Implementing Twitter in a Health Sciences Library

23 11 2010

Twitter describes itself as “a service for friends, family, and co-workers to communicate and stay connected through the exchange of quick, frequent answers to one simple question: What are you doing?” [2].

The “answers” are equally simple, because the tweet (that what is being “said”) must fit in 140 characters. The tweet does not only contain plain text, but can contain short-URL’s which link to webpages, figures and videos.

However, tweets have evolved to more than everyday experiences, and take the shape of shared links to interesting content on the web, conversations around hot topics (using hashtags (#), like #cochrane OR #ev2010 (conference evidence2010)), photos, videos, music, and real-time accounts of a newsworthy event [2]. Furthermore, Twitter is now also used by institutions and companies  for branding, marketing and costumer service. This also applies to libraries, with public libraries leading the way. Health science libraries started twittering  in 2009 and as of 2010 there were (only) 24 of them. In addition, the National Library of Medicine (NLM) and most of the regional National Network of Libraries of Medicine (NN/LMs) have a Twitter presence.  I follow @NLM_LHC and @NLM newsroom, for instance.

The NYU Health Sciences Libraries (NYUHSL) began using Twitter in June 2009. The team, consisting of the Director, the Emerging Technologies Librarian and the Web Services Librarian of the NYUHSL, described their experience with the implementation of Twitter in the latest Medical Reference Services Quarterly [1]

The main aim of their Twitter account was to disseminate topics similar to what was posted on their Web site: news about facilities, resources, handy tidbits, services offered, downtime, events, and staff, as well as breaking news.

What was their approach and what were their main experiences?

  • Claim your name, as soon as you vaguely consider using Twitter!
    In the case of  NYUHSL, their usual library acronym was already taken, so they took a similar name: @NYU_HSL (because of the 140-character limit, it is advisable to use as few characters as possible: this will leave more room when somebody replies to you).
  • They added the library logo as a profile picture and included a link to the library website plus a short “bio”.
  • First the team shared responsibility for posting on Twitter (by logging in into the NYU_HSL account and posting), but this posed coordination problems (like double postings, irregular postings). Therefore it was decided that team members would post according to a schedule. Furthermore there was a 2-week rotation. Any important news was tweeted promptly and interesting news from other Twitter users was occasionally retweeted .
  • Later CoTweet was used. This is a free tool, which -as its name suggests- allows multiple people to communicate through corporate Twitter accounts and stay in sync while doing so. One person is the account owner, who creates and maintains the account and gives other people access to it. The individual members can post to Twitter via the Co_tweet account.  CoTweet uses bit.ly as an URL-shortener, displays some (rudimentary) stats, allows scheduling and archiving of tweets and has some other slick features for corporate Twitter use. (See  this post at News CNET for a comparison between CoTweet and the better known Hootsuite)
  • What I most liked about the paper – besides the description of CoTweet – is the content flow diagram the authors used (adapted below). Posts from their library blog were automatically cross-posted via RSS to Twitter using Twitterfeed, whereas tweets were in their turn automatically posted on Facebook. To this end a Twitter Tab was added to the NYUHSL Facebook fan page. In addition it remained possible to post manually to the different social networking tools and to respond to followers or retweet messages of other users.

  • The team also had to find the right tone for Twitter: the style of tweets is more informal than the style of blog posts. They emphasize the importance of keeping the nuances of different social networking sites in mind when establishing an institutional presence.
  • They promoted Twitter in many ways:
    • A large Twitter mascot (blue bird) with the text: “Follow NYU_HSL on Twitter” was placed on the prominent Web’s site feature bar (see Fig. below). Unfortunately the twitter message only appears when you press “next”. Most users will not do this.
    • Creation of a small poster about Twitter.
    • A word of mouth campaign (in orientation presentations, and a tag line with Twitter account information in e-mail correspondence to students: according to Pew Internet [3] college graduates are among the biggest users of Twitter.
    • description and promotion of the Twitter account in the library’s e-mail newsletter and in blog posts.

And finally, we have to come up with the Key Question: was it all worth the effort?

At the time of writing the NYU-HSL had 66 followers, 27 of which were affiliated with the NYU (others being other libraries and librarians for instance). This is not a very big (target) audience, but I agree with the authors that the definition of success in social media is relative.  There were clear (subjective) benefits, like the low cost, ease of use, low effort to maintain the service on the one hand and the possibility to engage the audience, get user opinions and the opportunity to fix problems quickly on the other hand. Furthermore it’s presence on Twitter enhances the library’s reputation, as the library is making an effort to extend beyond its walls and confirms the role of librarians as technology leaders.

I also agree with the library’s basic principle “to give users as many options as possible to keep current with library news, resources, and services.” In this regard Twitter is a simple and effective method for promotion.

Thus health, medical and other libraries. I would say, if you are not twittering, give it a try and read the reviewed paper [1] for more tips. One of these tips is to connect with other libraries on Twitter as to learn from their experiences.

Credits:  @DrShock dm-ed (direct messaged) me on Twitter to alert me to the paper. Thanks Walter!

References (all assessed 2010-11-23)

  1. Cuddy, C., Graham, J., & Morton-Owens, E. (2010). Implementing Twitter in a Health Sciences Library Medical Reference Services Quarterly, 29 (4), 320-330 DOI: 10.1080/02763869.2010.518915
  2. Mashable http://mashable.com/guidebook/twitter/
  3. Lenhart, A., and Fox, S. ‘‘Twitter and Status Updating.’’ Report: Web 2.0, Social Networking. Pew Internet & American Life Project (February 12, 2009). Pew Internet: http://www.pewinternet.org/Reports/2009/Twitter-and-status-updating.aspx
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Reclaim your Privacy on Facebook using a Simple Bookmarklet

20 05 2010

Of all social networking sites, Facebook causes the greatest privacy concerns. Certainly since it has changed its privacy options over time.

In the beginning, Facebook restricted the visibility of a user’s personal information to just their friends and their “network”, but the default privacy settings have become much more permissive, as you can see in the video below.
This short video is based on a visualization made by Matt McKeon and gives only an impression of a work-in-progress
(for up to date info check the original animation at http://mattmckeon.com/facebook-privacy/).

The reason? According Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg the controversial new default and permanent settings just reflect the way the world has changed, becoming more public and less private (see ReadWriteWeb).

“Default” is the key to the problems. You have to opt out to protect your privacy. However to fully protect your privacy on Facebook, you have to navigate through 50 settings with more than 170 options (see great charts at the NY Times!). Facebook’s privacy policy is longer than the American constitution!!!

Shocked by the results of the ACLU’s Facebook Quiz (see Mashable), I already changed my privacy settings last summer. Doing a simple quiz on Facebook meant everything on your profile (whether you use privacy settings or not), is available to the quiz. Even more worrying, when your friends do a quiz, everything on your profile is made available to the developers as well.

Since the default privacy settings have changed, my settings needed to be adapted again. But where were the leaks in the 170 options?

Luckily there is a very simple bookmarklet Reclaim Privacy that can check and fix your profile in 2 minutes (see Mashable.com) It is very easy.

1. First go to Reclaim Privacy and drag the bookmarklet to your web browser bookmarks bar
(in the example I dragged the bookmarklet into Chrome’s bookmarks (upper arrow)

2. Go to your Facebook privacy settings and then click that bookmark (Scan for Privacy, see arrow) once you are on Facebook.

3. You will see a series of privacy scans that inspect your privacy settings and warn you about settings that might be unexpectedly public.
In my case my friends could still accidentally share my personal information. This is indicated by a red sign: “insecure.

4. So I clicked “prevent friends from sharing your data”, and in seconds this was the result:

5. I tweaked the contact information a bit (caution) by changing my contact settings, but I still would allow everyone to add me as a friend (I still have to approve, don’t I?)

Piece of cake!





The University Library (UBA) goes Mobile.

4 04 2010
UBA mobielOur Medical Library at the AMC hospital is one of main (autonomous) libraries of the UBA, the University Library of the University of Amsterdam.

The UBA developed the Spoetnik (library 23 things-like) course -inspiring the start of this blog-, has a library-coach with chat function, a library blog (UBA-e), and is now on Twitter as @bibliotheekuva.
Plus, as I just learned, a small team of the UBA recently launched a mobile version of the library website.

I like their approach. This team consisting of Driek Heesakkers (project leader), Lukas Koster, Gre Ootjers, Roxana Popistasu en Alice Doek, realized this “perpetual beta version” in no more than 7 weeks (from first meeting till launch at April 1st). There aim was not to strive for perfection, but to develop a version first and to learn from their mistakes and the feedback from the users. Thus highly interactive.

Another excellent principle was that they designed ONE mobile app for all smart phones.

This is what UBA mobile offers right now:

  • The library catalog (searching; reserve items; renew loans)
  • Opening hours and addresses of library locations
  • Locations (on a map)
  • Contact phone numbers
  • Questions, feedback
  • News via @bibliotheekuva-tweets

The most important feature, full access to the digital library (with link to all subscriptions) is not yet realized.

I hope our medical library will follow this shining example. Many medical students and doctors use smart-phones and I’m sure a digital version of our medical library website would surely be appreciated by our clients.

Mobile is the future. What do you think?

Below a short and clear presentation by Lukas Koster at UGUL (UGame ULearn) 2010.

The web address of the mobile site is: http://cf.uba.uva.nl/mobiel.

Short notice about UBA mobile at the news section of the UBA.

Janneke Staaks (librarian for: Psychology, Cultural Anthropology and Pedagogical and Educational Sciences) has dealt more in depth with this subject. See this post at her (Dutch) blog FMG Library.