Opportunities As Seeds

My name is Tosca Waerea and, currently, I work for Auckland Libraries in their digital services team.  Specifically, I’m involved with our social media streams.  Prior to the 2010 local government amalgamation I worked for Manukau Libraries firstly as a general library assistant, then as a library assistant for Maori services and, lastly, as digital outreach for their digital services team.  I believe that libraries are shared community spaces.  I am first, foremost and forever a reader.

“Opportunities, many times, are so small that we glimpse them not and yet they are often the seeds of great enterprises. Opportunities are also everywhere and so you must always let your hook be hanging. When you least expect it, a great fish will swim by.” Og Mandino

I’ve been turning an idea over in my head for the last couple of months, in that way that I do when I have the seeds of something indefinable that I’m not quite ready to discuss yet for a variety of reasons. Maybe it won’t withstand closer scrutiny, maybe it’s a silly idea, or maybe it’s actually a good idea and then it’ll require a proposal and a strategy and some finessing of people (in that way that I don’t do well at all). Roughly four weeks ago I voiced it aloud (randomly and on Twitter) and it had a couple of positive comments from colleagues based locally and nationally. Two weeks ago I had the opportunity to discuss it with others in the wider library profession (nationally and internationally this time), again on Twitter, and decided that it was time to see whether or not it is actually viable.

I’ve been closely following the @sweden tweetstream since its inception with an eye to seeing whether or not a public library could do the same. For those who aren’t familiar with the concept, in 2011 Sweden decided to let its citizens run its official tweetstream, with the approval of the Swedish government. It’s an exciting move, and one I’ve watched right from the get go. Each week a different person tweets on behalf of the country about anything and everything. The result is an eclectic mix of points of view, lifestyles, commentary about everything from the difference between being a bad parent and bad parenting (that was an enlightening discussion), breastfeeding in public, how an initial long distance relationship started (as a romance reader this was so sweet) to life on the road as a trucker and everything else I could ever conceive of. It really does prove that nobody owns the brand ‘Sweden’ more than the people who live there.

We, and by ‘we’ I mean libraries in general, always talk about how our customers are our biggest advocates. I agree. They are. As are our staff. But I often wonder if we really do mean it and, if we do, how we show it/live it more/better? So how do I see this working as a part of a public library tweetstream? Alternate between having staff and customers tweeting, either change it weekly, fortnightly, or a ‘guest’ once a month. When it’s staff, mix it up a little – someone who works a front desk, someone in acquisitions/processing, someone in training and development, someone from leadership, a kids librarian – a different library perspective each time, hopefully rounding out what it is that we do, making us that much more accessible – and visible – in the public eye. When it’s customers, show them what you do. Really show them. Not tell them, because it’s all just words. Arrange for behind the scenes tours of community libraries, talks with managers, show them different departments, take them to the acquisitions department and show them all of the incoming titles (that’d be my personal favourite), give them a tour of special collections, let them meet with leadership teams (one on one or as a group) and hear, firsthand, about your library’s purpose and vision, if they have a particular concern about a point of policy or strategy then let them talk with the people who created/wrote those policies and strategies. Let their experiences, and any thoughts they have as a result, shape their tweets. A sort of live journalism, if you will. If they have a particular interest, e.g. family history, incunabula, Maori services, then foster it. Let them meet the people who handle those departments or service areas. I like to think that we are all fangirls and fanboys at heart who are just waiting for our interests to be fostered. Or something like it that doesn’t sound so…fangirlish. (If you could put professional terms in the place of ‘fangirls’ and ‘fanboys’ I’d really appreciate it).

I’m going to spend the next month seeing if it is possible and, if so, how it would work, and how it could be implemented. To kickstart that process, I’ll be contacting anyone and everyone behind the various location curation projects and asking for a general idea of what was involved and, if possible, if they would mind sharing their policies. (People always think I’m a sandwich short of a picnic when I tell them I work this way – that I contact people and ask them if they’d mind sharing tips, hints, strategies and policies. I do it because I very firmly believe that social media is about sharing information, so why wouldn’t we practise this offlist, as well? And yes, if anything concrete does come out of this I would be more than happy to share with others. A virtual ‘pay it forward,’ if you will and, yes, I will expect those others to share pass on what I give them to others, too). Then I’ll write a proposal and take it to management within my own organisation where we’ll have wonderfully robust and open discussion about whether or not this can work for us, and how we’d make it happen.

There are, now, quite a few location curation projects taking place around the world (NZ, France, Ukraine, UK, Australia, and a few others more) and, yes, I happily follow them all, and constantly wonder how and where libraries can use this. As a side note, I adore that NZ is doing this, too. There’s been a great mix of people so far, with some rather interesting people still to come.

Should other public libraries pick up this idea and run with it then I wish you the best of luck, and I can’t wait to read all about your journeys.

I’d like to thank the following people for allowing me to kick the idea back and forth with them both in person and on Twitter, and for providing encouragement and inspiration: @mcrtt, @bobinrob, @sallyheroes, @jobeaz, @haikugirlOz, @megingle, @BeezilBeard, @VaVeros, @natz2d2, @ielfling

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3 Comments

  1. librarykris says:

    #brandlibraries @LibraryNZ Tweeted by people in libraries all over NZ; different sectors; different sizes; different locations. ?

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