Wednesday, July 6, 2011

"All We Are Saying Is Give [Twitter] A Chance"

Here’s the nutshell explanation of my recent love affair with Twitter:

I love Twitter because it really is a “social network.” It is social – chatting, joking, sharing, having fun, arguing, etc. It is also networking – I quite literally talk to librarians, writers, and academics from around the world on Twitter. Further, it’s immediate. To be completely honest, on its worst days, Twitter feels more genuine and human than listservs and other electronic communication methods do on their best.

Want more detail than that? Here’s a list of reasons I’m on Twitter along with an expanded explanation:  

Reason #1: The networking part of “social networking” has started to pay off recently. The connections I’ve made on Twitter have translated over into the real world. One exciting example of this is that I’ll be on a panel at a conference this October – a conference that I learned about from a Twitter contact.

Reason #2: Despite my reluctance to spend the money to attend major librarian conferences, I still have the benefit of most of the major events because of the back channel conference chatter that happens on Twitter. There are whole conversations about conferences that are not captured in the official proceedings, and sometimes the conversations happening on Twitter are more informative than what you’d see in any official document. For instance, when a particular speaker’s presentation was falling flat, I saw lots of: “Who is Jane Academic kidding? We haven’t been doing that for years.” On the other hand, when something was resonating with the crowd, I knew to seek out that presenters’ blog and articles. The librarians and library students in attendance vetted the proceedings for me and gave me short cuts to the “best of.”

Reason #2a: This isn’t just something that happens with librarian conferences, either. Smart phones are becoming ubiquitous, and microblogging/Twitter is also becoming more popular, so any major conference will have this same chatter happening alongside. On Twitter, I talk to academics other than librarians and I’ve seen similar conference hashtags from them.

Reason #3: I get so much from the organized chats. As I mentioned above, I’ve made connections with some amazing librarians and library students. One vehicle I have for this is #libchat – a conversation that happens every Wednesday evening, 8-9:30 PM Eastern Time. The organizer, Natalie Binder, solicits questions from participants ahead of time. During the conversation we all chime in, answering questions that interest us. Some questions turn into bitch sessions; a recent prompt about vacation time ended up that way. Other questions generate fantastic information sharing. For instance, I jotted down quite a few ideas when people were talking about successful marketing techniques.

Reason #4: I’ve started making connections with academics outside of librarianship. Since I work at the library at a small, liberal arts college, I wear many, many, MANY hats. Being aware of what is happening in fields outside my own is important for me. Twitter helps with this, too. Recently, I’ve been learning about what is happening in digital humanities, in open source publishing, and even in game theory. Further, it’s interesting to see people in different fields making similar statements. I talk to mainstream authors as well as academics. Many of them are taking steps to circumvent major publishers in their attempts to publish their work. Seeing mainstream authors and academic writers saying many of the same things… well, let’s just say that if the trends I’ve seen on Twitter continue, the publishing world is going to be very interesting over the next few years.

I know some of the stereotypes people have about Twitter. When I mentioned something to a colleague of mine who is an emeritus faculty member where I work – I’m not sure I even remember what I was trying to say – he made the tired joke about how he doesn’t care what people have for lunch every day. I know that there are people in the Twitter-verse who do tweet the minutia of their lives, but Twitter is one of those “it is what you make of it” kind of things. Among other things, I’m a nerdy, outgoing, academic librarian who has a lot to say about libraries and higher education. I get to learn on Twitter, and I get to teach there. If not for Twitter, I might not have found my inspiration, my desire to add to the written conversation about librarianship.

What do you think? If you are part of Twitter, why do you tweet? If you’re not, of if you’re one of the many who have quiet or silent accounts, why don’t you tweet?

Next Wednesday’s post is going to be about finding my voice, and why I’m glad I waited until this part of my career to start writing. Also, starting next Friday, I’ll be publishing a guest posts from other professional librarians once per week. (Yay!)

P.S. After I finished writing this entry, Time published a piece that echoes much of what I said here, but it’s aimed at a general (as opposed to librarian) audience. It's a good read and worth your time.

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