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Discourses and Conversations

November 17, 2010

Happy Wednesday! I hope your day is going well because, to be truthful, the last few Wednesdays around my neck of the woods have been not very nice. Apparently, according to a friend, Wednesdays must be my good karma blackout days (kind of like frequent flier mile blackout days) since honestly, I just haven’t been able to catch a break. But I’m hoping today will be better and thought I’d share some thoughts in order to solicit some feedback on discourses and conversations because conversation always makes the day better. (And if you are only reading The Waki Librarian for libraries and technology, not to worry, we’ll be back to our regularly scheduled, nerdy fun on Friday.)

So this idea for a post came about during a two hour webinar I was recently in. And, for the record, I agree with everyone on Twitter who tweeted that webinar is a horrible word. It is. But, moving on, during the conversation one of the people made an argument that academic discourse is completely separate from discourse that occurs via Twitter, blogs, and other assorted social media. Furthermore, he said that is how it should be. Now, obviously, for anyone who has been reading this blog for any length of time probably can tell, this irked me. So I thought, hey, I’ll see what other people have to say about this matter.

For me, yes, there are differences between academic discourse and professional discourse that occurs via social media, but that doesn’t mean that there can’t and shouldn’t be overlap between the two discourses. I’m an academic and do quite a bit of research and writing in the formal, traditional academic model. It’s a very important discourse. Research is important for producing the kind of quality evidence available to use as a basis for decision-making and to further develop theory and models in our field. It is important to be able to write your results up in an article in such a way that it withstands peer-review and can be used as a credible source. No one, I think, would deny that. But it doesn’t do one lick of good just sitting in an article that few people will ever read–especially in our field which is an applied, practical, professional field. Keeping an academic discourse cloistered is silly and inhibits good ideas from spreading. I adore the intellectual stimulation of academia (and the excuse to do research), but I really don’t enjoy the concept (and practice) of academia as a world and conversation set apart from every other conversation happening in our field.

At this point, one ignores conversations facilitated by social media at one’s peril. Many bloggers, especially in the information science field, write amazingly thoughtful posts about current practice and research. I love hearing about new research articles from various blog and Twitter feeds. I have more conversations (on the whole) via this non-academic discourse than I have in academic discourses. And it is a wonderful feeling to be a part of a larger, vibrant librarian and archivist community and to learn from so many awesome people. I think the Web 2.0, social media, whatever new buzzword you want to use, community conversations can and should then influence academic discourses and research, especially in the realm of applications of technology and teaching which is one of my areas of interest. Also, it would be an error to ignore the previously cloistered academic conversations that are now coming to the web via open access projects, digital humanities projects and numerous public history projects. It’s a great big hodgepodge of overlapping, conflicting, synergistic, and even inspiring conversations happening every day online. (It makes my postmodernist, poststructuralist heart happy. Just think of all the dynamic, fluctuating discourses and evolving language usage to study!)

So what conversations interest you? What do you think about the academic and professional discourse divides? How do you integrate the various aspects of your research and practice in your work and life?

I promise, I’m off my soapbox now, but I’d really love to hear how you think the various conversations in our field interrelate, or should interrelate. I’d love to continue the conversation. And now, since we’ve been talking so much about conversations, education, and learning from each other, I thought it only appropriate to leave you with the first installment of the Vlogbrothers’ educational video week. Enjoy John Green discussing the French Revolution (I love that he says “competing historical narratives” during the introduction–yes I am that big of a nerd, enjoy the video anyway.)

I’ll be back on Friday with our regular assortment of technology and library fun.

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