Twitter, only eight years old, has emerged as an ever-present component of our everyday, online lives. This phenomenon is apparent in academic libraries as well, with a growing body of published reports on how libraries use Twitter, and other social networking tools, to engage with users. The extent of this adoption by libraries, however, is assumed rather than known, leading to the question: is it really a phenomenon? How many academic libraries are actually currently tweeting? In this paper, we report an investigation of Twitter adoption by Canadian academic libraries. We found that less than half of the main libraries currently tweet, with adoption peaking in 2009. While tweeting is not as ubiquitous as may be assumed and recent adoption has declined, findings do show that tweeting remains consistent and active for those libraries with established Twitter accounts.
Since its debut in 2006, Twitter has emerged as a key component of online life (Java, et al., 2007). A social micro-blogging service, Twitter enables users to compose brief text updates, or tweets, which are then published to the Web. As tweets are limited to 140 characters, a restriction not placed on regular blog services, they are intended as “fast exchanges of thoughts, ideas, and information sharing” (Aharony, 2010). Consider, as just one example of the popularity of Twitter in contemporary society, the inclusion of Twitter-related terms in the Concise Oxford English Dictionary (COED). Retweet, a “reposted or forwarded message on Twitter,” was added to the twelfth edition of the COED in 2011 (Anonymous, 2011). In the same edition, the definition for “follower” was revised to include, “someone who is tracking a particular person, group, etc. on a social networking site” (Stevenson, 2011). Twitter’s now telltale blue bird icon appears to be a mainstay in our current information landscape. Everyone seems to be tweeting, including libraries. And, in consideration of the Library of Congress’ (LOC) 14 April 2010 announcement to digitally archive tweets, with nearly 180 billion tweets archived as of January 2013, they may well be a mainstay for future users and use as well (Raymond, 2010; Allen, 2013).
This paper looks specifically at Twitter adoption by research and academic libraries. Twitter is among the most commonly used social networking tools by academic libraries (Chu and Du, 2013). As academic libraries implement Twitter as a regular component of their communication activities and social media presence, along with other social networking tools such as Facebook, it leads to interesting considerations on the use and perceived value and impact of these tools in fostering engagement, teaching, and learning. However, a fundamental question preceding such considerations is: Who is actually tweeting? While there are many reports in the literature, both formal and informal, on how and why libraries are using Twitter, apart from a few studies looking primarily at U.S. institutions, we lack a baseline of adoption. We do not yet know the extent of the supposed ubiquity and popularity of Twitter adoption by academic libraries. In particular, this assumed phenomenon of academic libraries’ Twitter adoption by the U.S.’ northern neighbors, Canada, has not been investigated in detail. In response to this gap, this paper reports findings from an examination of academic libraries in order to understand the extent of Twitter adoption, implementation, and interaction-type in the Canadian academic library context. It is interesting to look at this population as Canadian and U.S. academic libraries may hold membership in the same association, the Association of Research Libraries (ARL), and because it provides additional context on adoption by academic libraries apart from a U.S. context.
Social networking sites (SNSs) are online meeting places for communication and sharing. According to boyd and Ellison (2007), the majority of online social networking sites share three key characteristics, allowing “individuals to construct a public or semi-public profile within a bounded system, articulate a list of other users with whom they share a connection, and view and traverse their list of connections and those made by others within the system” . As we can see from SNS adoption by libraries and other organization types, “individuals” is interpreted in this paper to include individual organizations, such as an academic library.
Although most social networking sites share the features described by boyd and Ellison, a number of distinctions exist from site to site. Often, these differences indicate whether the site is chiefly an interactive, more personal communicating tool or chiefly a mass broadcasting tool. For example, some sites, such as Facebook, require a two-way confirmation of friendship, making it predominantly a communicating tool. Others, such as Twitter, support one-way connections, along with other connection scenarios. These one-way connections can be seen to be more characteristic of a broadcasting tool. With millions of users, everyone in the Twitterverse has opportunity to follow people with like interests. To be a “follower” does not necessarily require confirmation from the Twitter user being followed, unless intentional action was taken to make the account private.
Thus, friendships can either be reciprocated or one-way, and there is no requirement for a reciprocal relationship on Twitter (Java, et al., 2007). For example, a user might follow the New York Public Library (NYPL) Twitter feed, but it is extremely unlikely that the user would in turn follow all of NYPL’s 332,000 Twitter followers (New York Public Library, 2014). It would also not be expected that the NYPL, itself, would follow these 332,000 followers (and, by the way, they don’t; as of 30 July 2014, the NYPL is only following 108 Twitter accounts). Additionally, excepting Twitter accounts with specific security settings, a person does not have to publish tweets or subscribe to a feed in order to read tweets. In other words, a non-user can view the NYPL’s tweets without following their feed or subscribing to Twitter (Twitter, 2012).
Social networking sites and services have begun to affect how organizations within academic communities, such as libraries, communicate with their members. Library 2.0, a play on Web 2.0., is a neologism that emerged to reflect library services enacted through social media broadly (e.g., blogs, wikis), and specific social networking sites specifically (e.g., Twitter, Facebook). The term was coined by Casey in 2005 and debuted in the blog LibraryCrunch (http://www.librarycrunch.com). Since 2005, examinations on libraries’ social media presence have become an active area of investigation. For example, Bordeaux and Boyd (2007) reported their personal experience utilizing blogs, wikis, and podcasts to connect with library users, sharing recommendations and implications for adoption by others. Additionally, Sodt and Summey (2009) examined online tools that fall under the scope of Web 2.0 and discussed how to best implement them into libraries. Although they perceived that some librarians and library staff might be resistant to using these tools, they suggested the tools be adopted as they create a more user-centered and technologically savvy environment (Sodt and Summey, 2009). Looking specifically at Facebook, Charnigo and Barnett-Ellis (2007) surveyed 126 academic librarians concerning their perceptions of this SNS. They found that librarians were aware of and reasonably knowledgeable about Facebook.
Examinations of libraries’ social media presence have also been conducted from a student or user perspective. Burhanna, et al. (2009) found that students, although heavy users of Web 2.0 tools, do not demonstrate a great deal of sophistication when using them. Cassidy, et al. (2011) found that students do not want library services to be an overwhelming presence in their social networking world, but nevertheless want the services to be made available in many of the most popular social networking sites. The authors suggest that libraries study their users and choose which social networking sites they should implement, as things could be very different for different user groups.
By providing examples of ways that libraries may use Twitter, Milstein (2009) reinforces the notion that most libraries use Twitter as a low-cost broadcasting tool: “Short messages can tell people about events, such as readings, lectures, and book sales; newly available resources; or changes to the building hours. One message a day or one a week could share a tip on finding or accessing information online or in the building” . She goes on to describe other things that libraries might post in the Twitterverse, such as news stories and links to the library’s Web site. Milstein (2009) also emphasizes that academic libraries, as opposed to public libraries, might use Twitter for instruction specific announcements, such as paper due dates, final exam schedules, or links to academic databases.
Crymble (2010) found that archival organizations and archivists using Facebook and Twitter used these chiefly as outreach tools in order to promote their personal scholarly works or to showcase information they found interesting. Further, Aharony (2010) examined the use of Twitter in academic and public libraries in the United States. Aharony conducted a content analysis on the Twitter accounts and tweeting activities of 30 academic and public libraries and then compared the findings to illustrate any notable differences in the use of the tool between these two settings. Aharony (2010) concluded that prominent differences were not present, indicating that “both types of libraries understand the power of Twitter as a practical channel for communication with library patrons and attempt to produce at least one tweet every day” . From both Crymble (2010) and Aharony (2010) it can be seen that traditional information organizations, including both archives and libraries, tweet in order to disseminate information, rather than to engage in discussions, with their tweets being best characterized as broadcasting or outreach posts. In other words, the library will post information about services and resources, links to the library Web page and other sources, and announcements about upcoming events, in order to draw patrons into the library.
The extent of tweeting by academic and research libraries has also been analyzed, though such analysis is typically confined to U.S. institutions (e.g., Aharony), and the size of the populations under investigation varies. In the largest sample to date, Del Bosque, et al. (2012) looked at the adoption of Twitter by 296 U.S. academic libraries and selected characteristics of their tweeting activities, including year of adoption, number of followers, number of tweets, and what was being tweeted (e.g., campus and library events). Rod-Welch (2012) examined the availability of social networking services on the websites of 125 libraries with membership in the Association of Research Libraries (ARL), finding, notably, that the presence of such tools was less visible on the respective libraries’ homepage than other pages in their Web site domains. While Canadian libraries represent a portion of ARL members, the majority of ARL members are U.S.-based, so again, the study is limited in geographical scope. In their investigation of academic library adoption of social networking tools, Chu and Du (2013) investigated a more geographically diverse sample in their web-based survey, targeting academic librarians in Asia, North America, and Europe. Twitter and Facebook were found to be the most common tools. While the study provides more international perspective on the extent of adoption and use, the sample size was fairly small (N=38), with Canadian academic librarians representing only 4 percent of the completed sample.
This paper aims to fill this gap, taking a systematic census approach in examining the extent of Twitter adoption among Canadian academic libraries. Further, building on the study of Del Bosque, et al. (2012), this study also looks at characteristics of libraries’ Twitter accounts and their tweeting activities, including adoption trends and extent of follow-ship and followership. There is an idiom that originated in the U.S. and spread to other English language countries, “keeping up with the Joneses.” It is used to express comparisons to one’s neighbors. This paper serves as a window into what exactly the Joneses’ are doing, so to speak, in the Canadian academic library Twitterverse. It is intended to provide insight as to who has actually implemented Twitter, rather than assuming it is a common service among the “neighborhood” of Canadian academic libraries.
This study examined Twitter adoption by the main libraries of English-language, Canadian academic libraries. This was assessed through a review of library home pages or a simple Google search. For libraries found to have established, active, and publicly available Twitter accounts, their respective accounts were then assessed across 11 categories to provide a profile of their tweeting activities, such as posting and readership (or ‘followership’ in Twitter-speak).
Academic libraries were identified from the online member listing of the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada (AUCC, 2012). From the 95 colleges and universities listed, the main libraries of each were identified. Excluded were academic libraries at non-English language universities (n=18) and those without their own Web sites (n=2). This resulted in a revised sample of 75 English-language, academic libraries.
Data collection and analysis
A review of the main library’s home page was made to assess Twitter adoption. The home page review sought an indicator of a Twitter account, such as a link to the library’s Twitter account inviting visitors to “follow me.” If no evidence of a link to a library Twitter account was found on the home page, a simple search was made in Google using the search query, “name of academic library” and “twitter” or “twitter account.” Analysis of Twitter adoption was confined to Twitter accounts for main libraries only. Twitter accounts for branch libraries or other institutional units posted to or featured on the main library page or retrieved via a Google search were excluded.
For those main libraries found to have a Twitter account, their respective accounts, as found within the Twitter domain, were assessed. Preceding this assessment, this sample of Twitter accounts was restricted to allow for improved homogenization. To be eligible for this stage of analysis, the libraries’ respective Twitter account must be established and active. Established was characterized as the Twitter account being at least six months old at the time of coding (February 2012) and active was characterized by the posting of at least one tweet during the preceding month (1–31 January 2012). Qualifying Twitter accounts were then coded across 11 categories to identify key attributes, such as adoption rate, frequency of posting, types of tweets, and audience. Since Twitter accounts are dynamic, with new content added or modified on a continuing basis, data was collected within a short time frame (three days) for consistency in coding and subsequent analysis.
Twitter adoption and notification
For the 75 main libraries identified during sampling, 35 (46.7 percent) were found to have a Twitter account, accounting for less than half of the sample. Of these, a clear majority (71.4 percent) employed one of the distinctive Twitter icons, buttons, or a hyperlinked text statement, such as “follow the library on Twitter,” on their respective main library home page to advertise their Twitter feeds (see Figure 1). Interestingly, 10 (28.6 percent) do not provide a link or other indicator on the library home page to their Twitter account. The Twitter accounts for this group were located via a simple Google search.
Figure 1: Twitter presence on library home page (n=35).
In addition to the 35 main library Twitter accounts shown in Figure 1, representing the revised sample, nine main libraries identified during sampling did feature links to other Twitter accounts, but these were not shown to be necessarily exclusive to the main library and thus outside the scope of the study. Six linked to their university Twitter account. For the other three, one linked to a branch library; another to a “friends of the library” Twitter account; and the last linked to four Twitter accounts for libraries within the university’s overall library system.
Twitter adoption was also considered by other attributes. First, adoption was considered by membership in the Canadian Association for Research Libraries (CARL), which has a total of 31 members (CARL, 2012). For the 25 English-language CARL member libraries in the original sample (n=75), 18 (72 percent) have a Twitter account. While this gives some indication that a majority of Canadian research-oriented academic libraries are tweeting, further examinations were done for a more complete picture of adoption across all main libraries found to have Twitter accounts. Staffing information, drawn from the Canadian Information Resource Center’s (CIRC) Libraries Canada database, was available for 31 (89 percent) of the revised sample (n=35) (Grey House Publishing, 2013). Staffing information, as drawn from the Libraries Canada database, is self-reported, which could possibly contribute to differences in totals based on measures and parameters used at the respective libraries in calculating total staff, as shown in Figure 2. Taking this into account, it can be seen that libraries of all sizes have Twitter accounts. It is not limited to just those libraries with more staff in place. However, there is a difference when library size is considered by annual budget, as reported in the Libraries Canada database and shown in Figure 3 below. Again while this data is self-reported, for the 27 main libraries reporting annual budget dollars, representing 77 percent of the revised sample, 70 percent (n=19) report annual budgets of $500,000 (CAD) or greater (see Figure 3).
Figure 2: Twitter adoption by library staff count (n=31).
Figure 3: Twitter adoption by library budget (n=27).
By collecting the first tweet published for each main library’s Twitter feed, the age of library Twitter accounts could be determined, leading to some consideration on the rate and pace of adoption. Among the 35 tweeting libraries, the first library tweet was published in November 2008, though, as shown in Figure 4, 2009 was a watershed year for adoption, with half of libraries (51.4 percent) publishing their first tweet in that timeframe. While 14 libraries (40.0 percent) posted their first tweet between January 2010 and January 2012, adoption has rapidly dropped in recent years since the spike in the first and second halves of 2009.
Figure 4: Library Twitter adoption by date (n=35).
Next, active Twitter accounts were assessed for current publishing activity. Accounts were deemed active if a tweet was published to each library’s respective Twitter feed in the most recent one-month period at the time of coding (1–31 January 2012). Only established Twitter accounts, characterized as at least six months old at the time of coding, were considered for this analysis. Therefore, two library Twitter accounts were excluded, having published their first Tweet between July 2011 and January 2012, as shown in Figure 4. For the 33 accounts eligible for analysis, 29 (87.9 percent) were active. For the four inactive accounts, three had not published a new tweet since at least 2009, while one had not tweeted since April 2011.
Total tweets to-date were determined for each of the 29 active Twitter accounts. With a range of 3,086 and a mean of 532 tweets since adoption, publishing activity over the lifecycle of these active accounts is quite diverse. The two most common ranges of total tweets, representing nearly half (48.2 percent) of the accounts, were between 200 and 299 tweets and 500 to 749 tweets (see Table 1).
It might be assumed that those outlying accounts with 1,000 or more tweets since adoption would be more established than those accounts tweeting less. A comparison of total tweets to date and date of first tweet, however, did not support this assumption. For those accounts with 1,000 or more tweets, one was established in late 2008, and the other two in 2010. Those accounts with fewer than 100 tweets were established in 2009, 2010, and 2011, respectively. Mean and range were calculated for total tweets by date range of first tweet (see Table 2). Though the number is small across these ranges, it does show that accounts established earlier, while still active, are seen to have tweeted less, over time, than more recently established accounts.
Next, each of the 29 library Twitter accounts were coded across four categories to show tweeting activity over a one-month period: count of total tweets; count of unique tweets; count of replies; and count of retweets. Unique tweets refer to tweets first published to, or originating at, the library’s Twitter feed. Replies are a response to another Twitter user’s tweet; all replies begin with the @ symbol, followed by the Twitter account to which the response is being directed. Retweets occur when a Twitter user reads another’s tweet and reposts it to their own Twitter feed.
Within this one-month period, 41.4 percent of the libraries tweeted between one to nine times and 48.2 percent tweeted 10 to 49 times (see Table 3). Only 10.3 percent tweeted more than 50 times. There were 792 total tweets across the 29 Twitter accounts, with a mean of 27.3 tweets. It is worth noting that the outlier in this group, with 187 tweets that month, is also the outlier for total tweets to date, as presented in Table 1, with 3,129 tweets. The majority of tweets are unique, totaling 578 across all the accounts, representing 69.8 percent of all tweets over the one-month period. As shown in Table 3 below, 79.3 percent of libraries produced between one and 24 unique tweets per month.
For the remaining tweets over the month period, 107 were retweets and 107 were replies, representing 27 percent of the total tweets published. More than half of the libraries (51.7 percent) did not retweet during this period. The frequency of replies was much the same as that for retweets, with 55.2 percent of the libraries not replying to any followers’ tweets and 31.1 percent replying between one and nine times (see Table 3).
Next, to examine how the 29 active library Twitter accounts under analysis engaged with others via Twitter, we looked at both their followings and followers. Followers refer to the number of Twitter accounts that follow the academic library’s Twitter account; followings refer to the number of accounts being followed by the academic library’s account. While all accounts have followers, with the lowest number of followers at 13, two accounts do not follow anyone. Table 4 below shows the number of followers and following by range. When comparing the mean number of followers (544) and the mean number of following (118), it can be seen to show that libraries are unlikely to subscribe to their followers. Again, however, it is worth noting that the outlier for following (with 1,319 following) is the same account with the most tweets per month and most tweets to date. This is an extreme outlier as the account with the second most “following” (n=355) has nearly 1000 fewer following. Removing this extreme outlier from the analysis, the mean number of followers (481) and following (73) shows slightly more disproportion between followers and following.
While Twitter may appear ubiquitous in our everyday information landscape, including tweeting by academic libraries, findings show this is not the case for English-language Canadian academic libraries. Slightly less than half of the main academic libraries in our sample (46.7 percent) have adopted Twitter. Time of adoption is reflective of the work of Del Bosque, et al. (2012), whose examination of 296 tweeting American academic libraries found 2009 to be the watershed year for adoption. This is also the year in which Twitter established its place in Canadian academic libraries, as a little over half (51.4 percent) of the tweeting main libraries in our study debuted their Twitter accounts between January and December of 2009.
This study got to the “who” and “when” of Twitter adoption by English-language, Canadian academic libraries. We did not investigate motivations for Twitter adoption. Possibly, a word-of-mouth effect occurred around 2009, such as through mentions at conferences and other academic library-related events. It could also be a byproduct of simply “keeping up with the Joneses,” trying on new forms of communication adopted by other academic libraries. Experimentation with new outreach tools in light of changing user demographics could also be assumed to be a major catalyst. People have been turning to social media in droves over the past several years. This trend is well evidenced empirically. Brenner and Smith (2013) found that over seven out of ten adult, online Americans are social network site users, with Twitter use reported by about two out of ten, doubling since an earlier 2012 Pew report. Similar adoption is reported in Canada. In an April 2013 report by the Media Technology Monitor, “Canada’s Media Technology Benchmark,” two out of three Canadians self-identify as regular subscribers and users of social networking services (CBC Radio, 2013). While Facebook is the most popular SNS reported, about 20 percent also report using Twitter (Oliveira, 2013). And in higher education, in consideration of teaching and learning services, a 2011 study by Moran, et al. found that 13 percent of teaching faculty reported using Twitter outside of the classroom. While this study surveyed only U.S. faculty, it could be assumed this result would extend to Canadian faculty. Where the patrons or “customers” are — whether students, faculty, researchers or others — academic libraries and librarians will follow.
Further quantitative investigations into the motivations to adopt Twitter and perceptions on value and use of Twitter — as well as other means of communicating via social media, including Facebook — would provide a more comprehensive picture of Canadian academic libraries’ social media presence. In addition to the “why” of adoption, it would inform the why of non-adoption. With the decline in Twitter adoption since 2009, and even lack of active use seen among four of the 35 adopters in our study, it may well be that Twitter implementation among academic libraries has reached the ceiling.
This does not, however, indicate that the tool is becoming obsolete as the majority of adopters in our study, regardless of date of adoption and age of Twitter account, are still actively tweeting. It may indicate that those institutions with the interest, resources, and flexibility to utilize such a tool have already adopted it. It is curious to note that adoption and active use were shown across libraries of all staff sizes, from small to very large, as reported in Figure 2, though there was more discrepancy in regard to annual budgets, as the majority of adopters (70.3 percent) had budgets in excess of $500,000 or more (CAD). It may, however, also indicate that other libraries considered the tool and determined it was not a priority or fit to their communication and outreach activities.
Is there a relationship between the declining rate of Twitter adoption among academic libraries and tweeting by active adopters? There does not seem to be so. Since establishment of their respective Twitter accounts, a majority have tweeted between 200 and 749 times. Also, the mean number of tweets in a 31-day period was 25. This is a decent amount of activity for any Twitter user, at 0.8 tweets per day. Consequently, it is safe to say that although the adoption of Twitter might be dropping, use of the tool in Canadian academic libraries is quite active. Ten percent of tweeting libraries tweeted more than 75 times in the same 31-day period. Further qualitative research on motivations for adoption, or non-adoption, and perceived value of Twitter and other social media and social networking platforms is necessary to confirm or refute these assumptions.
Another trend resulting from analysis concerns libraries’ advertising of their respective Twitter feeds. Nearly three out of ten tweeting libraries, regardless of activity level, did not link to their Twitter feed from the library’s home page. This finding is similar to that for ARL member library Web sites, as reported by Leila Rod-Welch (2012). Additionally, several of those who did link their Twitter feed from their respective home page did so in such a way that required site visitors to click through multiple windows before landing in the Twitterverse. While Twitter may be seen to be another channel for enhancing communication with patrons, it would seem to be more effective if it was aligned with existing channels, particularly one as primary as the library home page. A primary advantage of social media, in line with libraries’ traditional services and values, is effective content awareness and delivery. Then why, in regard to library Twitter accounts, would users have to search for it, as we did via Google for 10 (28.6 percent) accounts in the sample of tweeting libraries (n=35), rather than provide it on the library home page?
Reasons for placement and advertising of Twitter feeds were not within the scope of this study. However, some observations can be made. First, the lack of Twitter promotion on library home pages may indicate other social networks in the academic community or from elsewhere are spreading the word, exemplifying viral marketing on a small scale. Second, since this study began the authors have noticed increased internal marketing campaigns within the Twitterverse, including a “Who to follow” section with suggestions of Twitter feeds related to the accounts one currently follows as well as e-mail suggestions sent to the member’s connected e-mail account. So now, if a user follows an academic institution’s Twitter page, for example @NYPL, it is likely that Twitter will suggest they follow related Twitter feeds such as other libraries belonging to the Association of Research Libraries (ARL) in New York state, meaning that potential patrons do not even need to visit these other library’s home pages to locate their Twitter feed. Thus, Twitter, which has for many years been an effective and low-cost outreach tool, is becoming an even more powerful viral marketing force for its users.
Once we got to the who of tweeting in the Canadian academic library context, we moved into the how: how are libraries communicating via Twitter? Is it more of a broadcast to the public and their followers, or more reflective of an interactive exchange? An assessment of the one-month sampling period provides some indication of the interaction style of library Twitter feeds. A minority of total tweets were retweets or replies. Seeing as the use of retweets and replies can be viewed as an interactive exchange and a way to engage in conversation, these low numbers point to libraries as using Twitter for outreach rather than interaction. The gap between total followers and total following also provides some indication of this, though it merits noting that this may very well be expected. Organizations maintaining Twitter accounts, such as academic libraries, are most likely more interested in reaching their followers than following them, as the latter may be assumed to be more characteristic of individual, rather than organizational, Twitter accounts. These findings confirm Crymble, Aharony, and Milstein’s view that libraries are using Twitter chiefly as a broadcast tool, such as to notify users about library information and events and to link to articles and library resources (Crymble, 2010; Aharony, 2010; Milstein, 2009).
Several suggestions for furthering this work were mentioned in the preceding section, such as looking toward motivations for adoption, as well as expanding the study to inventory other types of social network tools adopted, including Facebook. There are additional opportunities when considering other limitations of this study. While we set specific conditions for improved homogeneity among the sample, future work could expand the libraries and affiliated library accounts eligible for inclusion. First, of the 94 libraries identified from the sample source, 18 (19.1 percent) were immediately excluded, as they are French-language universities. Future studies could incorporate these universities to provide a bilingual census approach to Canadian academic libraries’ Twitter adoption and use. Further, we only looked at the Twitter accounts affiliated with the main libraries; branch libraries were excluded. Future work could also seek to identify Twitter accounts established and maintained by academic libraries’ branch affiliates and how this does or does not confirm to the respective library system’s overall communication and outreach strategies and programs. Also, six Twitter accounts featured on the main library Web page, as mentioned earlier in the Results section, were excluded because a visual inspection of account title and scope-style note, as made available in the accounts’ respective Twitter home pages, identified these as being university-wide Twitter accounts. It may be that the libraries at these respective institutions bear some or all responsibility for the university’s Twitter account. However, such determinations could not be made based on our study design and approach. Future work might seek to better clarify the relationship, if any, between main academic libraries and university-wide Twitter accounts.
So, how crowded is the Twitter bandwagon among academic and research libraries? From a Canadian context not so crowded. Fewer than half of the main academic libraries in Canada were found to have adopted Twitter as a means for communication. For those who have, very few adopted the social networking tool since 2009, the watershed year of adoption.
Although adoption seems to have dropped off, activity remains constant for those libraries found to have active and established Twitter accounts. It would be appropriate, based on the mean number of tweets (25) published over a one-month period, to characterize this activity as moderate. Of the tweeting libraries included in the study most did not showcase communicative relationships with their followers, but rather used Twitter as a mini-platform on which to display messages about the library in order to raise awareness of the library and its services to patrons who may be active in the Twitterverse.
Suggestions put forth in this paper would contribute to improved understanding of academic libraries’ communication practices in our contemporary, networked information landscape. Specifically, participatory survey research involving input from librarians, faculty, students, and administrators would do much to advance the work begun here and elsewhere. Further, while this work is focused on Canadian academic libraries, it may be useful to look at adoption, use, and the perceived value of Twitter and related social media through a census approach for other libraries, including public and special libraries, to inform a broader understanding of current communication practices among libraries and potentially leading to improved practices. Though Twitter may appear omnipresent in our online lives, of which libraries are a part, our findings give clear indication, in regard to academic libraries, that it is not. The research reported here, and suggestions for furthering it, will allow all types of libraries to not only see what others are doing, but also the benefits and potential disadvantages arising from these doings.
About the authors
Nina Verishagen is a Faculty Librarian at Saskatchewan Polytechnic. She specializes in marketing, programming, outreach and instruction. She is particularly interested in trends in social networking and library instruction in academic libraries.
Direct comments to: nina [dot] verishagen [at] saskpolytech [dot] ca
Carolyn Hank is an Assistant Professor at the School of Information Sciences at the University of Tennessee; prior to this appointment she was an assistant professor at McGill University in Montreal. She has been engaged in digital curation and digital preservation research, practice, and instruction since 2005. She looks specifically at scholars’ practices, perceptions and preferences regarding the impact and preservation of their informal, Web-based social communications, including blogs, tweets and Facebook postings.
E-mail: chank [at] utk [dot] edu
We wish to thank Michelle Schabowski, a graduate research assistant at the University of Tennessee’s School of Information Sciences, for her assistance in preparation of this manuscript.
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Received 25 November 2013; revised 10 July 2014; accepted 7 October 2014.
This paper is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
Are there birds in the library? The extent of Twitter adoption and use by Canadian academic libraries
by Nina Verishagen and Carolyn Hank.
First Monday, Volume 19, Number 11 - 3 November 2014