Recently I was at a talk by Prof David Nicholas project lead of the JISC funded Google Generation project which got a lot of attention in 2008 (the one that highlights most search is broad and shallow; users don’t go beyond first page of results, 40% never return to a site, rarely going beyond the first 3 pages etc etc)
During David’s presentation he kept going back to the idea that, historically, search for academic resources was controlled by librarians, they were the gatekeepers. If you needed to do a search you’d take your slip of paper with your keywords and search operators for approval before being allowed on a terminal to try and find what you were looking for. Internet search has obviously changed this. Now you can search almost anytime, anywhere. As a consequence the librarian is largely out of the loop, unable to assist when the person pops in their 2.3 keywords and pulls the handle, hoping they hit the jackpot with what pops out.
So what has happened is that original awareness mechanism, the slip of paper, has been lost removing the opportunity for the librarian to share their expertise. But whilst librarians secretly plot about how to turn Google off a new awareness mechanism is emerging.
The new slip of paper is something I’ve known about for a while, but it wasn’t until I was listening to David that I understood what it meant. The foundation of this understanding is Tony Hirst’s Joining the Flow – Invisible Library Tech Support (posted in September 2008!!!), which highlights how twitter could be used to “provide invisible support to their patrons by joining in the conversation” . So basically instead of waiting for that slip of paper to cross your desk you go rummaging in the bins trying to find it.
Business is already tapping into this channel below is an example of a recent experience of ‘invisible help’:
[View the story "Invisible helpdesk example" on Storify]
Establishing a Twitter based invisible helpdesk isn’t that hard. All you need to do is setup and monitor a some search keywords and not before long you can find yourself becoming a good Samaritan. I’ve started using Tweetdeck to monitor keywords related to blog posts I’ve written so that I can gorilla market my wares (hmm that might make a good WordPress plugin, attach some keywords as meta data and setup a Twitter robot to play good Samaritan for you). There are also some besoke tools emerging in this area. The main one I know of is the Chrome extension InboxQ, which uses Twitter to help you “find people asking questions about things you know”.
The main problem is whereas people like Zoho have a global operation your library will probably have a limited geography and Twitter is probably still used by the minority of patrons (there are ways around the geography problem like promoting a common hashtag), I still think it’s worth trying to search for those slips of paper.