When Bob McKee, CEO of CILIP (Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals) wrote his blog post on “All of a Twitter” we can safely predict that he  wouldn’t have expect to CILIP to be featured as one of the top topics of discussion on Twitter, at one stage, according to one Twitter trending tools, seemingly being more widely discussed than swine flu.

Bob’s post, which was published back in February, looked at the question of CILIP’s involvement with Twitter. Should a professional organisation such as CILIP make use of Twitter? Bob view, which went beyond discussions of Twitter and addressed the wider use of social networking services hosted outside the institution, was unequivocal: “The simple answer, of course, is no. In terms of “official” activity, cyber life is just like real like – if it happens in a CILIP-sanctioned space, it’s official; if it happens down the pub or in someone else’s space, it isn’t.

Phil Bradley responded with a blog post with an unequivocal title “CILIP – Epic FAIL”  although the tone of the post was measured

I like Bob – he’s a nice chap and very personable, but I can’t articulate enough how wrong he is on this issue, though I’ll try. He says ‘There’s some twittering at present about whether CILIP has (or should have) any “official” presence on various lists or micro blog sites. Sorry Bob, but we were discussing this on Twitter two weeks ago. The boat has long since left on this one and we’ve moved onto other things related to CILIP now.

and invited CILIP to engage in a wider and more open discussion about how an organisation such as CILIP should be engaging with a Web 2.0 world.

CILIP2 Open Meeting

Phil was pleased that the CILIP Council responded to his post by arranging an open session on how CILIP could make use of Web 2.0 which was held yesterday afternoon (29 April 2009) after the morning’s Council meeting. I too was invited to speak at the meeting and, like Phil, was delighted to see how the Council had embracing a willingness to make use of Web 2.0 by encouraging live Twittering at the event and publicising it to a wider community who were invited to follow the #cilip2 tag on software such as Twitterfall.

The Twitter Channel

It was particularly pleasing to see the extent to which the wider CILIP community and other interested parties who couldn’t attend the meeting engaged with use of Twitter to get a feel for the talks and discussions at the Council meeting and also to raise a much wider set of issues about the role of CILIP. The popularity of the #cilip2 discussions became apparent as the Twitterfall display (which was displayed following the two presentations by myself and Phil) began to include posts from a number of Twitter-trending services – and the inclusion of a number of Twitter spam posts. Incidentally for me the spam provides an indication of how Twitter is now mainstream – and if you feel a service shouldn’t be used if it can attract spam, I assume you’re not using email!

Incidentally if you wish to see examples of the popularity of the Twitter discussions you can view the trends shown on the hashtags and Twitscoop services – although as the event is now over we have probably lost a record of the popularity of the tag.

The Discussions

Wordle display of Twitter posts tagged with #cilip2 tagDave Pattern, Library systems manager at the University of Huddersfield Library provided a good example of rapid software development when he wrote software to harvest tweets containing the the #cilip2 tag. And not only is a record of the discussions, annotated with the time of posting, now available, a Wordle cloud is also available (and shown below) which provides a visual summary of the topics which were discussed on Twitter.

There have already been a couple of blog posts published about the event which I’ll briefly summarise.

Alison Williams (a remote participant) felt that the Twitter channel wasexcellent in that it was discussing how librarians and specifically CILIP (1) could make use of web 2.0 tools, and it was doing it by…. making use of web 2.o tools! What a good idea!” She also joined in the discussions by “suggest[ing] that CILIP might look to the ALA (American Library Association) as a role model“.

Amelia Luzzi appreciated the Twitter channel in her post “Twitter – better than a conference“. She found it useful to be “able to follow the talks at CILIP 2.0, without an expensive trip down to London“. I also found her observation that ” in case you were wondering why video/audio isn’t a better solution – I can discuss what is said with other participants, also in real time: if an interesting comment comes up, the discussion can start amongst us virtual participants in a way that it simply can’t amongst buy cheap medications real-life ones. I’ve heard it said, often, that the best bit of a conference is the bit where you end up talking to other participants in the hallway. Following #cilip2 on Twitter has had the feel of that“. That’s an interesting point – live audio and video simply amplifies the one-dimensional publishing aspect of conference whereas successful conferences often provide an environment for two-way(or rather multiple-way) discussions. She concluded “Today, I think I’ve expanded my professional network by about 25%. And, granted, the ties aren’t all that binding – but I now have a way of keeping an eye on what they’re talking about, and engaging them when I feel I have something to add. It’s a great starting point for building a more solid professional relationship“.

Neil Ford on the Random Letters blog also felt that “it was fascinating for me to attend an event like this on Twitter”. In answer to the question as to whether any concrete decisions were made on the day Neil  felt the he “didn’t pick up on any hard action or proposals. I can’t see that any actual decisions were made by the CILIP top brass“. But rather than this being regarded as a criticism Neil realised that the event “was more about CILIP Council *listening* to it’s members. This is something I’ve never heard of before and I really think CILIP Council deserve a big hats-off for hosting the event”.

Carl on the Sinto blog felt that CILIP  “does appear to have been slow to develop a coherent approach to some of the emerging technologies” but felt there was a need for “the more considered responses that will soon appear in blogs and printed articles“. Carl is concerned that although there are “Web 2 savvy professionals who are part of this debate”  we may find that “there is a larger group of web-sceptics who are excluded“.

Revisiting The Main Themes of the Day

Returning from the remote participants’ views on the day to some of the issues which I (who am not a CILIP members of librarian) picked one on.

CILIP As An Enabler
A view was expressed at the meetingthat , rather than providing a variety of Web 2.0 services on the CILIP Web site, CILIP shouldact as an enabler, perhaps sharing best practices and patterns of usage, aggragating content provided by members (as CILIP already do with CILIP memebr blogs) and providing directories of CILIP member users of various services which can help members to find like-minded collagues more easily on the various social networking services.
The dangers that sections of the CILIP membership ould be marginalised though an ainability to access social networkingservices down to organisational poplicies and firewalls, which Carl referred to, was discussed at the meeting. In my talk I suggested that CILIP should have a role to play in gaining a better understanding of such barriers and to explore ways in which organisational concerns, across the various sectors represented within CILIP, can be addressed. I also pointed out the dangers that CILIP members might feel pressured into using social networking tools in areas which are not appropriate and which do not reflect individual styles of working.

CILIP and Twitter

But what of the question which led to the CILIP2 meeting – should CILIP make use of Twitter? In all of the wider discussions about the role of CILIP we lost sight of that question during the meeting itself. However in the pub afterwards myself, Phil Bradley, Caroline Moss-Gibbon (leader of the CILIP Council) and a few others revisited that question. In my talk I described the risks and opportunities framework which I presented at the recent Museums and the Web 2009 conference. The framework described the need to clarify the purpose of a tool rather than developing policies for the tool itself. I illustrated this point by speculating on whether professional organisations in times gone by debated whether they should use new technologies such as the telephone, with the early adopters pointing out the benefits to the organisations whilst others pointed out the dangers that the technology could be used for social purposes and that employees may use the technology to bring the organisation into disrepute in ways that wouldn’t be possible when the established forms of communications (business letters) has editorial and work flow processes in place to minimise such risks.

My suggestion? CILIP Council should welcome initiatives from CILIP, CILIP branches and CILIP working groups in making use of social networking services such as Twitter in ways in which support their business aims. And rather than developing a policy (it’s too soon, for that, I feel) they should observe patterns of usage which work and share emerging best practices – but also monitor usage patterns which aren’t feel to be working and learn from such experiences.