T*breaktweets hits the big time with Lobsterotica

We've been using Twitter to promote our digital collections since January 2009 (has it really been that long?). We posted a blog about our experiences a while back. In short, we post one thing from our digital collections twice a day and call them t*breaktweets.

As a digital service manager and someone responsible for promoting our digital collections, I think Twitter is a fabulous way to get the word out about the sheer awesomeness of what the National Library collections hold.

On Thursday 22nd July, during the morning t*breaktweet, at around 10:30am, I pointed people to an article in the 11 March 1921 issue of the Ashburton Guardian in Papers Past about a librarian who successfully hypnotized a lobster:

Tweet by @NLNZ, reading 'There's only one word to describe the content and tone of this news article: Lobsterotica.'

The tone of the article was salacious and at points NSFW! Here's an excerpt:

Article headlined 'A lobster hypnotized - London Scientist's Feat'. The article begins 'Quite accidentally Mr F Martin Duncan, librarian to the Zoological Society, discovered he could hypnotise lobsters. Before some officials of the society, he gave a most amusing demonstration on his office desk in Regent's Park, London. A wild, uneducated female lobster was selected at random from a fishmonger's slab for the purposes of the experiment... She 'bucked' just like a mustang as Mr Duncan tried to spread her tail out flat on his desk. He performed some rhythmic passes up and down her polished back, and she grew more docile, permitting her tail to be unfolded. Then for two minutes the operator lightly massaged her back with the tips of her fingers until the lobster lost her expression of annoyed anxiety and relaxed into a beautiful trance...'Read the full article if you dare.

What happened next was completely unexpected and took me by surprise.

One of our followers, @Bibliodyssey re-tweeted our tweet, which was picked up by @BoingBoing who posted it on their website and also tweeted about it. BoingBoing is a popular blog that publishes interesting titbits of technology, culture and business. It's a very popular site (I'm sure you've heard of it!), and their Twitter account has nearly 50,000 followers.

The power of Twitter took over and the flurry of conversations and re-tweets began, spreading like wildfire across the web. We even created our own meme: Lobsterotica. Check out search results for Lobsterotica on Twitter and Google.

Tweet from a German-speaking user, pointing to the lobster article.

Tweet from a Spanish-speaking user, pointing to the lobster article.

Tweet pointing hypnotists and other mentalists to the lobster article.

Tweet celebrating lobsterotica, reading 'Lobsterotic lobsterotic put your claws all over my body'.

Tweet celebrating lobsterotica, reading 'More invertebrates behaving like hussies'.

Tweet asking whether lobster hypnotism is a library competency.

Comments on BoingBoing blogpost

There were dozens of comments on the BoingBoing blogpost, from comments about the article itself to someone's own experience hyponotising a lobster to praise for Papers Past.

Boing Boing comment reading 'This definitely works... in Maine growing up, when we would cook (boil) lobsters, all the kids would 'hypnotize' the lobsters so they wouldn't 'feel the burning'. You would know that your lobster was ready when youy could balance it on its nose (claws underneath, making a crude tripod). Unclear if this 'hypnosis' actually helped the lobster at all...'

Boing Boing comment reading 'What can't librarians do?'

Boing Boing comment reading 'cool archival website, btw'

Boing Boing comment reading 'Sure you can get away with this kind of thing with the 'wild, uneducated' lobster described, but a sophisticated, properly bred one will sue your ass.'

Effect on Papers Past traffic

The number of unique daily visitors to Papers Past nearly doubled from an average of 3,605 to 6,778 on 22 July. We had over 3000 new people visit the site in a single day. That's massive... for us!

This was, by far, our most popular t*breaktweet and is indicative of the viral nature of Twitter. It proves that if you have something interesting to show people and the right people are watching, it can be shared with thousands of people across the world.

By Chelsea Hughes

Chelsea had many hats here at the Library, and probably still wears them if they're funny enough.

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