I have never written an awards entry before and I certainly didn’t think I’d win my first attempt! CoLRiC stands for the Council for Learning Resources in Colleges and it is “an independent organisation working with library and learning resources centre managers in further education, sixth form colleges and the HE in FE sector to enhance and maintain excellence in their services” (CoLRiC, 2018). Since 2013, CoLRiC has issued Best Practice Awards to college libraries for projects and activities that have demonstrably enhanced service delivery.
Chichester College Group is comprised of four colleges, two of which provide a shared library service: Chichester College and Brinsbury College. I was asked to launch and manage a Twitter account for this shared service back in November 2018. I’ve worked closely with the whole team on this enterprise but the hard work of two, in particular, has meant that the endeavour was possible. Laura Piper, Library Assistant and dog whisperer from Chichester College and Rose Hull, Business Apprentice and creative genius, also at Chichester.
As winners, we received a gorgeous trophy, £150 to spend on the libraries and a place to attend CoLRiC’s annual conference. This year, the conference was held at University College Birmingham and I attended with the College Librarian.
When receiving the award, it is expected that you will showcase your submission in a five minute presentation. I’m going to share that presentation in this blog because it explains why and how we’ve used Twitter.
Why Twitter? This is a good question. We wanted to advocate and promote our services within the college to staff and the senior team. We wanted to make connections to the wider community – both geographically and in the library and FE worlds! When establishing a corporate social media presence, it was imperative we presented a clear and consistent voice. Professional, personalised and personable – our Twitter account is a literal extension of who we are in the physical libraries. This voice underpins our content, approach and tone. In terms of the content, we aim to be both informative and fun.
Laura and I produced this simplified policy after experimenting with Twitter in the autumn term and looking at best practice. In addition to the grand aims and respectable ideology of the policy, we also created a more grounded and concrete set of house style guidelines. Or, more simply put, dos and don’ts. After all, librarians love a list! The detail has helped to empower everyone to participate regardless of confidence or prior experience.
I’m going to take you on a little whistle-stop tour of some of our content and campaigns. Each was designed to support one of our three core aims: modernisation, service advocacy and promotion and engagement with the college group’s senior team, staff and the wider community. I appreciate that screenshots of Twitter might not translate brilliantly to a blog; you can of course follow us for a better look! It’s @CCGLibrary and, yes, this is a shameless plug for followers.
We linked this year’s Reading Ahead scheme to the hashtag #BooksAndBeasts, asking students and staff to catch their pets reading. Reading Ahead is a national campaign led by The Reading Agency, focused on encouraging reading for pleasure and improving adult literacy. Using animals really helped to break down barriers; as Brinsbury is a land-based college, we already have an animal-mad audience. We also used the Twitter-generated content to market the campaign around campus… pictures of animals reading popped up on photocopiers, in cafés and on toilet doors. It worked – we had a record number of participants!
Love your libraries was a month long, overarching campaign that pulled together multiple activities such as the launch of Reading Ahead and our annual student survey. It helped to promote the role that the libraries and staff can play in the student experience. The library and other spaces around campus were decorated with handmade roses and other frivolities. Students (and staff) left the library love-notes and we shared these on Twitter. A tangible impact of the campaign was an even stronger link to the GCSE English Department for Reading Ahead and other projects.
Earlier in the year, William the Wonderdog became our newest librarian. He is a qualified therapy dog and Laura is his handler. I could easily use the rest of the blog to explore how he has impacted the library and our service offer through the power of belly rubs but back to the business at hand… we used Twitter to connect William to the college group and wider community. Advertising his presence on Twitter meant staff, in turn, advertised it to students. He’s gathered quite a following both online (@WSnosidge) and on campus. His Twitter presence has also helped to promote services and stock.
The weekly Mini Writing Challenge is a bit of fun rooted in word play and literacy. Participants have included students, staff, departments, other libraries, other colleges and even writers like Michael Rosen and Michael Grant. We run a number of weekly features like this, designed to engage with communities within and beyond the college: some promote stock, some advocate reading for pleasure, some encourage debate.
On a more serious note, we also use Twitter to advertise our services. We know the students aren’t looking at Twitter but their teaching staff and personal tutors are! By surfacing stock, promoting digital resources and advertising opening hours on Twitter, it reminds the staff and the senior team of how the library can support them in delivering outstanding learning outcomes. It is no coincidence that our e-book borrowing rates are up or that our weekend footfall has increased since we launched Twitter.
We believe one of our mandates is to help students to broaden their minds and experiences; Twitter helped us to achieve this. Here’s an example. Following a staff recommendation, we purchased a poetry book written by a local poet. This led to an online dialogue with the poet, Simon Zec, that ultimately resulted in:
- a celebration of World Poetry Day;
- a blackout poetry competition with more than 70 entries;
- a poetry event in the library attended by students, senior management and staff, led by Simon – who also judged the competition.
The impact of our Twitter account isn’t measured in likes, retweets, followers or engagement, although I am obsessed with them and they have all demonstrated positive upward trends.
The impact isn’t really reflected by our increased book borrowing, footfall or e-book usage, despite the fact I can evidence these.
The impact is really more qualitative and can be found in the comments others make about our service: to us, about us and in the public domain.