Social software tools have really surprised me. I have used a lot of them without thinking of them as social software over the years (email, Amazon, Yelp, etc). But I was a lot more indifferent to and suspicious of the more “obvious” examples of social software tools only a year and a half ago. I think of myself as a late adopter of Facebook (joined in 2008) and Twitter (joined in March 2009). But now I am incredibly enthusiastic and curious about these and other social software tools. I use them often and enjoy them immensely. It’s at the point where I want to explore their informational and educational use in a professional way.
My interest in social software blossomed when I joined Facebook, but it exploded when I joined Twitter. I loved how Facebook put me in better touch with far-away friends and connected me with people I hadn’t seen in a long time. It also was a place for fun and some light self-expression. This was great, but a very contained experience for me. It wasn’t really expanding my world much. The real expansion came with Twitter. This may sound over the top, but stay with me. I’ve found it to be fun, sure, but it’s also proving to be quite a professional development tool. There are SO many librarians, authors, writers, publishers, and other “book people” who participate and I’ve been able to communicate with and learn from so many of them. For instance, I’ve communicated frequently with a policy advisor for “technology enhanced learning” in the UK, the staff at American Public Media’s Speaking of Faith radio program (okay, not library-related but still pretty neat), and a celebrated librarian in genre fiction and reader’s advisory. I don’t know if I ever would have had easy access to such a range of interesting people otherwise and I know I’m more on top of what’s going on in the field because of it. It’s like a personal, human RSS feed. As long as I’m following people who post interesting articles and insights at least half the time and I’m doing the same, I think I get a lot out of it. Recently, I was following some librarians attending an EDUCAUSE conference event who were live tweeting what was happening in their sessions and I got very interested in what they were saying on the subject of their conference, natch,: “Learning Environments for a Web 2.0 World”. Speaking of conferences, I just read a great article from another librarian (P.C. Sweeney) proclaiming his love for Twitter, mainly by explaining how he’s gotten more out of conferences because of his Twitter participation and interaction.
Most people probably think I’m a little “off” when I tell them how much I’ve gotten out of Twitter. It might help to know that I can be a somewhat introverted person, so professional networking has sometimes been a challenge for me. Twitter is a place where I have managed to get over that and interact with people I might have been a bit nervous to approach in real life. And I find it to be particularly enriching when they interact back! Twitter may not be forever, as few applications are, but I feel it is a stepping stone that has helped me to get really comfortable with and interested in the social networking and applications universe. Twitter is a stream I can dip in and out of — or just let wash over me — to help keep me informed on what’s going on out there. It does take some cultivation of following “quality” feeds, but if you are interested (which I am) there are rewards to be reaped. It’s good professional development and also experiential research, in a way, since these are things we should be considering integrating into our practices for outreach and information access and dissemination.
It’s probably clear that I’m a little in love with Twitter since I’ve waxed rhapsodic here. But, truly, I joined knowing nothing about it, and it ended up exposing me to a lot once I threw myself in and participated. I feel I’m a better informed and connected librarian for it.
P.S. — If you’re new to Twitter or haven’t tried it yet, check out this great Slideshare tutorial created by my aforementioned librarian friend in the U.K. It’ll help you get started!