I started library school in 1993. My class was the last to be taught cataloging for both MARC and cards; online research meant carefully crafted, exquisitely timed search strategies performed in dial-up paid-for-by-the-minute databases; and we wrote out http://www like some essential secret code at the start of each URL we wanted to share with each other, because browsers didn’t do shortcuts, and Google was still five years away. It turned out to be a fun time to launch a library career; it turned out to be a fun time to start being online.
Now, people have been creating, discovering, and joining nurturing online communities for decades; I know this is not a new phenomenon. And I have truly enjoyed finding great librarians to share with while exploring new digital territories. But because of my own particular confluence of opportunities and choices, until recently my most supportive professional networks have been local, and in person. I traded ideas and discussed library issues in listservs or forums, but it felt a little like sharing with a friendly but formless aggregate. I sent stuff out, but didn’t really have a sense of who was taking it in.
All that started to change when I joined Twitter–its immediacy and specificity made it easier for me to feel that I was connecting with individuals as well as with groups–but it crystallized when some of us began creating the Flannel Friday weekly round ups. All of a sudden, I wasn’t just wandering around the Internet like a random visitor to someone else’s town in Animal Crossing; all of a sudden, I had a hometown. And there were people there I knew.
Now, when I attend a big youth services webinar, the odds are pretty good I will see a name I recognize among the attendees. It always makes me smile to *wave* at them in the chat window. It’s like going to a restaurant two towns over and running into a friend from home.
My first national conference was the ALSC Institute last fall. It never felt overwhelming, in large part because my boss and I attended together–and having someone you like and respect and have fun with at your side when you start out makes any venture more manageable. But because of Flannel Friday, I also knew that there were people that I liked and respected and had fun with who were already there, waiting for me to get there, too.
Now when I go out and explore new digital territories, I go knowing I have an online community to come back to. Now when I share stuff, I don’t just have the sense of sending something out. Now I have the wonderful sense of sending something to.