@AskLibrarians on Twitter: A Virtual Reference Service Idea

The Idea

I have a dream of being able to tweet @asklibrarians any simple reference question, and getting an answer back, like scary fast. The idea is simple; it’s the careful implementation to ensure success &  sustainability that would be the difficult part. It seems that librarians across the globe however are proud proponents of our own profession who want to be part of something bigger than just one person and give back to the greater good; this project would have to capitalize on that common sense of good-will and crowd source our collective wisdom and expertise in order to pull it off. But it could be big, epic, game-changing, so why not try?

Making it happen:
  • Provide an Excellent Service from Day 1
    • Establish simple & memorable @ twitter handle
    • Ensuring scary-fast response from the beginning:
      • Need dedicated/committed/paid librarians to actually staff the service at the outset
        • Apply for grant funding to pay librarian salaries, marketing, etc. to start the program
      • Partner with someone on opposite timezone (yes, global!)
        • Expand partnerships to allow for expanded coverage times, weekends, etc.
  • Building community of librarians to sustain the project at scale
    • Present at conferences, with call to action for interested partners
    • Build social media networks
    • Publish in relevant journals
    • Reach out to strategic partners, librarians, and libraries to invite collaboration
  • Market & Grow the Service
    • Social Media – go where the [target] users are
  • Be awesome
The information organization:
  • Virtual reference service administered through twitter.com
Target audience:
  • Twitter users
  • Social media users
  • Smartphone/online users
Desired and measurable outcomes:
  • Users will ask reference questions through the service
  • Users will get an accurate response to appropriate questions, including citations within 24 hours
  • The number of questions asked will grow over the first year, and again over the first five years after being established
  • User comments/replies to answered questions will be qualitatively evaluated for overall levels of user satisfaction
Support for the idea from the literature

While nothing exactly like this exists for the general public to my knowledge, other individual libraries do offer similar services to their users, such as @askalibrarian through Middlesex University for example. In addition, Sarah Milstein (2009) writes in her article Twitter for Libraries that  “Libraries on Twitter should encourage followers to interact with the library—ask questions, share links, re-Tweet interesting posts from others, and reply when people message you” (p. 18) which outlines the exact approach that this service would be employing and relying on, and therefore there is evidence in the literature that a service like this could be successful. So again I ask, why not try?


References

Milstein, S. (2009). Twitter FOR Libraries (and Librarians). Computers in Libraries, 29(5), 17-18.

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