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the generosity of social media

August 9, 2012

Let me start by saying I might not be going back to school if it weren’t for social media. My online networks have provided such transparency of knowledge, such generosity on the part of the amazing people in my network, that I have been inspired to explore new worlds. I’ll share two different aspects of my background with social media.

I recall starting an email “conversation” with a colleague several years ago, when I had an epiphany about understanding the value of forum posts in online communities. The conversation that the two of us were starting in the back and forth of email was on a subject that I knew was of interest to others in an online community we had started. My next email to her was a request that we take the subject to our group forum, and conduct our back and forth there, where other people could join in. It may sound obvious, or silly, but that was an exciting moment for me. I have benefited so much from the ideas and solutions that others have shared online, whether they’re people I know In Real Life or strangers who I have found only through a Google search looking for an answer to a question. I am always trying to find ways to contribute my knowledge back to a variety of open communities. Yes, this is part of why I’m going back to school – I’m hard on myself, thinking “What knowledge do I have to share online that would really make a difference to someone?” I probably have more to offer than I give myself credit for, but still I want to keep learning and growing – and contributing back.

I laugh when I think of my first reaction to Twitter. I received an email from a colleague, probably early in 2009, inviting me to join Twitter, and I clicked through to check it out. But I didn’t join then – when I saw the prompt: “What are you doing?” my first response was “Who cares?” and my second response was “Who’s business is it?” I just didn’t see the value. Then, several months later, I went to THATCamp at CHNM (if you don’t know about THATCamp, check out my blog post about THATCamp Museums on my other blog). It seemed like everyone there was using Twitter – everyone but me, that is. I was having a blast, meeting amazing people, having amazing conversations, but having a hard time choosing between simultaneous sessions to attend. Lo and behold, people were using Twitter to be in two (or more) places at one time – attending one session, but following the tweets from another. People were using Twitter to continue conversations after a session had ended,  or to make plans to meet up in person later to continue the conversation. Let me edit that – people who had never met before were using Twitter in those ways. It was just an extension of the conversation, that defied boundaries of time and place (it’s possible to participate virtually in events hundreds of miles away, by following tweets and adding my own to the conversation). Does it go without saying that I joined Twitter that weekend? Or that through Twitter I’ve stayed in touch with people I met that weekend? Through those people I have “met” others on Twitter who have shared resources and offered advice, even have offered support – like congratulating me when I announced I was starting my MLIS! Two different librarians I met that weekend, and kept in touch with via Twitter, offered extensive personal advice about my decision to go back to school.

This sense of open community, of transparent knowledge, is exactly what makes social media so transformative in the world of libraries. One person’s quest for knowledge is no longer so solitary an act, played out in a private study carrel hidden in the stacks of a quiet library. The person in that private quiet study space may be sharing what she’s learning online, for the whole world to see – for me to learn from, and contribute to, and build upon. The generosity in this sharing is what libraries are all about.

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