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Twitter screenshot of twittergate searchTweeting at academic conferences
I’ve been following the “#twittergate” debate about tweeting at academic conferences (blogged about here by Tressie McMillan Cottom, here by Steve Kolwich and storified here) and have been reading through Ernesto Priego’s ‘10 rules of thumb‘ from the Guardian’s Higher Education network website (and they are a good list of guidelines), and wondering about how that relates to the live-tweeting that goes on at the professional events that I go to, which are mainly library-related, or educational technology related.

Library and technology conferences
It is one of the things I’ve found most notable of the HE library sector, and that is the amount of social media activity, particularly twitter but also things like lanyrd that surrounds these type of events.  It is something that I think adds to the value of those events but I know that there are some people who find that it is distracting.  I’ve been at conferences where the organisers have displayed conference tweets on screen live (twitterwall or tweetwall) but after a while taken them down during the conference.  One of the benefits of tweeting is that is does allow interaction and sharing with people who aren’t at the conference or event, which sometimes throws up interesting stuff, but I wonder whether there’s an element of resentment almost, from people who are attending towards people who aren’t attending getting to ‘share’ in some aspects of the conference?

Reputation
I think that in some ways library and technology conferences are quite different in nature to academic conferences, even if they are ‘academic’ library conferences or about technology as it applies to the HE sector.  Many of the comments in #twittergate seemed to me to be about academics talking at conferences about their latest research at a stage prior to formal publication.  Academic library and technology conferences also have people talking about work they have been doing, often in advance of publication of that work.

But I think there’s a critical difference, and that is at least partly about academic reputation, and academics having a more pressing need to build and maintain their reputation, for reasons like REF, and for progression reasons.  As much of this is still based around ‘traditional’ notions of publication in formal channels as evidence of scholarship rather than the concepts of digital scholarship as described by experts such as Martin Weller  For librarians this is generally much less of a priority although not I suppose entirely absent.  As a librarian you’re not dependent on your publication record and it may be that simply speaking at the event is sufficiently ‘reputation-enhancing’.

I think there’s also another factor in that in most cases at a library conference you are looking to share your work or results widely.  Not just with a narrow group of experts who can almost act as part of a ‘peer review’ (although I think there is an element of that at play for librarians too).  At the stage that you want to talk about something at a conference it is part of your ‘dissemination’ plan more often than not.  Tweeting your presentation is a good way of pushing knowledge about it out to a wider audience, and it seems like most people speaking at these type of events buy in to that idea.

When not to tweet
I think that the nearest equivalent to academic conferences in the library world may be those project groups and discussions that take place as part of sector wide projects, Steering Groups, Collaboration Groups etc where I’m always more mindful that the discussions aren’t in the public domain and shouldn’t be tweeted.

One thing, though, does amuse me, which is the term ‘live-tweet’.  I know it is meant to parallel ‘live-blogging’.  But I tend to wonder, well, what other type of tweeting is there?

A couple of things in the last week or so gave me pause to reflect on how I’ve had to build a new professional network as a consequence of moving from public to academic libraries.  The first one was going through the process to add new people into Google+ Google Plus screenshotin the past few weeks (a colleague’s thoughts on Google+ can be found here).    I’ve consciously avoided Facebook in the past, having decided that it was more a personal tool rather than professional. But Google+ seems to be an amalgam of Facebook and Twitter so I’m giving it a try and will no doubt blog about it when I’ve spent a bit more time using it.  But as I went through the process of adding people into Google+ it did make me think about who I knew and how as I went through reconstructing that network.

The second thing was starting to read through Martin Weller’s new book ‘The Digital Scholar’  and particularly his reflections about the difference in his approach to writing his new book compared to his last book about six years ago. He comments “The comparison of writing these two books is instructive, I feel, because it gets to the heart of what we might term ‘digital scholarship’: it is both a profound change and a continuation of traditional practice.”    It struck me that there was a similar thing going on with in how I’ve been able to approach building a new professional network compared with how I’d gone about it in my previous public library career.

Building a new professional network: then and now
One of the things I certainly didn’t really think about when changing from public to academic libraries was quite how little overlap there was going to be between my professional networks.  There’s probably only one person common to both networks.  So it meant building a completely new set of contacts.  Over more than twenty years in public libraries I’d built up a fair few contacts in other libraries, in IT companies and suppliers and elsewhere.  Thinking about how I’d get to know those people, then I suppose they were mainly through meeting people at user group-type meetings, at workshops/seminars and at a few conferences, on visits to other libraries and vice versa, and through introductions and personal contacts.

So faced with having to build a new professional network from scratch in the last couple of years, there’s been a few differences in the way I’ve been able to go about it.   Although the traditional face-to-face methods are still present, they are joined by something quite different, social networking, particularly twitter and to a lesser extent LinkedIn, and also to certain extent by this blog  And there are a few differences that I’ve noticed.

It seems to me that it is much quicker to build up a network now using these digital tools.  You can reach and connect to a much wider circle of professional contacts.  Whereas in the past the face-to-face methods were the main means of building up contacts (because that was pretty much all there was), now I find that they tend to supplement the digital networking.  Often you meet people digitally before you meet them face-to-face.   There’s also much more recommendation going on, such as who to follow on twitter etc that plays a much bigger role than before.  Could I have built up a range of professional contacts as quickly in the past without these tools? no I don’t think so. What took a dozen or more years in the past can be surpassed in a few months with the tools that are around now.

I was intrigued earlier this week to find that when asked to report back on a few things that were going on – that the response was an expression of concern by a couple of people that they hadn’t heard about some of these things.  As I recall it was the information that http://data.open.ac.uk had released course materials as linked data.  That information came out via twitter from various people associated with the Lucero project late on Friday.  Just as the Open Bibliographic Data JISC website came out in the same way (via tweets from people, often Re-tweeted) late last week.

I must admit to being surprised at the reaction, and thinking about it there was a subtext of why isn’t this information being released properly, through proper channels. But the more I think about it, and think about how I use twitter, which is particularly to find out what is going on in universities, and university libraries and JISC and the general HE domain, then it’s increasingly the way that I find out about what is going on.  People I follow tweet links to new things they think will be interesting often because it interested them, or tweet what they are working on or have done.   Twitter gives me that information much more so than emails or mailing lists these days, and I don’t use facebook (which I guess I’ve pigeon-holed as being personal rather than professional), and although I’m on LinkedIn that’s more ‘professional’ than informational.

But as these types of activities move to micro-blogging there are people who are put off twitter because of the ‘what I had for lunch’ tweets (and worse).  But I’ve always thought that to be a strange approach – like saying that I’m not going to watch TV ever because ITV broadcasts ‘X Factor’, or never use a phone because people use it to talk about trivial things.  Twitter is a communications tool used by humans – so all human life is there – just as there is everywhere else.  If it works for you fine, if not that’s also fine – but if you want to know what’s happening now and is important to people who are doing interesting things, then it’s a very useful tool

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