Twitter, Academic Conversation, and the Research Paper

I have been thinking a lot recently about the research paper as academic conversation. Conversation is where ideas form and are honed and exchanged–and this is what good academic research papers do. To me, this is both a very simple and very important concept necessary to academic pursuit as well as to life. I think it is an important thing to teach in our present (and hopefully future) climate of transliterate ¬†library instruction, where many different types of media are used to not only join in on the conversation but to create conversational opportunities. But how do we teach it and its importance? Conversation and idea exchange can be such ephemeral concepts. Not only that, many students (and, let’s admit it, people in general) want the ultimate truth: the final, correct, black or white answer, not the greys of the back-and-forth of discourse. But sometimes this isn’t possible in academia. Isn’t this the whole point of academic research? To advance further? To keep questioning and “conversing” with the discoveries and ideas that have come before yours?

What began my train of thought on conversation? Twitter. Twitter itself can create a visual of conversation and that’s what it did for me. Last Fall there was a (admittedly small) firestorm of conversation on Twitter about Malcolm Gladwell’s article on social networking’s lack of effect on social justice. I know I saw plenty of response in mine. People were also posting response articles they had seen to the Gladwell such as Maria Popova’s. Perhaps, then, Twitter is one way to teach and describe academic conversation: the back and forth; point and counterpoint; original thought and “retweets”–aka the thoughts of others with credited attribution (and hopefully one’s own commentary to build upon others’ thoughts). It seems to me there’s something about Twitter and the way it’s used as conversation in text that could help librarians and other academics teach about academic conversation–but I’ve not yet worked out how. If anyone has any thoughts or current uses along these lines, I’d appreciate your comments!

Speaking of Twitter and conversation, you might also check out this excellent and insightful article about Twitter’s interesting mix of orality and literacy from “Technosociology”¬†.

Social Networking Policies, Vision, and Mission

One of my former classmates in Meredith Farkas’s class on Web 2.0 technology in libraries said that if there are to be social networking policies at a library, they should be less restrictive of speech. She wrote, “Libraries should keep in mind their role in promoting free and open access to information, opposition to censorship, and the commitment to intellectual freedom. Libraries should consider how ideals fit with social software policies and the tools themselves.” I completely agree. But might it also be possible to extend such a policy beyond restriction, or lack thereof, into future vision for use of these tools?

I think that libraries definitely need policies regarding the use of social networking tools. If your library’s new social networking tool is to have any staying power, you, your staff, and your patrons need to know why you are using it and how it is to be maintained and I think having a clearly written policy is an important part of this. But I think a policy could and maybe should be more than just a “do’s” and “don’ts” document that restricts. I wonder if it might be a good idea for libraries who are serious about implementing social networking technologies to have a policy that includes not only rules for implementation, interaction, maintenance, and patron guidelines, but also has policies for growth – a kind of vision and mission statement regarding the present and future of such technologies. I think “vision” and “mission” included with policy can perhaps help a library consider its ideals and commitment to open access, intellectual freedom, and etc. Moreover, I think a library’s maintenance and future planning for use of social networking technology could be greatly enhanced if the staff sat down and wrote down not only guidelines, but a larger vision and mission for the present and future of social networking and 2.0 technology in their library. It occurs to me it could even be done via wiki that could easily be added to and changed. I think having a plan and vision and letting patrons see that, even if they are not set in stone, along with the do’s and don’ts could help protect and enhance social networking initiatives.

Why shouldn’t we let patrons in on the grander vision behind what we are providing along with telling them how we expect them to behave?

Tweetlove: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Twitter

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!