Posted by: Steven Harris | December 28, 2008

Talking or Listening?

I’ve been Twittering a lot lately; it has kind of taken the wind out of my sails for blogging more in-depth here. Twitter is a microblogging tool that limits your posts to 140 characters. Ergo microblogging. Great for getting a kernel of a thought down before it disappears. Despite its “what are you doing now” origins, Twitter is used in an amazing variety of ways, from stream of consciousness, to poetry, to philosophy, to citation alert, to press release, to marketing campaign. I’ve been thinking about how my library might use it. Of course there are a lot of library folk out there who have talked about it already (see David Lee King especially). I’ve seen it used to good effect for announcing all manner of thing, like new articles in the New York Times or new books in a library.

TwitsTwitter has a process that lets you “follow” particular users’ posts. (See the image to the right.) Once you follow someone, their posts, or Tweets, are delivered automatically to your feed. Of course, people can follow you as well. So, each user account has a list of followers and followees, as it were. One might think this would result in a world of leaders and followers, and it does to some extent. There are people who follow as many Tweeps as possible, and those who are clearly trying to gather as many followers to them as they can.

A marketing mentality might suggest that it is good to have as many followers as possible. More “eyes” on your product, to use the advertising parlance. But there has been some argument about that in the Tweetosphere lately. Robert Scoble got me thinking in different ways about this. He is what you might call a new media journalist at Fast Company tv. A couple of his recent tweets said:

This was in response to a line of discussion about wanting to find and follow the Tweeps with the greatest impact, the most followers themselves. Scoble expanded on these thoughts in his blog: “My goal, though, is to have smarter conversations every day.” This points to Twitter not as a marketing or PR tool, but as a learning tool, a (two-way) conversation tool. A recent interview Scoble did on Fast Company with Tim O’Reilly suggested the same (although an interview with Guy Kawasaki just a few days earlier seemed to reinforce the notion of marketing by the numbers). Scoble admires O’Reilly as a Tweep who uses Twitter to pick up conversations by others and amplify them and project them out to more readers (kind of marketing meets conversation).

Tim O'Reilly & Marfita share a Twitterrific pageI suppose it’s the way the blogosphere works, but I noticed similar threads everywhere I looked recently. Dan Cohen tweeted and then blogged about some of the differences between blogging and twittering (I’ve got these verbs all screwed up). He quoted a New York Times article that suggested the dictum “Blog to reflect, Tweet to connect.”

So, I’m finally wondering how Twitter should be deployed by my library. Can it be a press release kind of mechanism in the way that so many companies and media outlets are using it? Or should it be more than that? How can we make it a tool for listening and engaging in conversations? Perhaps this needs to proceed on multiple levels:

  • an official library Twitter profile to announce the news and do public relations
  • individual Twitter profiles for as many library staff as possible, so they can engage in the conversations at a one-on-one scale

Because, as I reflect on this, can a library engage in a conversation? Libraries don’t talk, people talk. (Many a semiotic argument about that point wells up, but save that for another day.) But even with Twitter, how can one best encourage convesations with library patrons? What are the best practices? Around what ideas or services will the most interesting conversations begin? So, I’m left very excited about Twitter (rather counter to my initial reaction), but still flailing about trying to grab onto something. Please throw me a rope!



  1. You might check out the work of David Lankes, and Participatory Librarianship…he says the foundation of library is conversation.

    Just a thought.

  2. Thanks, BG. I knew some of David’s work, but now I’ve seen a whole lot more. Great stuff!

  3. Thought this might be helpful:

    As someone in the museum field who sees lots of parallels, I’d also highly recommend @ninaksimon who blogs at

    I’m @jeffreymstern on twitter

  4. […] Collections 2.0 – “I’ve been Twittering a lot lately; it has kind of taken the wind out of my sails for blogging more in-depth here.” […]

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