A Twitter-Based Framework for an Academic Library


Emerging Technology Plan:
A Twitter-Based Framework for an Academic Library

Goals/Objectives for the Technology/Service: The goal of the service is to (a) engage students (and faculty as well) and; (b) encourage them to seek out resources beyond the required reading that they are exposed to in their classes so that they (c) will use library resources more often. We also aim to (d) build research habits that will help them to be more participatory in their field of interest. Additionally, we believe that this service will (e) encourage students to follow current research done by our faculty.

Description of the Community we Wish to Engage: We seek to engage the community of undergraduate and graduate student of our university. In addition, we also hope to provide opportunity for faculty to share their current research with students and other faculty, thus helping establish greater interaction between students and faculty on our campus.

Action Brief Statement:

Convince students (and faculty)
that by following our subject matter Twitter feeds
they will find articles that interest them
which will help them gain greater insights into their fields of study
because part of our mission as an academic library is to motivate students to become more engaged in their field and assist them in establishing positive life-long learning trends.

We also seek to encourage students to follow current research done by our faculty and for our faculty to share their research so that it may inform and inspire our campus community.

Our Proposal: Our aim is to use Twitter to share URLs to academic articles. Twitter is a technology/service that is highly accessible with very low barriers to entry. The costs of implementing our plan are low, in addition its premise is supported by emerging trends such social media and smartphone use.

While a number of libraries use Twitter for self-promotion, few use it to post external URLs. However, many special libraries do use Twitter to share links to external articles (Emery & Schifeling, 2015). We recommend adopting this strategy for the academic library setting and adding a framework to facilitate usage by subject area. We will then share the subject matter accounts with relevant faculty and encourage them to post links to recent research that they find particularly interesting. Notices in the library will encourage students to follow the particular subject matter account that aligns best with their field of interest.

Our plan goes beyond simply encouraging Twitter use; it provides a lightweight framework for implementation so that the service is targeted at the specific areas of interest that serve our campus community.

We begin by dividing the disciplines that our academic library covers into major subject areas. Then we assign each subject area its own Twitter account. The following are the suggested areas of interest, note that our aim is to cover as many areas while limiting the number of accounts so that management of the accounts remains practical.

We recommend the use of accounts shared via Twitter’s TweetDeck feature over the use of hashtags because this will allow oversight and administration as well as curation by library staff. Furthermore, oversight and guidelines (discussed below) are very helpful when formatting messages with embedded URLs, and they also provide for the type of consistency that will enhance the user experience.

Here are the eight major subject areas that we recommended should be set up with subject matter accounts:

  • Art
  • Biology
  • Business
  • Chemistry
  • Health & Nursing
  • Humanities
  • Physics
  • Psychology

We recognize that some subject areas may prefer not to be grouped under a broader area of interest. However, ease of manageability of the accounts is one of the goals. Furthermore, the framework is easily expandable and can be revised based upon interaction and user feedback.

Evidence and Resources to support Technology or Service: While the Twitter platform is easily accessible (the app is free), a 2012 study found that only 34% (101) of a random sample of 296 academic libraries had a Twitter account set up (usage may have increased since this study). Of these, only 10% had individual departmental accounts (Del Bosque, Leif & Skarl, 2012).

Nearly all of the libraries surveyed offered reference services via email or over the web. We feel that Twitter may be a more useful and efficient method for sharing links to resources. However, it’s clear that some guidance is necessary for successful implementation as of those libraries using Twitter, only 30% posted once per day or more and only 10% had accounts with more than 1,000 posts (Del Bosque et al., 2012)

According to a 2015 study by eMarketer, 35.2% of U.S. college students are on Twitter (Emery & Schifeling, 2015). Additionally, “there is a strong overlap between the kinds of people who use libraries.. and the kinds if people who tweet” and “Twitter users are receptive to interacting with libraries on this platform” (Potter, 2013).

Furthermore, according to a 2016 study by Maleki, both the median and mean of unique links to academic articles posted within tweets by researchers, science communicators, practitioners (medical doctors), and members of the public (the four categories used by Altmetrics), has doubled in the past four years and tripled in the case of Physical Sciences (Maleki, 2016).

Our initial research has revealed the following technical resources that will help guide us in establishing an effective service. These resources may also serve to further educate both staff and faculty contributors.

  • Twitter – Using the Teams feature on TweetDeck https://support.twitter.com/articles/20171753
  • Twitter – Link shortening service https://t.co
  • Twitter – Tweet activity dashboard https://support.twitter.com/articles/20171990
  • Altmetric.com – How are Twitter demographics determined https://help.altmetric.com/support/solutions/articles/6000060978-how-are-twitter-demographics-determined-
  • Twittonomy – Twitter analytics https://www.twitonomy.com

Mission, Guidelines, and Policy related to Technology or Service: For ease of use when citing articles, our framework will use the Twitter TweetDeck feature to establish teams of contributors grouped under the subject area/account. This allows for contributors to tweet from the account without sharing the password. One library staff member will act as administrator for each of the subject area/accounts.

This means that ownership will be shared with faculty members who choose to contribute. Librarians who are hesitant about this dynamic should consider that, in the present age, “the culture of libraries and their staff must proceed beyond a mindset primarily of ownership and control to one that seeks to provide service and guidance” (Association of College and Research Libraries in Stephens, 2008).

Since each subject matter account will be a shared account, a set of rules must be established for usage of the account. This is necessary in order to establish and maintain trust, especially for new followers. “Trust breeds loyalty, and loyal library users are more likely to take advantage of the library” (Schmidt, 2013). To that end, library staff must become acquainted with the Twitter-based framework we develop so that they can provide support, e.g. helping students access linked articles.

Another reason we favor shared accounts over hashtags is for oversight and establishment of guidelines. In order to promote readability and consistency, some guidance on the use of language used to introduce links to resources is necessary given that a number of faculty contributors will share each subject matter account. Proper formatting is crucial to keep within Twitter’s 140 character per tweet limit. Thankfully, the posting of links to academic articles is facilitated by Twitter’s existing link service (http://t.co) that automatically shortens the links to 23 characters. Examples of formal vs informal language in tweets with URLs appear in the table below.

Table 1. Examples of Formal and Informal Language

Examples of formal language include:
• The 2009 Annual Book Sale continues this weekend http://bit.ly/4BOHqr
• President Obama proclaims October as National Information Literacy Awareness Month http://bit.ly/KBgtM

Examples of informal language include:
• A state budget – hooray! Please, please CALL your legislator to make sure library funding is not drastically cut.
• Think you know what a librarian is like? Hmmm . . . http://tinyurl.com/mubmd5 – from a larger overview of the future of libraries on cnn.com
(Aharony, 2010).

Funding Considerations for this Technology or Service: The library resources required to develop and implement our proposed Twitter-based framework are minimal as the hardware (smartphones) is already deployed in users hands and the software (the app) is free.

However, one dynamic that will determine the amount of library resources needed is whether faculty contribute the majority of the tweets or end up being only occasional posters of tweets. According to Thelwall, Tsou, Weingart, Holmerg & Haustein, the number of faculty that use Twitter in their capacity as researchers is very low as most researchers view Twitter as a tool for social or personal use only (2014).

Whether faculty can be convinced to contribute will determine if the bulk of the responsibility of maintaining the account will be shared or whether it will rest upon the librarian who is administering the account. Some trials, setting up a couple of subject matter accounts and inviting faculty contributors, could help quantify this.

Action Steps & Timeline: The Twitter-based framework we propose is built upon existing technology and features. Our plan requires minimal contributions from library staff, much of the implementation will be shared with faculty members who choose to contribute. In addition, the framework could be tested by setting up a single subject matter account and inviting faculty contributors. This would allow for development of best practices.

We recognize that this framework we are proposing may need revisions and tweaking but we encourage our library staff to learn to become comfortable with a technology rollout that may be ‘a work in progress’ and we plan to encourage them to interact and respond with new users, especially during the early stages (Stephens, 2008).

Staffing Considerations for this Technology or Service: For ease of use when citing articles, our framework will use the Twitter TweetDeck feature to establish teams of contributors grouped under the subject area/account. This allows for contributors to tweet from the account without sharing the password.

Ideally, one library staff member would act as administrator for each of the subject area/accounts, perhaps a subject matter expert. This means that ownership will be shared with faculty members who choose to contribute. Librarians who are hesitant about this dynamic should consider that, in the present age, “the culture of libraries and their staff must proceed beyond a mindset primarily of ownership and control to one that seeks to provide service and guidance” (ACRL in Stephens, 2008).

Training for this Technology or Service: Twitter is highly accessible, easy to master, and is nearly ubiquitous; the service has very low barriers to entry. Because the service is participatory, much of the resources required for success would be provided by faculty contributors.

Library staff would be designated as administrators of each the subject matter accounts, reviewing best practices and rules, providing faculty contributors with copies of rules and best practices, and initiating participation by posting the first round of Twitter posts from each of the accounts. Additionally, each administrator would be required to review, share and post metrics on their subject matter account.

In addition, initial testing of the framework could be done by setting up a single subject matter account, assigning a library staff member as an administrator, and inviting select faculty contributors. This testing would allow for development of a streamlined pathway for setting up accounts, composing tweets and posting links to resources. Once established, these best practices can be shared with other staff and faculty contributors.

Promotion & Marketing for this Technology or Service: For libraries, “Twitter is a golden opportunity to connect with library members (Bell in Carscaddon, 2013).”It can also encourage the sharing if information between faculty and the growth of new connections between colleges and departments on campus (Carscaddon, 2013).

All or nearly all of our students carry smartphones and QR codes are an easy user-friendly method of promoting Twitter accounts. The main subject matter accounts can be promoted through the posting of QR codes and brief descriptors on posters in the academic library. Links to the relevant Twitter accounts can be displayed on the library homepage or reference pages.

Faculty contributors and department heads will also be encouraged to post their own QR code and description in faculty and department offices to alert students and other faculty of the subject matter account. These QR codes would then be displayed where they can be easily scanned by students’ smartphones. To this end library staff will print out larger posters, suitable for display within the library, listing all of the subject matter accounts and their respective Twitter name and QR, followed by a brief description of each. Smaller 8 ½ by 11 posters that feature individual subject matter accounts will be developed by staff and distributed to departments, as well as any faculty that request one.

We would like to add one additional note about promotion of the service. While Twitter is a social platform and thus allows integration with Facebook and other social media, the academic library must examine its current social media strategy and determine how it will differentiate this new service from its existing Twitter and Facebook accounts. Each service should have its own distinct identity and any overlap should be pre-determined (Carscaddon, 2013).

Finally, according to Emery & Schifeling, most academic libraries do not communicate with each other (2015). For multi-campus systems, such as California State University and University of California, the opportunity to leverage network effects is substantial.

Evaluation: We hope to encourage friendly competition between each of the subject matter accounts. We foresee that faculty may develop a sense of ownership and enthusiasm, especially as this framework allows them to share recent articles that have piqued their own interests.

Part of the evaluation process will be to track the number of followers for each of the subject matter accounts. Tweet interactions will also be tracked and reported to all faculty and contributors and library staff sharing the Twitter TweetDeck account. In the interests of transparency, these metrics will also be shared with student followers.



Aharony, N. A. (2010). Twitter use in libraries: An exploratory analysis. Journal of Web Librarianship, 4(4), 333-350.

Carscaddon, L. & Chapman, K. (2013). Twitter as a marketing tool for libraries. Georgia State University. Retrieved from http://scholarworks.gsu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1108&context=univ_lib_facpub

Del Bosque, D. C., Leif, S. A., Skarl, S. (2012). Libraries a Twitter: Trends in academic library tweeting. Reference Services Review, 40(2), 199-213. Retrieved from http://digitalscholarship.unlv.edu/lib_articles/430

Emery, K. & Schifeling, T. (2015). Libraries using twitter better: insights on engagement from food trucks. American Library Association. Retrieved from http://www.ala.org/acrl/sites/ala.org.acrl/files/content/conferences/confsandpreconfs/2015/Emery_Schifeling.pdf

Maleki, A. (2016). Do tweets indicate scholarly communication? Paper presented at Scientometrics, University of Tehran. Retrieved from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/308690498_Do_Tweets_Indicate_Scholarly_Communication

Potter, N. (2013, Aug. 27). 10 golden rules to take your library’s twitter account to the next level. Library Journal. Retrieved from http://lj.libraryjournal.com/2013/08/marketing/10-golden-rules-to-take-your-librarys-twitter-account-to-the-next-level/

Schmidt, A. (2013, Nov. 5). Earning trust: The user experience. Library Journal. Retrieved from http://lj.libraryjournal.com/2013/11/opinion/aaron-schmidt/earning-trust-the-user-experience

Stephens, M. (2008). Taming technolust: Ten steps for planning in a 2.0 world. Reference and User Services Quarterly, 47(4). pp. 314-317. Retrieved from http://tametheweb.com/2012/05/30/taming-technolust-ten-steps-for-planning-in-a-2-0-world-full-text/

Thelwall, M., Tsou, A., Weingart, S., Holmerg, K. & Haustein, S. (2013). Tweeting links to academic articles. Cybermetrics: International Journal of Scientometrics, Informetrics and Bibliometrics, 2013. pp. 1-8. Retrieved from http://www.scit.wlv.ac.uk/~cm1993/papers/TweetingLinksAcademicArticles.pdf


2 thoughts on “A Twitter-Based Framework for an Academic Library

  1. The irony that my longest post ever is about a service that limits users to 140 charachters is not lost on me.

    I did not plan on such a long post but I found the research very interesting.

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