Open Conversation: Twitter & Libraries

openconversationlogoNote: This is the second column I co-wrote with Jan Klerk for Digitale Bibliotek last year. I realized it was one of the first times I’ve discussed the backchannel in my classes in print.

Michael Stephens and Jan Klerk did their open conversation this time on microblog platform Twitter. The topic was of course…

Twitter and Libraries.


MS Jan- I’ve been thinking about librarians using Twitter as medium 4 collaboration & as info space. Have u seen this?

JK I see a small but growing group Dutch librarians just over- came prejudices & are experimenting. How it’s in the USA?


MS I see librarians using Twitter in 3 ways: as a thriving commentary/community, as a useful tool & as a question space.

MS As commentary/community, we might look at the use of #ALAMW09 as a means to network, plan and state opini- ons.

MS As a useful tool to save time, my favorite example is UGL alerts and @askundergrad2

JK Yes, the UGL is a nice example of smart timesaving distribution.

MS 3rd area is monitoring Twittersphere 4 ?s to answer & using the space as info resource if ?s asked we need to be here.

JK I think your categorization is very enlightening I also see librarians use Twitter interconnecting different social networks.

JK In this way Twitter is a very smart & fast way to distribute the same information simultaneously on different platforms.

JK Aggregating reactions from different platforms in 1 email account makes it easy to communicate either with patrons or staff.

JK The way Twitter=used at #ALAMW09 2 share sad feelings about the tragic loss of colleagues is very touching & adds value.

MS Yes, the human factor comes through the medium strongly to convey the sadness & shock at losing colleagues.


MS Also as LIS educator this fascinates me (Twitter as a Learning Tool)

JK The idea of using Twitter as a question space I think=challenging. Could this replace existing Q&A services?

MS Maybe not replace Q&A but become part of the channels where questions are asked & info is sought. I think it’s fluid.


JK We talked about channels yesterday & monitoring them. How can libraries take part in the fast growing amount of channels?

MS I suggest librarians do a scan of the multiple channels & find the spaces where folks might be mentioning the library.

JK I agree & finding spaces where folks mention the library=the job4 our marketeers. Instead of our usual shooting in the dark.

MS Using @briansolis’s conversation prism is a good start but it can also be overwhelming until you jump in and explore.

MS Checkout the prism here (


JK I think I could use the prism as starting point to renew traditional services into build-in participatory services.

JK I mean that the conversational aspect is always build-in in every library service you want to develop.

MS I like that thinking. I wish more libs did that here. One barrier is a marketing/PR mindset not open to conversation.

MS Or open to allowing users to chime in, contribute, create & guide those new/rebooted services. We must listen/reply!


JK Sounds challinging2useTwitter as backchannel during classes. Can u trust your pupils? Or is it a matter of radical trust.

MS Is indeed a matter of radical trust ? if I am doing my job well & trusting them to do theirs well 2 then we are fine.

JK I like this! It’s simple, it’s clear, it keeps you going. We libraries should make this our mission statement!

MS Look at what Pima County Lib in Arizona did: Users made vids!

JK In the Netherlands some schools have forbidden their pupils to use social networks during classes.

MS It concerns me that schools (& libs!) are blocking access 2 social networks when they could be used in the edu process.

JK I have the impression that relationship between school & libraries as institute&pupils as group=often based on distrust.

MS I agree. In many cases students are not trusted or must be protected from ‘the big bad world!’ in school.

MS In libraries distrust is probably contributing factor 4 unwelcoming youth spaces & adversarial attitudes of librarians.


MS This has been fun to play out this discussion using Twitter. I hope our readers will try it out.

1 ALA Midwinter Meeting 2009 upcoming/midwinter/home.cfm Helaas geeft niet langer de conversatie weer die hoorde bij de ALA Midwinter Meeting en die onder de hashtag #alamw09 is gepubliceerd
2 Twitteraccount ‘Undergraduate Library’ van de University of Illinois
3 Undergraduate Library
4 Pat Callagan:TwitterasaLearningTool

Note from Michael: In 2009 and 2010, I wrote a column for a Dutch library magazine called Digitale Bibliotheek with Jan Klerk, Librarian at City Library of Haarlem Netherlands. Our editor, Karolien Selhorst, gave me the go ahead to republish the columns here. We wrote and published these pieces in English. Called “Open Conversation,” the articles gave Jan and I a chance to discuss all sorts of topics related to libraries, technology and trends. We took some unique approaches during our time writing together. I appreciated this chance to collaborate on an international level.