On Jumping into the Twitterverse (or, Why this explanation deserves more than 140 characters)

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More than five years ago I had to create an account in something that most people had never heard of – Twitter. It was for a tech class I was taking, led by library tech guru Linda Braun, @lbraun2000. I did my requisite one Tweet, then left my account to gather dust. At the time I didn’t have a Smartphone, and since Twitter is one of the many social media platforms blocked at my school, I didn’t see a need to keep up with my account. Besides, no one had ever heard of this. Celebrities weren’t yet using it, businesses weren’t marketing their products on it, hashtags weren’t trending, and the little bird icon was not yet part of our visual culture. When I described Twitter to friends outside of the library and tech world, they thought it sounded like a crazy waste of time. So if my friends weren’t on it, why did I need to be?

Fast-forward to the Spring of 2014. There was a bit of a controversy over a book called The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian, by Sherman Alexie, and my opinions and efforts fell on the losing side of the argument. I was so devastated when I came home from the school board meeting that night that I felt like I had to reach out to others who shared my love of books, teens, and the freedom to read. So, I proceeded to dust off my Twitter account, which only took about ten minutes to get into after forgetting not only my password, but also my username. Account profile reset, I went in search of Sherman Alexie himself, knowing that like many authors, he has a well-known Twitter presence. Reading some of his Tweets that night about race, culture, censorship and anything else on his mind, gave me solace. I was not alone in this world of censorship, and authors that I respected had the same thoughts I did, which gave me the courage to jump back into the fight and take part in a campaign to hand out copies of Alexie’s book, which had just been restricted in my school district. I know many librarians who use Twitter solely as a professional development tool, and I now had the desire to do the same. Not only did I start following Alexie, but also other authors (@EllenHopkinsYA, @halseanderson, @CherylStrayed), library rock stars (@Nancy_Pearl, @gcaserotti, @joycevalenza, @buffyjhamilton), and others. However, at this point, I was no more than a lurker. My profile still showed that I had Tweeted once. Period.

Then came June, when I participated as a teacher fellow at the National WWI Museum (@TheWWImuseum) teacher workshop in Kansas City. Not only were we asked to Tweet during the workshop and weekly throughout the school year on all topics relating to WWI, but we were also invited to take part in a live reenactment via Twitter of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand – the catalyst to WWI. KU students were assigned roles of historical figures who played a part in this pivotal time in history, and since they were holding their live Tweet right at the museum, we were able to interact with them both in the real world and virtual one. Now my following list reads like a Who’s Who of early 20th century Central European history — with names like @Duschess_Sophie and @ArchdukeFranzi. However, other than a few more requisite Tweets, I still wasn’t too comfortable in my own Twitter skin.

July brought an opportunity to mentor new school librarians through ICfL, and with the help of @bookhouseboy, we began capturing ideas and posing questions to our new mentees, trying to get them to think critically about their new roles as teacher-librarians. At this point I was feeling a little more comfortable with Tweeting, even creating my first hashtag, #ICfLSummit.

All of this laid the ground work for the follow-up to the Sherman Alexie book debacle at the September 9th school board meeting, where the book’s fate in the West Ada School District was to be decided. I was nervous, scared, and more than determined that with this new social media tool in my pocket, the world was going to know the outcome of the decision — live. Although I’m certain that my live Tweets were less than perfect, I recorded the events as best I could, tagging other people who were involved in the controversy, using the hashtag #freedomtoread, and even including @Sherman_Alexie himself, hoping to catch his attention and get at least a favorite, if not a retweet of the events surrounding his book. While that didn’t work, I did get several more followers (mostly librarians) and a day later that I realized that I had a direct message from a different author — Jamie Ford, the author of Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet! He was essentially agreeing with me that True Diary was a great read and beneficial for teens. At the moment that I realized who had Tweeted me, I felt like I had finally realized the benefit of Twitter — to be able to be in touch directly with those that you admire, share the opinions of, and want to learn from. I felt so empowered that a few days later at work, when I had a question about a topic of professional significance — digital footprints — I tweeted it to @joycevalenza, the school library rock star who has presented on the subject multiple times. Although I didn’t get a response from her, I did gain immense confidence in knowing that I can try, and that I now have another professional development tool in my pocket.

So what are you waiting for? Set up a Twitter account, search for people you know who are on Twitter, develop crushes with those who share your opinions, thoughts, and interests, and put yourself out there. In no time you’ll go from having more followers than the number you follow, and seeing your Tweet list creep into double and eventually triple digits. And you never know, you might just find that what started as bit scary can turn into a builder of professional confidence.