Committee Reports and Announcements

The Virtual Reference Discussion Group (VRDG) held an exciting session at the 2011 ALA Midwinter Meeting in San Diego, CA.

Discussion topic: “Embedded by Hashtag: Using Twitter to Provide Real-Time Reference and Instruction”


Ellen Filgo, E-learning Librarian at Baylor University Libraries opened the session with a presentation on her experiences as a virtually embedded librarian in the Fall 2009 and Fall 2010 offerings of Gardner Campbell’s Introduction to New Media Studies course. She described how she used Twitter to answer reference questions posed during each week’s live class session.

Group Discussion:

Following Ellen’s presentation, the forty-seven attendees spread across seven tables to discuss Ellen’s approach, additional opportunities for using social media to deliver reference services, and other topics of interest to them relating to virtual reference. Table notes collected at the end of the session revealed several common themes in these discussions related to the presentation:

●     Participants were excited about some of the advantages of Twitter-based reference. These include: (1) the ability of class participants to participate in a back-channel discussion (2) the opportunity to continue the discussion outside the class period; (3) the use of a hashtag to see and participate in related discussions; (4) Twitter’s 140 character limit encourages creativity, and resource sharing; (5) by using url-shorteners (e.g., librarians can promote library resources by linking to archival resources, ebooks, catalog records, and databases; (6) the opportunity it presented for librarians to do just-in-time reference and/or instruction.

●     Several tables wondered whether using Twitter as a real-time back channel might distract students and prevent them from fully attending the in-person lecture or discussions. When this question was addressed to Ellen, she read an e-mail from Dr. Campbell, who has himself been asked the same thing many times. His e-mail revealed that he has seen the back-channel help students to become more, not less engaged.

●     While attendees recognized the value of contributing to discussion through Twitter, many expressed concern about the amount of time this would require. When these concerns were addressed to Ellen, she said that it is an approach that should be considered one tool that might be helpful in specific classes, and it could not logistically become a cornerstone of virtual reference service. It was suggested that it might be helpful for distance learning and online classes. Edmodo was suggested as a type of twitter for classes, i.e. not public.

Amanda Clay Powers, MARS VRDG Chair