sites let you express your thoughts and creativity, but none compresses that expression with the concise style of Twitter. The popular site asks you to share what you’re doing or thinking in 140 characters or less. That’s only about 20-25 words. You might call it a microblog.

Some people don’t get the concept; others love it. Big announcements — “I got the job!” (14 characters) – are possible, but most entries – “gotta go to another meeting” (27 characters) – don’t reveal much. Twitter’s value increases over time, however, as friends learn more about each other from the collected log of messages. Your followers might discover what excites you, what annoys you, and glimpse some of your life’s miscellany that would never make it into an email.

Users can send tweets (as Twitter messages are known) via mobile phones and pipe them into other applications, too. That makes the site even more appealing to folks who like to be in continuous “live” mode online. You can arrange meetings on the run and connect with friends wherever they are.

Critics say Twitter is a waste of time and produces endless blather. Let them say that! “At least it’s short blather” (27 characters).

Meaning for libraries

I can’t offer a long list of Twitter applications for libraries.  I’m not yet convinced it can attract or assist patrons much, but I’d certainly recommend experimentation.

A university library — dealing with a finite community of users — might find twittering more productive than a public library. A librarian with a network of patron followers might develop ways to share short service updates: “Lots of computers are available right now” (41 characters) or “Just got the new * in the mail” (29+ characters).

Library staff should be aware of Twitter, at least. Many of our patrons use the site in their private lives. Librarians use it, too, and any networking within the profession is good.

Learn more by participating

In the spirit of the site, I’ll keep this short.

  • Open a Twitter account.
  • Encourage a coworker or friend to join, too.
  • Become followers of each other.
  • Post a tweet a few times a day, every day this week.
  • Whattya think? Is it fun? Might it be useful? Is it a waste?

My 56-character Twitter update: “Steve is prepared for the week now. Oh, wait a minute…”