Are you my mentor? An exploration of the intersection of Twitter & mentoring relationships.
In the real world mentors are usually organic relationships without specific titles, goals, or responsibilities. Mentors are simply experienced people you get to know and look to for advice, informally and organically. They’re people you go to coffee with, people you ask for guidance, and people you call when there’s a big decision to make. (Barr, 2013, para. 14)
Ideas about mentors and mentoring have changed a lot over the years, particularly with the advent of social media. As an avid Twitter user, I was curious as to how mentoring relationships may be formed and cultivated on this medium. I personally had experienced a lot of support, encouragement, and inspiration from other library and information professionals on Twitter and was keen to find out if this was the case for other people.
My research used a variety of methodologies, including a literature review and some qualitative questions, to explore this topic. Responses were received from fourteen librarians from Australia and New Zealand, and the results were then grouped thematically.
Five overall themes emerged which can be summarized as follows:
Hung up on mentoring?
There are a lot of different concepts of mentoring out there ranging from the more traditional concept of a hierarchical relationship of a student & teacher, to a more informal concept as described by Barr (2013). The participants’ responses indicated a spectrum of viewpoints of this concept.
A rose by any other name…
There are a variety of other terms such as PLN (Personal Learning Network), e-mentoring, and networking, that also describe the support and mutual encourage you may receive on Twitter. However, I feel that while relationships on Twitter are not always defined and announced as such, mentoring definitely features as part of active participation in my PLN through Twitter. It involves giving and receiving guidance, advice, support and expertise in a whole range of professional and personal issues.
We’re all in this together!
Twitter allows for an ‘flatter playing field’ (as described by one participant) in which peers can learn from and share with one another.
Have you got a minute?
Hurt (2013) recommends “mentoring moments” as formal mentoring relationship may stifle a good relationship. Instead of feeling you have to commit to a full-on relationship; what about just taking a moment to talk, find out where the other person is at, and offer input in that moment when they need it? It’s a lot like Twitter where you can ask for help or “crowd source” and often within minutes (once you have a bigger network) someone will give you a helpful answer or link.
Twitter + other platforms.
Twitter is a really useful place to find contacts and experts in the industry; it’s great for small bite-sized conversations, but longer more in-depth conversations are better to take place on other platforms such as email or blogs, or even face-to-face. Twitter is a really useful tool in breaking the ice; finding something in common with other people and experts and spending some time with them helps facilitate relationships & communication in other media as well. One participant noted that:
Ideally a mentoring relationship could operate across multiple spaces, changing whenever the needs of the people in the relationship change. Ultimately, yes, I think Twitter can provide a good platform for conducting a mentoring relationship, with the proviso that it can move to other platforms or formats as necessary.
You can read my full research published in the New Zealand Library and Information Management Journal (NZLIMJ) here:
Willemse, A. J. (2014). Librarians using social media: The role of Twitter in forming and cultivating mentoring relationships. NZLIMJ, 53(3). http://www.lianza.org.nz/resources/lianza-publications/nzlimj-e-journal/librarians-using-social-media-role-twitter-forming-an
Abigail is a young and enthusiastic information professional hailing from New Zealand, currently employed as Electronic Resources Librarian at Wintec. She has worked in a variety of libraries & on a number of projects, including co-leading ANZ 23 Mobile Things. Her interests include social media, mentoring, new information professionals, and promoting all things library at every opportunity. You can find her on Twitter @ajwillemse91 or blogging at www.octopuslibrarian.wordpress.com
Barr, C. (2013, February 25). How to find a mentor [Blog post]. Retrieved from http://thinktraffic.net/how-to-find-a-mentor
Hurt, K. (2013, April 30). Mentoring moments: Just in time support [Blog post]. Retrieved from http://letsgrowleaders.com/2013/04/30/mentoring_moments/