Category Archives: Personal experience

Organizational profile: The Huntington

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Oh, The Huntington! In my last semester of college, I got out of bed every morning at six and spent two hours on the impressively inconvenient public transit of LA County to do an internship there. (It turns out, Pasadena and Claremont actually aren’t very far apart. Who knew.) And now, on Twitter, we meet again. The Huntington began in the early twentieth century, when a railroad magnate named Henry Huntington used his millions/bajillions to build a private universe. One of the most weirdly fascinating factoids, for me, was that there are scholars there who do nothing but study Henry and write books about him. He’s an avenue, I guess, to some incredible collections of books, plants, and art.

Huntington

Image used under Creative Commons License.

The Huntington is most commonly referred to as The Huntington Library (full name is The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens). This is interesting to me because the library is, for the most part, off-limits to the public. Some of its particular treasures, like a Gutenberg Bible and an Audubon Birds of America, are displayed in galleries, and other manuscripts go on display periodically (I first encountered Aphra Behn there… and holy mother of cake, I’ll have done a good job if I die with a Wikipedia entry that includes the heading “Life in England, writing career, work as a spy”).

So here’s what I want from social media at The Huntington: a glimpse of the things that, pre-Internet, I would have needed a PhD and letters of recommendation to see. There are probably barriers to this that I’m not aware of, and on top of that, I do love the idea of having only one or two copies of a given work in the world, and having the copies lovingly protected in a special place. The endless copies of things, to the point where the original hardly seems to matter, wigs me out. (Thanks, Frederick Jameson.)

And yet. It would be so neat if we married the magic of the Web with the magic of the rare. I would love it if the resident scholars could be employed as resident tweeters, and if The Huntington used hashtags to give us a series about rare books and other obscure elements of the collection. I don’t even need a photo here, just a thought or two from someone I’ve never met, someone who’s studying the things that I’ll never see.

The most recent tweets from The Huntington have to do with a recent closure due to high winds in LA. Going further back, they are mostly very chatty, describing the weather and responding to comments by others in The Huntington’s network. Which I like. I do. They are making me believe in the community that Twitter can create. (Example: “@brobest¬†That’s what we call “quality time!” Enjoy this beautiful afternoon with your family!”) But, having spent time at the Huntington, they also make me ache for the things that aren’t there.

Again, it’s pretty hard for me to figure out what I’m feeling about this. I think it makes total sense for the collection and Twitter to be two very separate things, for the collection to do what it does best and for Twitter to do the same. So I think that is more to consider from an organizational perspective. Do you want the social media you use to disseminate what is most special about your collection/your institution? Or is it better to keep Twitter in its place and protect the integrity of the collection? A week ago, I would have emphatically said the latter. But I was so excited by the things I found at World Digital Library that now I’m not so sure.

Image above is from wn.com. Check them out for cool videos of The Huntington! 

Organizational profile: the Canadian Music Centre

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I volunteer for the library at the Canadian Music Centre of Vancouver. I was excited to see that the national Centre is merrily tweeting away — this made me feel, I don’t know, a sense of familiarity, or something along those lines. It makes me wonder how people end up on Twitter normally; I always sort of assumed that there are people who join Twitter because they like Twitter, and then there are people like me, who don’t. But that doesn’t make a lot of sense, does it? Most people probably arrive there by following somebody they know. And some, perhaps, get there through an organization that they like. Maybe this isn’t terribly significant, but for me it’s something to consider… your library might be leading innocent patrons into Twitter. Are there any implications to that?

Enough rambling! For now. Let’s begin by taking a look at the website of the Canadian Music Centre. I’m not in love with it, to be honest. It seems very cluttered* and a little sad, hunching over there at the left side of the screen. Now that I am an expert web designer (thanks Susie!) I would want to streamline the bejeesus out of this. I mean, navigation isn’t terribly difficult, but it would be smoother, I think, to nest “Find a Composer” under “Find Music”, and I’m struggling to figure out why there needs to be a CMC Boutique and a big block for Centrestreams… again, why not have a simple “Listen to Music” menu, with options for streaming online and buying? Basically, I think there’s a lot to be done. And I think the website is designed for people who already know a lot about the organization, who have a near-intuitive sense of the difference between Centrestreams and Centrediscs, who know what an associate is.

The website, and the Twitter feeds, sort of make me feel like I’m spying on a club that I don’t belong to. This may sound whiny, but I really do mean it more as a statement than a criticism. If you’re a music library, do you want to tailor your online presence to musicians? Or do you want to try to invite neophytes in? I have to think there’s a middle ground, a strategy that’s just a bit more neutral and welcoming to whoever might wander in off the Internet.

It’s harder to make these value judgments about Twitter. There is a sense of both Musicians’ Club and Twitter Club and even a hint of Canada Club, best expressed by the rampant acronyms: FF, LRT, SNBTo, MT, TO.

I mean, it’s the Twitter feed of the Canadian Music Centre. Using the lingo of music and Canada and Twitter certainly makes sense. But I do wonder if, as an organization, it’s better to put some of your 140 characters to the service of utter clarity. Not to pander to newbies while annoying those who know what’s up, but just to hedge your bets. I love the Canadian Music Centre, but it hasn’t given me that elusive reason to stick around Twitter post-assignment. There is just too much that I don’t understand and too much that doesn’t seem relevant to me, as a USAmerican living in Vancouver who likes music a lot but has no expertise. Some of the Twitter guides I’ve read recently suggest setting up a few feeds for your organization to deal with different areas, and some of the places I follow seem to be doing that. But it strikes me as messy and not terribly user-friendly. So I can’t say that I have a solution to the overall clubbiness of the Centre’s web presence, beyond just not getting carried away in the excitement of rapid-fire messages about something you love. Consider your lurkers!

*The social media links are displayed fairly prominently, about 1/4 of the way down the page. But I missed them when I was exploring the last couple of days; I was, in fact, all set to grouse about how the website didn’t link to the Twitter feed at all. Again, just too much stuff, too many horizontal blocks of different messages, too easy to pass over.

Screech and Pick

Pickle, my dog, and Screechy, my violin. I take lessons now, but any future I had in music was crushed when I was ten and my sister told me I sang like a dying toad.

I don’t tweet.

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There’s a lot I don’t do, including post photos to facebook, Skype with distant friends, or understand my cell phone. I’ve never felt that I had a strong aversion to any of these things — more like disinterest, bordering on mild aversion.

Likewise, I created this blog purely because I had to for school. There are a lot of things I do for school that I’d never do of my own free will, like get up before six in the morning and speak in front of large groups of people. Some of these things are edifying, some necessary evils, and most, like this blog, fall somewhere in between. I expect work to be much the same, and in a way I look forward to having doses of unpleasantness thrown at me. I don’t want to be miserable in the interest of making a living, but I do want my work and my non-work life to be distinct. I want work to require things of me that I do not and probably would not do at home.

So: Twitter. I think I can tweet, if I need to do so professionally. I may grow to like it, or I may always be lukewarm — but if I have to do it, I will sure as s*** do a good job.

It begins.

It begins.

It seems simple enough.

  1. Create a username: carrieliz4
  2. Follow things: the American Library Association; the Smithsonian; a local medical library.
  3. Follow more things, as prompted by Twitter: Vancouver Public Library; Law Library of Congress; the World Digital Library; the Canadian Music Centre.
  4. Receive notification that some weird travel agency is now following you, even though you haven’t even tweeted anything. Frown and ignore, but feel occasionally creeped out. Get frustrated when online scrabble does not accept “unfollow” as a word. Try to understand what, exactly, @ and # mean in Twitter. Fail. And maybe, when you’re in a certain mood, write a pithy sentence or two about your day: “Today Vancouver smelled like tater tots. I don’t know why.”

You get the idea.

But there are good tweets and there are bad tweets, especially when it comes to organizations. There are tweets that help your patrons feel involved in their library. There are functional tweets that serve as cheap and insanely effective marketing. There are tweets that make you look like you’re trying waaaaay too hard to be cool. There are tweets that are a profound waste of your time, because no one is reading them and no one will.

In the days before this puppy is due, I aim to learn about all of these tweets, and more. Tally-ho.