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The OxCam College Librarians’ Biennial Conference, Pt. I.

(The following is part one of a two-part blog post on the 2019 OxCam Librarians’ Biennial Conference. It features individual recollections of the day’s events, kindly contributed by some of the Oxford and Cambridge University Graduate Library Trainees in attendance.)

The 2019 OxCam College Librarians’ Biennial Conference, hosted by Worcester College, Oxford, took place on the 19th March in the Sultan Nazrin Shah Centre. The event provided an opportunity to share ideas and updates on developments currently impacting the library services of Oxford and Cambridge University colleges. An exhibition space had been set up in the conference centre’s anteroom, allowing delegates the chance to network throughout the day with representatives from numerous organisations, including Cambridge University Press, Temple Bookbinders, Blackwell’s, and Gresswell. Upon arrival, attendees were given a welcome pack which included a programme of proceedings, some helpful maps and floor plans, a register of delegates and, of course, a complimentary bookmark.

A pictorial map of Worcester College, Oxford.

A map of Worcester College, Oxford, included in the welcome pack.

The day was divided into five sessions, two of which were the morning and afternoon plenary sessions, comprised of talks on mental ill-health in the workplace, the Cambridge Information Literacy Network, and a case study on Balliol’s Wellcome Trust funded project to catalogue the Nicholas Crouch Collection.

Images of the books constituting the Nicholas Crouch Collection.

A sample of the Nicholas Crouch Collection, since catalogued by Balliol College Library staff.

The first talk on mental ill-health in the workplace, delivered by Dan Holloway, was warmly received by the delegation and provided a positive, constructive foundation for the day ahead. Jenna, Graduate Library Trainee at the Bodleian Law Library (BLL) details the conference’s opening prelection:

‘Dan Holloway’s presentation was the first of the day, and he set a really good tone for the remainder of the conference by delivering a very thoughtful and open talk which conveyed important information in an informal and accessible way. Dan ran through some of the issues contributing to and exasperating mental ill-health in the work place; he considered the things we can do to aid workers with mental health difficulties and to break down stigmas, using facts and statistics alongside experiences from his own mental health story.’

After a round of informative and thought-provoking presentations, breakout sessions ran contiguous to the morning’s plenary session. The Graduate Library Trainees were asked to attend a special session led by Eleanor Kelly of St Hilda’s College, Oxford. Ross Jones, Graduate Library Trainee at the Bodleian History Faculty Library, recounts his experience in the passage below:

‘The Graduate Trainee Special Session took place in the Smethurst Studio and served as a platform for sharing our experiences as library trainees. In all, a total of twenty trainees attended, including a party of six from Cambridge University colleges.

Discussions opened with a brief ice-breaker exercise in which we were asked to share our name and our place of work with the group. We were also asked to describe our respective libraries in one word – ‘accommodating’, ‘comfortable’, ‘warm’ and ‘antiquated’ were some examples. After a round of introductions, Eleanor organised us all into five smaller groups and prompt sheets were circulated to guide conversation towards specific talking points. These points centred on aspects of our experiences such as the skills we’d attained, any accomplishments we’d achieved, the challenges we’d faced, and the types of library work we were involved in. I think structuring the conversation in this way helped to determine the significance of any similarities or contrasts that stemmed from working in different libraries.

Towards the end of the session, the group I was in broached the possibility of applying for postgraduate courses in library-related fields and discussed whether it was preferable to enrol as a full-time or part-time student. We also speculated which career paths might suit us best in the future. It was equal parts interesting and reassuring to hear from my compeers about the various activities trainees were involved with day to day; despite the differences, it seems inevitable that every trainee will, at one point, find themselves book processing, adhering bookplates and spine labels to new acquisitions!’

Once the morning breakout sessions had concluded, the delegation broke for lunch in Worcester College Hall. It was a hurried affair as visits to an Oxford archive, museum or college library were scheduled to run concurrently in the early afternoon. Natasha, one of the visiting trainees from Pembroke College, Cambridge, reflects on her tour of the Queen’s College Library in the passage below:

‘After lunch we split into groups for one of the most anticipated parts of the day, the library visits, and the Queen’s College Library did not disappoint. Amanda Saville, the Librarian, raced through the College and Library’s histories before letting us into the Upper Library.

A photograph of the Queen's College Library's Upper Library with orreries in the central passage.

The Upper Library of the Queen’s College.

This space is the oldest part of the Library and it remains open as a student study area. A staircase connects it to the Lower Library which houses much of the modern teaching collection and before the extension the shelves were full. The New Library is the most recent extension and it opened in 2017. Hidden beneath the Provost’s Garden, it allowed the library to expand and houses the special collections and archives in a secure and environmentally controlled storeroom. Multiple new reading rooms allow for better access to the special collections and cater to a wider range of student needs. It was great seeing how popular the New Library is, even in the vacation, and how well Amanda’s team did in supporting their users throughout the different Library spaces.’

Meanwhile, Bethan, a trainee at the Old Bodleian Library, was among those visiting Exeter College’s Cohen Quad. Elaborating on her experience, she says:

‘I was given the chance to visit Exeter College’s Cohen Quad which contained a purpose-built facility for the College Library’s Special Collections. William Morris is a notable alumnus of Exeter, and some of his possessions were donated to the college. This included his many pipes and a lock of his hair. We were shown an array of artefacts, including books produced by Morris’s printing house, Kelmscott Press; there was a beautifully illustrated edition of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, which apparently is the original ‘Kelmscott Chaucer’ and belonged to Morris himself.

The Special Collections Librarian showed us the new facility which houses the collections and archives. This included the colour-coded rolling stacks and a purpose-built metal gate used to keep the rarest items secure. She discussed the logistics of moving over 30,000 rare books and manuscripts to the site and the challenges she faced in the process.  The collections themselves were originally held in poor conditions, so each item had to be individually cleaned and restored before being moved. There was time afterwards for questions and a brief discussion about the promotion of Special Collections.’

Amy, Graduate Trainee at the Howard Piper Library of St Hugh’s College, visited the library at Worcester College and describes the tour here:

‘Mark Bainbridge, the Librarian of Worcester College, was our knowledgeable and enthusiastic tour guide. I think I can safely say everyone in our group had a very pleasant visit. We first climbed up an eighteenth century cantilevered spiral staircase with over 60 steps to reach the modern (upper) library, which was created in the twentieth century. It is open 24/7 and holds 65,000 volumes across two levels. These are all digitally catalogued and can be borrowed via a self-service machine. The card catalogue was discontinued in February 2006, but is still available for consultation. They acquire around 1,000 books each year and have approximately 6 years of space left before the library is full, although there is some weeding to be done which should give them a little more time. The first professional librarian to work here introduced an in-house classification system in the 1960s, which is still used today.

A photograph of the issue desk in Worcester College's more modern upper library.

The Upper Library at Worcester College.

Naturally the highlight of our visit was the handsome Lower Library, completed in 1736. Most of the shelves hold Dr George Clarke’s large bequest of books, manuscripts, prints and drawings, a great deal of which are not digitally catalogued. Sadly, we did not get to walk along the gallery, but we were a big group so this probably was not feasible. The Lower Library is open from 8am until midnight each day. Unsurprisingly, it is a popular place for students to work, so much so that they have to set out modern desks and chairs during particularly busy periods.

A photograph of the early-modern lower library of Worcester College, including busts and galleries.

The Lower Library at Worcester College.

The library team had kindly selected and displayed a few interesting items for us to view in a small room next to the Lower Library…’

A photo of Inigo Jones' copy of Andrea Palladio's 'I Quattro Libri Dell Architettura' on display.

Andrea Palladio, I Quattro Libri Dell Architettura. Venice, 1601. (Inigo Jones’s Copy)

Across town, Jenna (BLL) and Eva of Newnham College, Cambridge, were welcomed into the grounds of Oxford University’s largest college, Christ Church. In detailing their experiences, they recount the awesome purlieus and inspiring collections of the college library.

Eva:

‘It is futile to try to describe the overwhelming grandeur of Christ Church and its libraries in terms of beauty. An oddball of my generation, I am not a big fan of photographing things, preferring to just experience events and commit them to memory. The whistle stop tour of Christ Church library however had me almost instinctively reaching for my iPhone and snapping away unashamedly with the crowd around me.’

Jenna:

‘The visit to Christ Church library began with a small introduction to the college and the library by the College Librarian, Steven Archer, in Tom Quad with assistance from Emma Sillett who is the Reader Services Librarian. The grounds of the college are impressive – Tom Quad being the biggest quad of all the colleges – and you can see why Christ Church has a reputation for being one of the grandest colleges in Oxford. We then walked through the cloisters to what is actually the ‘New’ Library, which was completed in 1772 as a result of the Old Library becoming so full that they had to build another building to accommodate the amount of books that were being donated.’

Eva:

‘What was striking about the New Library was how spacious and accommodating the surroundings felt, as well as elegant. The silence felt hushed as opposed to suffocating. It was as though the prestige of the college’s history and status created an atmosphere of inspiration, rather than intimidation.’

Jenna:

‘The Library’s reading rooms are on the ground floor of the New Library, which holds the working collection, and is a pleasant mix of antiquated and classical design with beautiful iron spiral staircases and wooden shelving, contrasting with white columns and domed archways. I really enjoyed seeing students using the reading rooms, which shows that the ground floor is comfortable and accessible for students to borrow and work from.

An image of a reading room at Christ Church College Library

The wrought iron staircase and gallery in Christ Church College Library’s lower reading room.

In contrast to this though, the Upper Library was arresting in its grandeur and the smell of old books – addictive to anyone working in libraries. The upper floor consists of the college’s rare books which are mainly arranged under named shelves referencing the benefactors who bequeathed the collections. This room also holds a large amount of interesting objects, such as a hat which apparently belonged to Cardinal Wolsey and a full horse skeleton which was being used by an anatomy class at Ruskin School of Art.’

Eva:

‘The magnificent upper library, where the special collections are held is overwhelming. Our tour guide and head librarian Steven was at pains to emphasise the main function of the room is for the collections to be used and consulted, and that this was actively encouraged to potentially timid students.’

Jenna:

‘Steven had arranged for items from the college archive to be brought out for us to see, including an illuminated manuscript, one of Elizabeth I’s bibles, the foundation charter of the college, and a photograph album and draft drawings for Alice in Wonderland which belonged to Lewis Carroll who was Sub-Librarian at Christ Church during the second half of the 19th Century.’

An image of Christ Church College's Upper Library, replete with a full horse skeleton.

It’s true! There really is an entire horse skeleton in the Upper Library!

Eva:

‘The literary association with Christ Church that gets most people excited is Harry Potter, its cloisters and staircase having featured as settings for various scenes in the film series. I, however, was far more excited by another fantasy staple of fiction embedded in its history: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. To be able to stand in the same spot as Lewis Carroll did, beside his desk, and look out of the window at the ‘Cheshire Cat’s Tree’ was an eerily wonderful moment, as was being able to look at handcrafted figures of the characters made in 1900 and see original sketches Carroll’s brother drew of the book’s illustrations. I doubt I am the first to tour Christ Church and leave feeling rather like Alice.’

Jenna:

‘Overall, it was a really superb and informative tour which was well-structured but also allowed us freedom to explore the dizzying double-height Upper Library ourselves – I feel very lucky to have had such knowledgeable guides in Steven and Emma and I felt very inspired being ‘let loose’ in such a beautiful library.’

See part two of this blog post for details on the afternoon sessions attended by Oxford and Cambridge University Graduate Library Trainees!

 

The OxCam College Librarians’ Biennial Conference Pt. II.

(The following is part two of a two-part blog post on the 2019 OxCam Librarians’ Biennial Conference. It features individual recollections of the day’s events, kindly contributed by some of the Oxford and Cambridge University Graduate Library Trainees in attendance.)

After a busy morning of exhibitions and talks, and an insightful afternoon of visits, the delegation returned to the conference centre for the final few sessions of the day. Our story of events picks up again with Emmy, Graduate Library Trainee at Lady Margaret Hall, and her reflections on the Library Exhibitions On A Budget Session:

‘When we had returned from our lunchtime visits (and of course had a break for tea and plenty of cake) it was time for another breakout session. This time the trainees were spread between the different rooms. I had signed up for a session on how to produce library exhibitions on a budget, led by Victoria Stevens.

As an accredited library and archives conservator, Victoria had lots of experience to share with us! Some of her tips included:

  • Make your own book cradles and Vivak leaflet stands.
  • Think about what story the objects tell, and don’t squash too many of them into your arrangement.
  • If you do have some money to invest, consider purchasing a light logger.
Grey corrugated board being folded on a table top, into the form of a book cradle.

Exhibitions on a budget: folding board to create a book cradle.

Watching practical demonstrations and handling samples of display materials helped me to understand how these can be custom made in the library, as long as we are careful to choose conservation-grade materials. As I am a trainee at a college library, I am lucky enough to work with our small but interesting collection of rare books, so I am excited to try out some of these ideas back at the library.’

In a separate seminar room, Rowan, the trainee at St John’s College, Cambridge, was attending the session ‘Speed Dating with Special Collections’. Co-hosted by colleagues from both universities, the session touched upon the strengths and weaknesses of different outreach strategies in raising the profile of special collections:

‘Julia Walworth, of Merton College, Oxford and Anne McLaughin of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge ran a session which allowed participants to all get involved discussing the pros and cons of different special collections outreach strategies. Online initiatives were popular, with many libraries making use of social media to highlight a particular item each month. However, it was raised that the main followers of library Twitter accounts are often other libraries, meaning that other options need to be utilised to engage a variety audiences.  Such strategies, it was suggested, could include regular exhibitions and open days as well as practical workshops. The collaborative nature of the session meant we could learn of strategies that involve those less likely to already be accessing special collections. For example, inviting school groups to use the collections within their curriculum allows early engagement with historical materials, well before university. With all outreach strategies, there is a good deal of planning and preparation that goes into the finished strategy, and this has to be taken into account when deciding what will work best for each library. However, it pays off in the end.’

Meanwhile, Isobel of Queens’ College, Cambridge, had chosen to join the breakout session about fundraising for special collections. Lead by Naomi Tiley, the session helped to elucidate some of the issues inherent in fundraising projects. It also proved a useful introduction to the afternoon plenary session, which considered in detail Balliol College’s Wellcome Trust funded project to reclassify a collection of early modern texts, collated and bequeathed by Nicholas Crouch:

‘I attended two sessions on the topic of fundraising for special collections – a common necessity for many Oxford and Cambridge colleges. The first was a breakout session, run by Naomi Tiley of Balliol College, Oxford, where attendees were encouraged to share their experiences of fundraising, and offer observations and advice for future projects. As a topic outside of my direct experience to date, but very much in line with my personal career aspirations in rare books librarianship, I found the session extremely interesting and informative. It was especially useful to learn about potential funding bodies and application processes within the practical context of real-life projects and planned funding applications.

Following the breakout session, we returned to the main lecture theatre for the final plenary session of the conference. Focusing once again on fundraising for special collections, the presentation explored a case study undertaken by Balliol College, Oxford in conjunction with the Wellcome Trust. Naomi Tiley and James Howarth (Balliol College and St Edmund Hall, Oxford) were engaging speakers; incorporating question-and-answer based dialogues as they took us step by step through their project to secure funding for cataloguing the Nicholas Crouch collection. The session was particularly informative about not only fundraising, but also both in-house and outreach opportunities that can evolve from special collections cataloguing and subsequent improved accessibility.’

As the day’s business drew to a close, all the trainees agreed that the conference had been a thoroughly inspiring day of talks, visits and networking. We all gathered a tremendous amount of practical information from the sessions we attended and took away many new ideas to implement in our current libraries and in the future. As trainees, being able to meet and hear from so many professionals in the field was hugely valuable (as was sharing our library experiences with fellow trainees from ‘the other place’!). Our only regret was that we couldn’t attend all of the breakout sessions, because they all sounded brilliant! Those of us attending as the official delegate for our respective libraries certainly had plenty to report back to our colleagues.

A photograph of most, but not quite all, of the trainees present at the conference, taken in the grounds of Worcester college in front of the conference centre

On behalf of us all, thank you very much to Worcester College for hosting, to all the conference speakers and sponsors, and to the organisers — Liz Kay (Brasenose), Emma Sillett (Christ Church), Diana Hackett (Nuffield), Eleanor Kelly (St. Hilda’s) and Marina Sotiriou (Lincoln).


Contributors:

Amy Douglas – St Hugh’s College, Oxford

Isobel Goodman – Queens’ College, Cambridge

Emmy Ingle – Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford

Ross Jones – Bodleian History Faculty Library and Radcliffe Camera

Natasha MacMahon – Pembroke College, Cambridge

Jenna Meek – Bodleian Law Library

Bethan Morgan – Bodleian Library

Rowan Rush-Morgan – St John’s College, Cambridge

Eva Wewiorski – Newnham College, Cambridge

 

 

 

Join the conversation with Twitter – an RSL event

Hi everyone, Kat from the law library here again. On Wednesday, I attended a lunchtime talk at the Radcliffe Science Library entitled ‘Join the conversation with Twitter’. It featured three speakers talking about the use of twitter by libraries, and I found it really interesting, so much so that I thought I’d share some of the things I took away. You can see a synopsis of the talk on the RSL’s Facebook page.

First, Michael O’Hagan (@OHaganMichael) talked about the research he did for his library school dissertation, which was a study of academic libraries using twitter. He looked at lots of different academic libraries’ twitter analytics, and tried to get a picture of what they used twitter for, how much interaction there was with other people, who those people were, what the interaction was about, and how popular twitter seemed to be as a method of communication. Personally, if you’d asked me to guess the answers to these questions, I might have pessimistically expected a lot of interaction and followers to be other librarians and libraries, and for there not to be much interaction with genuine readers. So I was pleasantly surprised when he explained that, actually, there seemed to be quite a bit of interaction with readers asking questions and giving feedback about library services, which is a promising sign that Twitter is a good method of communication. He also had quite a bit of advice about how to use Twitter more effectively in libraries, based on the most successful institutions he’d looked at. This included:

  • Tweet frequently! Also, given that it’s very easy to miss things on Twitter if you follow lots of people, if there’s something you really want people to notice, try tweeting different phrasings of it several times over the course of a day.
  • Follow other feeds that are part of your institution: Oxford University, the Bodleian, your department or faculty, academics who have professional twitter accounts. Then retweet things you think are interesting or relevant. This starts a conversation with other twitter accounts which may have larger or different followings, which can help to increase your exposure.
  • Keep track of what people are saying about you – if people reply or retweet anything you post then Twitter will let you know anyway, but it’s worth looking for indirect references (for example, if someone just writes ‘law bod’ in a tweet but doesn’t use @thelawbod). You can also search by location to restrict to mentions in Oxford.
  • If readers have specific questions about the library, respond as quickly as possible. Twitter comes with the expectation of immediate response, which can be a problem if you’re not checking it regularly.
  • However, don’t be creepy! If someone refers to your library in a conversation but isn’t asking a question, then maybe don’t jump in – it is going on in a public space, but having an institutional account reply to a twitter conversation between a few readers might be a bit much!
  • Use pictures and links – tweets with these are more likely to be retweeted (unsurprisingly) which increases the number of people reading them.

Next, Isabel Holowaty (@iholowaty) gave a presentation with tips and advice about using Twitter from her use of it for the History Faculty Library (@HFLOxford). She also showcased using an iPad to present via a projector, which was very cool! She recommended using a programme/app which allows you to see information about several twitter accounts without constantly signing in and out (which you have to do on the twitter website), and showed us HootSuite, the one she uses. This allows you to link all sorts of different social media accounts: different Twitters, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, even WordPress for blogs, and produces columns showing feeds for each of them. You can pick what appears in each column, for example your sent tweets, mentions, retweets or direct messages, and can search your different accounts, save searches, and tweet from any account. It definitely seemed like an alternative to just using twitter’s website (which is what I currently do), because it saves you from having to sign in and out to change account. I would be a bit worried about accidentally retweeting or following someone from the Law Bod’s account rather than my own, though! HootSuite also allows you to schedule tweets for a later date, which I thought sounded useful as well. At the Law Bod, we’ve just started a Twitter rota (more below), where different staff take a morning or an afternoon and tweet a few things they think are interesting. I’ve found since signing up that quite often I have all these ideas throughout the week and then on Monday afternoons: nothing! It would be great to be able to schedule some that aren’t time-dependent when I think of them to go out on Monday afternoon, and then just check them over on the day. Isabel also advised searching for your library to find indirect references, including all possible misspellings of Bodleian! She also pointed out that if your library has a blog, and new blog posts get tweeted about, it’s worth coming up with a punchy title, otherwise your tweets look a bit boring.

HootSuite for @thelawbod

HootSuite for @thelawbod

Lastly, Penny Schenk (@galoot) talked about my library, the Law Bod, as a case study of an academic library using Twitter. She explained that we’ve recently started a Twitter rota, and that this has massively increased our activity on Twitter, and also the variety of different things we tweet about. We try to follow mostly organisations rather than individuals, to ensure things stay professional. The rota means that we hopefully tweet every working day, which has definitely helped increase our following. She also suggested using the ‘follow friday’ meme (where Twitter users suggest a person they follow who they think writes interesting things) to build conversations with other users.

I found the talk really interesting, and definitely think the Law Bod should take everyone’s suggestions on board. I’ll by trying out HootSuite, and retweeting more things from the Law Faculty, the Bodleian, and Oxford on my Monday afternoon slots! Judging by the History Faculty Library’s almost 2,500 followers, frequent, interesting, varied tweets and retweets with links and pictures seem to be the way forward.

Thanks for reading and, if you like, follow @thelawbod or me, @kastrel (although be prepared for anything from cross stitch to formula one, as I tweet on all sorts of things).

Social Media

This week in our trainee session we were investigating the use of Information Literacy and Web 2.0 (social media).  Web 2.0 signifies the change in which the web is no longer just about providing information but linking people together, sharing and discussing information.

We watched an interesting (and very creative!)  video which explains the shift:  The Machine is Us/ing us

As part of the session we had been split into groups to research and present a particular aspect of social media including; blogs, social networking sites (Facebook), twitter, social book marking sites (Delicious), podcasting, Wikis and LibraryThing.

The presentations were really interesting (especially as I knew very little about Delicious, Wikis and LibraryThing beforehand!) and the source of much discussion! Some of the key points that I took from the session include:

  • It’s important for libraries to have an online presence that is linked into many aspects of social media and that continues to evolve with the constant changes and updates
  • Many of the social media based services are free and simple to use and often provide a library presence in a media with which readers are already engaging.
  • Although setting up and maintaining media such as blogs, twitter or Facebook may seem time consuming, they can save time in the long term, especially as information can be shared quickly and efficiently across platforms and may replace or reduce time spent on other task such as bulk e-mailing, writing newsletters or answering enquiries via e-mail.
  • Social media is a great tool for advertising and marketing of library services, it provides more ways for readers to find, contact and learn about the library.
  • It’s not all about stats!  It’s about getting the information out there and helping readers to access and use it quickly and effectively.

Jayne and I worked on a presentation looking at the use of Blogs in Libraries.  To really show off what a blog can do we decided to present our information in blog form.  So if you’d like to learn more about the purpose, features and uses of blogs in libraries here is a link to our blog:

Lib-Blogology

It’d be great to hear other views on library blogging so feel free to comment, ask questions or share good practice by suggesting library blogs you’ve found interesting or helpful!

Too many tweets make a…successful and engaged library service?

Hi everyone, I’ve written some thoughts about Twitter. Would be interested to hear if/how/why you use it at your libraries, and any answers to the thorny question below.

 

 “A Twitter feed for the library! What’s the point in that?”

 

What is a library without a Twitter feed these days?  Given the number of us who lovingly tend our accounts on a daily basis, letting our readers know with admirable foresight any alterations to opening hours, or perhaps informing the world that e-journal access is not currently working (No, wait! It’s back. Oh no, it’s gone again), you could be forgiven for thinking that the answer is ‘not very much’.  Alongside the irresistible rise of 23 Things and the ubiquity of the library blog, the little blue bird has become a sure sign of the tech savvy, forward thinking Library (2.0). Without it, you’re really nothing but a collection of books.  And who wants that?

I’ve been cultivating the Taylor Slavonic’s feed since I started. We’ve had our ups (currently being followed by the Telegraph’s Moscow correspondent) and our downs (also being followed, for reasons I don’t fully understand, by Elite Chauffeurs – “Hackneys and Executive cars for all occassions”), but on the whole we’ve seen the follower count go up to 195 and even had a few re-tweets. So far, so good. But aside from the obvious satisfaction of having more followers than the Taylorian (a derisory 165), I’m still curious as to why exactly it is that I spend about an hour a day finding stuff to tweet about, tweeting it, and paying attention to the tweets of others. Or, as one of our readers put it a touch more bluntly, while glancing at my lovingly crafted poster, “A twitter feed for the library! What’s the point in that?

Bill Drew of Tompkins Cortland Community College Library, NY, provides a succinct overview of why a library might be interested in Twitter, including being able to keep readers up to date with library developments, providing a reference service such as local news, and enquiring after readers’ opinions quickly and easily. This said, the majority of Drew’s reasons, good though they are, relate more to the institutional side of libraries rather than to reader services. For example, networking, keeping up with other libraries, following notable information professionals, none of which answer my reader’s question.

One way to respond would be to explain what we tweet about and why. As you can see from the poster, the aim was to expand the scope a little further than simply info about our Christmas holiday dates (24th Dec – 3rd Jan, in case you’re interested, but you’re not, are you?):

Twitter Poster

In short, if an event, news story, broadcast, resource or person relates either academically or culturally to any language in our library (and we have quite a few), then it gets tweeted. Over the past few weeks @TABSOxford has tweeted about: online resources for Russian history; digitisation projects of Byzantine manuscripts; details of free film screenings in Oxford; a whole host of lectures and seminars; times and dates of concerts in Oxford; and a fair few re-tweets for articles and websites of potential interest.

And why? Well, I like to think that in its own modest way, the feed is a place to:

I also hope that all this works cumulatively to make the library seem:

  •  Engaged and connected with the faculty and its subjects
  •  A hub for relevant interesting information (broader than simply being that building with all the books in it)
  •  Up to date and shiny – unlike the décor.

But what you put up on Twitter is only half the story. Or, rather, if no one is reading your story, then there is very little point in writing it. Because Twitter is the high demand shelf of the internet: small pieces of information that are needed at a particular time, briefly, but by many people. If your tweets are not being read and used, it doesn’t matter how valuable or interesting they may be, they don’t belong there. Twitter is not some sort of digital archive where information has value independent of use, imbued with a kind of potential irrespective of whether or not it’s consulted frequently (or at all). It’s all about temporary, widespread dissemination and, crucially, reception. In short, the best Twitter feeds link good information with the people who want it.

So I suppose the only way of answering my reader’s question would be to say, because our followers use it. At least I hope they do. Luckily, I know a good way to ask them. I’ll get back to you.