Friday 22 February 2013

#uklibchat – don’t panic! – a beginner’s experience

Our new guest post comes from Slough Library's Audience Development Officer, Gaby Koenig. She has supplied a most welcome crib sheet to a first try at #uklibchat. If you are someone who has intended to join in for months and yet never got round to it (like me), this may encourage you to give it a try, because you won't have to figure out all this stuff for yourself. Over to Gaby...

What do you use twitter for? Some people use it for professional development or just as part of their profession. For others of us it’s more of a personal general fun tool, perhaps a bit like an RSS feed for sites we’re interested in with added bonus material. Some of us have no clue what we’re doing there and are making it up as we go along.

#uklibchat is a monthly twitter chat about libraries and library and information work in the UK. But what is it FOR? I could just say ‘professional development’. More specifically it’s more about having conversations that interest you with other people in the field, making connections to people you might not otherwise meet or speak to and learning about different ideas and working going on in other locations.

That all makes it sound extremely simple. It is, however, both exciting and incredibly confusing to first time users. It’s a bit like being in a room where everyone is talking at once and you have no idea what is going on. Due to the nature of twitter, tweets in a conversation are not grouped together, everything is in precise time order.

Because it is so immediate, it’s very tempting to try and hurry to catch up on the latest comment, but if that is the third reply in a conversation other people have been having on q4, you’re probably going to have to backtrack and by which time it won’t be the latest thing any more.

The two things that will save you from drowning are being prepared and being very clear about what you want to do or say, although being a speed reader doesn’t hurt.

Every chat has a public overall topic and agenda. This is hosted on Google Docs, where anyone can add their own questions but personally I prefer less questions and responding to what’s there rather than adding to the agenda, which may not be got through anyway. Reading the agenda in advance is a good idea, as is keeping it open while you are involved, as with only 140 characters, people may just reply to a question with just “q2” and #uklibchat without any preliminaries to explain what went before or what they are talking about. This gives you a good key to follow topics or when a certain question has come up. I also plan any responses to any questions that particularly interest me or at least what I might like to say.

During chat I have several tabs or windows open. One for the agenda, one for my twitter interactions, one following the hashtag and one following @uklibchat – the twitter feed for the organisers. I try and make sure I follow etiquette and include the question number I am talking about (eg. Q3) and the #uklibchat.

Once the chat starts, I try to do two things, firstly skim for anything that interests me and secondly watch out for prompts that the question I want to answer is officially up for answering. I try really hard not to attempt to join in with every conversation,  to avoid trying to read every single tweet and only respond when I have something to say. This takes a certain amount of self control.

Some people use twitter clients to help them follow the chat. Of these Tweetchat does look rather good and doesn’t require you to create a separate account for it. If you aren’t going to use it to respond, you don’t even have to log into twitter. Best of all though, it automatically adds the hashtag you are following to your tweets when you reply, which is easy to forget in the heat of the moment.

The organisers of #uklibchat asked us to mention the help they can offer new uklibchatters. They have a page that gives a bit of info about how to tweetchat:< and if you ever get lost or need help, people are very welcome to ask @uklibchat, either during, before, or after the chat, as they can answer questions while it's happening. So now there really is no reason to not join in. Many thanks #uklibchat for the extra pointers.