Twitter democratizes conversations in librarianship, which is why I think it's become so beloved by those who use it. It allows people from various places in the organizational chart at libraries of varying sizes to converse with each other in a way that doesn't really happen organically in real life. But even as Twitter has become a widely adopted tool, I think there is still pushback from administrators against active participation on Twitter.
A couple of jobs ago, I taught a class on using Twitter as a professional development tool. In preparing for this class, I wanted to understand the theory behind the phenomenon I was seeing play out in front of me and as a result, I learned a little bit about educational theory.
There are two concepts in education upon which I think Library Twitter rests: personal learning networks and personal learning environments. Personal learning environments help you take control or what (and how) you learn by allowing you set the goals and control the process. Personal learning networks are the networks of people you interact with in your personal learning environment. These people may be people you actually know, but they might not. You learn new things through relationships in your learning network and, as a result, come closer to achieving your learning goals.
Personal learning networks are built on the the educational theory of connectivism, which emphasizes the role of a social and cultural context to learning. In a 2005 article, George Siemens writes:
Connectivism is the integration of principles explored by chaos, network, and complexity and self-organization theories. Learning is a process that occurs within nebulous environments of shifting core elements – not entirely under the control of the individual. Learning (defined as actionable knowledge) can reside outside of ourselves (within an organization or a database), is focused on connecting specialized information sets, and the connections that enable us to learn more are more important than our current state of knowing.One of Twitter's greatest strengths is hashtag chats. It's from 2012, but this Adweek article gives you the basics on what a hashtag chat is and how to join one. Over the course of the last couple of years, a bunch of hashtag chats have popped up on Twitter. Some that you might be interested in checking out include #libchat (and #uklibchat), #critlib, and #mashcat. These chats, along with others I haven't named, have allowed librarians with similar interests from different parts of the world to come together to discuss issues and learn from each other. #critlib even held an unconference in Portland at the end of March before ACRL.
Another of Twitter's strengths is creating a "back channel" during conferences. This recent article from Profhacker talks about what a conference back channel is and how to cultivate it. ALA has done a lot to encourage the cultivation of the conference back channel. Many conference sessions have hashtags. And ALA routinely has badge ribbons for people to share their Twitter handles with other conference attendees. The conference back channel is really valuable for people whose budgets don't allow them to attend all the conferences they'd like to. But it's also valuable to stimulating conversation that doesn't happen during conference sessions.
But what Twitter might be best at is making personal connections between people with similar interests that lead to really cool things happening. I met Rachel on Twitter a couple of years ago and we decided to start a blog together when we realized that we had similar feelings about librarianship. We'd been writing the blog for about seven months before we met in March 2015 at ACRL in Portland.
On a personal note, my life is so much richer from all of the things I've gained from being part of Library Twitter. I've interacted with people I consider heroes, found mentors, and made friendships I'll cherish long after Twitter becomes obsolete. My goal is to give back to the community even a fraction of what it's given me.