On March 24th, 2010, I was able to attend the monthly NY Librarians Meetup presentation on Twitter and Social Media at the Mulberry Street branch of the New York Public Library. The lecture was given by Nancy Picchi (whose Twitter handle is @islandlibrarian in case you want to follow her), a self-described “Librarian at Large.” “Nancy began the presentation on a humorous note by telling the audience that one of the reasons she loves technology is because “it saves me from housework.” Her talk specifically focused on Twitter, attempting to answer the question, “What is it all about?” and dispel the notion that it’s some stupid fad that will go away sooner rather than later. In this presentation, Nancy attempted to show us how Twitter has changed the way people, and specifically librarians, communicate with each other. She also provided us some of the potential applications we can use the website for our work as information professionals.
To begin, we were provided a little bit of history about Twitter. What exactly is it? It’s a micro-blogging website designed for the platform sharing of ideas, opinions, and resources. The founders of Twitter based its design on the “SMS” or “Short Message Service” first used by cell phone services. Tweets, which are what Twitter updates are called, can not exceed 140 characters with spaces. Although this limits what a user can write, it can also be a good exercise in getting one’s point across as succinctly as possible. Twitter can be and has been utilized as a tool for career development, resource building, advocacy, and extended conversation to name just a few applications. While not a lot of librarians joined the website initially, librarians have embraced this new technology wholeheartedly if not cautiously at the present. While you can find a lot more librarians on Twitter now, it is still very easy for a new user to become overwhelmed by all the different ways this website can be used.
It’s also interesting to note that Twitter is a little bit older than we might think. While it has just recently entered the cultural mainstream, it actually just celebrated its 4th birthday as of this past March. The lecture went into an extended conversation of what Nancy called “Twitter Speak” where we discussed the unique terminology the website uses to describe its functions and features. One in particular that I learned about was a “hashtag.” A hashtag can connect Twitter users who may not follow one another under a specific topical heading. This can be achieved by adding the number symbol followed by a common term to a tweet. For example, #alamw10 was a hashtag used on Twitter for the 2010 Midwinter Conference of the American Library Association. Everyone who adds this hashtag as a part of their tweet creates a clickable feed of all the other uses on Twitter who are using the same tag, effectively connected them together and creating a feed around a specific event or subject. I’m happy to say that after this lecture, I’ve been able to properly utilize hashtags in my own personal Twitter usage successfully.
We also briefly discussed “Twitter Harvesting” before Nancy began answering questions from the audience. One such question had to do with URL shortening websites, which allow a very long web address to be shortened down to something more manageable that would suit itself to a tweet. Two websites were recommended, http://bit.ly and http://ow.ly as being the most commonly used. Nancy finished up the talk by discussing some of the best resources to learn more about Twitter. She in particular mentioned Mashable’s Guide to Twitter, which she promises will “answer just about everything you could think of.” I was so glad I got to attend this lecture. Before listening to Nancy break Twitter down on practical terms, I rarely ever used it. Now I use it constantly, in particular for my work as a librarian to help promote library programs to the public. Nancy was an engaging and dynamic speaker. I’m so glad that she helped me gain the confidence to use Twitter to its fullest extent in the library.
~Ryan P. Donovan is a senior librarian with the New York Public Library. He occasionally blogs for nypl.org. You can read his personal blog here. Follow him on Twitter @rybrarian