Saturday, 30 July 2011

Thing 6: Got my mojo networking

*rushes in, wild of eye and hair* Sorrysorrysorrysorry. I know I am ruinously behind on all of my Things. I offer two, only slightly flimsy, excuses.

First of all, I have recently been applying for (and getting – squeee!) a new job. This meant that time I would have devoted to Thing 5 was instead spent freaking out about preparing diligently and calmly for my impending interview; consequently I am currently running approximately a week behind the programme.

The second reason is that I have never used or signed up for any of the online networks mentioned for Thing 6 and I therefore wanted to spend a bit of time exploring them before writing this post. I realise that I am saying the same about every thing that comes up on this programme – “never used that”; “nope, don’t do that”; “have never even heard of that” – which kind of makes me conclude that it is a ruddy good job I signed up for this as I am expanding my knowledge and armoury of professional tools with every week that passes.

Anyway, enough of my yakking: online networking, let’s boogie.

As previously mentioned, I’ve never used Facebook. This is for a variety of reasons: I’m a bit shy; I’m wary of splashing my personal details all across a public domain; and I already spend quite a large chunk of my leisure time piddling around unprofitably on the internet and am reluctant to sign up for what would no doubt be another massive time drain. I take Phil Bradley’s point, made in his discussion of Google+, that as an individual (or institution) you need to be where your peers (or users) are in order to connect and communicate with them – I just don’t want to put it into practice in the case of Facebook. And every story I hear about how hard Facebook makes it to protect your personal details and how difficult it is to extricate yourself from its clutches if you try to delete your profile makes it less and less appealing to me. So, soz, but me and the big FB are Never. Gonna. Happen.

I’ve been aware of LinkedIn for a while now, but have always assumed that it’s not for the likes of me because:
  1. I thought it was full of business people having business-y conversations about important business things. Business. I had not realised that there is a large population of library and information professionals on there.
  2. I also assumed that it is most useful for freelancers and contract workers – people who change jobs frequently and therefore need to make sure they have a presence where employers can see and get in touch with them.
That said, roles in the librarian and information sector (along with, I guess, every other profession) are increasingly offered on the basis of temporary or fixed-term contracts: I myself have spent the last two and half years working in a succession of temporary posts, albeit at the same organisation. It was also quite an eye-opener to see, during the discussions of personal branding and online presence for Thing 3, that LinkedIn usually comes near the top of any Google searches you might run on yourself or other people.

So all these things considered, I will be signing up to LinkedIn. I need to sort myself out with a suitable profile picture first. I hate having my photo taken and indeed have only done so a handful of times in the last decade, which is why my current picture on Twitter and this blog is a hastily-snapped webcam shot in which the lower half of my face is cunningly concealed behind the 1986 Whizzer and Chips Christmas annual. Alas, this doesn’t quite convey the levels of gravitas and professionalism necessary for LinkedIn, so I will have to procure something a bit more suitable. I also need to tidy up/completely overhaul my CV. I’m going to designate “joining LinkedIn” as a work in progress, which I hope to complete in the next few weeks.

LIS New Professionals Network
I hadn’t heard of this before cpd23, but upon investigation it looks like it will be really very useful. I already recognise a lot of members from their cpd23 blogs and from Twitter. The forums seem pretty active, and the topics cover an interesting mix of practical advice and information about chartership, job opportunities and suchlike, and more general discussion points (is there a “new professionals clique”; how far would you travel or commute for your dream job; erm, do you like drum and bass). I also love the downloadable resources section and will definitely be referring to these in the future. I am not, by even the most elastic definition, new to the library sector (having worked in it on and off for 11 years) and I am currently in a para-professional rather than professional role, but what the hell – they seem like a welcoming bunch anyway. I have therefore registered with this network this week, will probably consult the forums quite frequently and, once I’ve pimped my profile a bit, may even contribute to it.

Librarians as Teachers Network
I don’t do any teaching as part of my current role. Which is not to say that I will never do any teaching in a professional capacity, nor that I couldn’t make use of some of the advice and resources posted here. Therefore, although I don’t think I will join this network at the moment, I have bookmarked the site for future reference.

CILIP Communities
I am a member of CILIP but must admit that I am not currently a very active one, have not even looked at the website for quite some time, and was only vaguely aware that CILIP Communities existed. The forums don’t seem terribly fast-moving and overall I’m not convinced that it offers a great deal of information or networking opportunities beyond those which are already available via other channels, Twitter in particular. However, I haven’t yet delved very deeply into the various individual networks on offer from the site. I will try to find some time do so in the coming weeks and will reserve final judgement until then.

So that’s two networks that I am definitely joining and will hopefully be participating in and two networks bookmarked for further investigation (Facebook, however, can continue to do one). As it turns out, this has been quite a productive and involving Thing for me.

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Thing 5(b): Mapper’s delight

While reading about reflective practice for Thing 5 I was quite taken with the idea, suggested in Sarah Stewart’s presentation, that your reflections don’t necessarily need to be recorded via formal prose – you can use other mediums such as poetry, journals, painting, music, mind maps, or performance if you like.

So that’s why I’ve decided to choreograph, perform and record an interpretative dance expressing my feelings about cpd23 and upload it to YouTube.

Oh, wait, that’s wrong. What I meant to say was, I thought I would try creating a mind map as a way of recording my experiences with the programme so far: what I’ve done, what I’ve learned, things I’ve enjoyed, things I’ve found hard, and what I’m going to do next. 

My learning style normally centres quite heavily on the written word: I organise myself by writing down lists, I memorise things by writing them out over and over again, I can understand something much more easily by reading about it rather than listening to someone talk, and I’ve prepared for every exam I’ve ever taken by writing reams of notes and essays. So I thought it might be interesting to try a slightly different approach to my reflection on cpd23.

At work we have access to a piece of mind mapping software called Inspiration, so that’s what I’ve used. And this is what it looks like so far:


(Click thumbnail image above to view full size version)

It looks a bit unwieldy already, but I'm going to continue to add new branches, along with some pictures hopefully, as I progress through the course. I'll post an updated version during the next catch-up/reflection session in Week 8.

Thing 5(a): Thinks can only get better

Never wanted many things except the chance to learn from my mistakes / 
Funny how you never learn but know them when they come around again
Echobelly – Great Things

Yes, I know reflective practice is as much about considering your successes and achievements as it is your mistakes, but I thought what this blog really needs to zhuzh it up a little is a lyric from a much missed (by me if nobody else) second-tier Britpop band.

Reflective practice and I have never been formally introduced; however, over the course of my career path we have occasionally bumped into each other, and done that awkward side-to-side shuffle as we try to get out of each other’s way.

My library master’s course included a work placement. As I far as I can recall through the haze of the intervening – my God – ten years, the written element of that module entailed a reflective account of the student’s experience of the placement, although I’m equally dimly aware that it wasn’t billed as “reflective practice” per se.  There was also at least one group assignment where we were required to give a team presentation and analyse the group’s overall success and our individual contribution within it.

The institution where I currently work has a well-developed personal development review scheme: every member of staff has a review at least once a year, where you discuss with your line manager what you’ve done well over the previous year, any difficulties you’ve encountered and what training and development activities you might want to plan as a result over the next 12 months.

So I have been reflective on occasion, but only when forced to. If reflective practice is a cyclical process of:

Greenaway (1995)

then I certainly do a fair bit of planning (as I do like to be as prepared as possible before I undertake any task, mainly to try to eliminate any nasty surprises and so I can factor into my schedule as much time as possible for tea and biscuit breaks). And, much like Betty Boo, I do the “do”. But I don’t think that, truthfully, I do a lot of reviewing: once a task is done, I move on to the next thing.

Why so? Obviously time, and the lack of it, is a consideration. Plus, it’s hard work, man. I’m not a particularly deep thinker: I tend towards the glib and the faintly jokey (regular viewers may have noticed that I can’t resist a good pun – or, for that matter, a terrible one). Examining my feelings, even about work-related matters, and really thinking through the consequences and implications of my actions is not something I care to do if I can help it.

Not being overly familiar with reflective practice, I thought it would be a good idea to go looking for examples. Lots of university websites offer advice on reflective writing, with examples and links to further resources. I found this information from the Learning Centre of the University of New South Wales particularly helpful. The Faculty of Humanities at Manchester University also provides some useful pages on reflective writing and learning. And missrachelsmith’s blog has some excellent examples as she is doing lots of reflective writing as part of her CILIP Chartership.

I can definitely see the value of being a reflective practitioner. I've noted before that I often attend training and then subsequently fail to put into practice or revisit anything I've learnt from it. I would really like to break this habit, because it makes attending even the most interesting and useful training session or conference a complete waste of time. So I will be giving reflective writing a go in the future, and with this blog I have a handy place to record my musings and chart my progress.

Sunday, 10 July 2011

Thing 4(c): P-push it: real good?

I’d not heard of Pushnote before signing up for cpd23 and, judging by others’ tweets and blogs this week, neither had many other people. Moreover, most people seemed to be distinctly underwhelmed by their first interaction with it.

I don’t know - I kinda liked it. It’s quite interesting, although of dubious professional utility, to learn that on Wednesday the third most popular webpage among Pushnote users was Bill Bailey’s message to Metallica. I’m still puzzling out how most of the features work (for example, I haven’t rated or shared anything yet), but I think I’ll continue to fiddle with it for at least a couple more weeks, before probably forgetting all about it. (The icon that appears on your toolbar after you’ve installed the Pushnote add-on is curiously easy to ignore.)

I think Pushnote’s problem is twofold. Firstly, although it’s a truism, to be successful an application like this has to fill a need (sometimes one that users didn’t even know they had until the application came along). RSS feeds obviously do this, in that they eliminate the need to trog repeatedly around the internet visiting your favoured websites and instead deliver new content straight to you. Twitter also does this, by providing a way to converse with others, share links and ask for help or advice, all in real time and in a much more immediate way than other applications.

Does Pushnote work on a need-to-use, as opposed to a nice-to-use, basis? It’s doubtful: there are already plenty of ways to share recommended websites with friends and colleagues. And if you’re a visiting a particular site or page under your own impulse, then it’s just as easy to have a quick look at the site yourself and come to your own conclusions, rather than relying on the comments of a bunch of people you don’t know off the internet.

Secondly, any social networking or sharing tool obviously works better the more users there are to network and share with, and I don’t think Pushnote has reached that tipping point. From the various websites I’ve looked at, even ones that must be heavily visited such as the Guardian’s website and IMDB have not received many comments. In many cases, comments that have been left mainly date from January 2011, when the service was first launched; there are comparatively fewer recent comments, which probably tells its own story.

Lord knows I am nobody’s idea of an early adopter, so it is a bit strange for me to be kicking around in an application that has yet to reach a critical mass of users. I don’t think at the moment that Pushnote is anywhere near as indispensable as Twitter or RSS feeds (or, no doubt, other tools I’ve yet to discover) but I’ll hang on for a little while longer just to be sure.

Thing 4(b): Feed demon

Google Reader is another tool that I’d never used until this week and which I’m already wondering how I managed without.

Setting it up was fairly easy. At home, running Firefox, it worked like a dream. At work, using Chrome, I hit a bit of an obstacle, as hitting the feed button on web pages seems not to connect to Google Reader but instead returns screeds of XML data. (I gather this is more likely to be Chrome’s fault than mine and is probably fixable using some sort of workaround or extension; but it is slightly vexing that Google’s browser doesn’t work smoothly with Google’s feed reader.)

Anyway, as long as I’m using Firefox I now have numerous feeds set up and am finding it mightily useful, not to say indispensable. I did subscribe to the full feed of all cpd23 blogs but found the constant influx of new, unread material slightly too much, so I deleted that; now I’m picking up selected blogs and websites as I come across them. I am staying on top of my feeds chiefly by skim reading rather than studying each new item in-depth, and “starring” posts that I particularly enjoy or may want to refer back to in future.

I know the problem of information overload is a perennial concern, and I can’t be sure that I won’t fall disastrously behind on my reading – in fact, I’m almost certain I will. I’m kind of relying on the idea that the really important or interesting stuff will be re-blogged or retweeted so much that it becomes almost impossible to miss.

Thing 4(a): Twitter sweet symphony

I appear to have got a bit carried away writing up this week’s task, so I’ve decided to do three separate posts, to break up the text a bit.

Thing 4 of cpd23 is about current awareness and suggests three tools to help today’s busy information professional keep on top of news and developments. Since at the moment my current awareness activities extend to randomly visiting bookmarked websites and failing to remove my copy of CILIP Update from its polythene wrapper every month, I figure I could do with some help in this area.

First up is:


Up until now I have been a Twitter abstainer on the twin assumptions that:

1. It’s full of people broadcasting banalities about their day-to-day business

2. I don’t particularly want to broadcast banalities about my own day-to-day business (and you can read below to find out how that’s working out for me).

However, the point of taking part in this course, and the point of professional development in general, is to discover new sources of information and ways of working, right? Also, the impression I’ve hitherto had of Twitter is that it is solely a means of spewing out your own thoughts; I had never even considered the possibility that it also functions as a sort of news feed, allowing you to receive other people’s opinions and news.

So now I have a Twitter account (@dianajwright). I wish I’d read thewikiman’s 3 essential things to do AS SOON AS you join Twitter before setting it up, since I had comprehensively failed to do any of them. This has since been rectified and I must say that I have really, unexpectedly, enjoyed my first week on Twitter.

I am following an assortment of real-life colleagues, cpd23 participants, other library and information professionals (principally those tweeting about open access and repository issues) and a few media types and famouses. From them I have picked up an astonishing amount of news, ideas and useful links, and I also feel much more engaged with my peers and my profession than before (for example, I don’t think I would have found out about the proposed North East cpd23 meet up, or at least not so quickly, if I wasn’t on Twitter). I am also following a few hashtags and saved searches: #cpd23 (natch), #uklibchat, #libday7 and #openaccess.

In spite of my hatred of the term “profersional” that’s approach I’m taking with regard to my own tweets, partly because a feed of nothing but library/work stuff could end up being a little one-sided and dry, but mainly because, with the zeal of a new convert, I’m finding it too damn hard not to broadcast my every random thought. (It took me just three days to begin tweeting about my lunch and, what’s more, I don’t even care.)

I do have a couple of caveats:

1. I’m still not au fait with all aspects of Twitter etiquette, such as having a direct conversation with another twitterer and properly crediting people via retweets, but I’m sure I’ll pick it up soon enough; and

2. I am a bit concerned about its potentially deleterious effects on my already-ravaged attention span.

Nevertheless, I have found Twitter about a million times more engaging and useful than I anticipated. I will definitely keep using this, at least for the duration of the cpd23 programme, by which time I will probably have a Twitter monkey the size of King Kong on my back.

I can quit anytime I want, right?! (Picture by carrotcreative)

Sunday, 3 July 2011

Thing 3: Brand of Gold

First off: I was totes going to call this post “Brand on the run” until I Googled that phrase and learned that everybody who has ever written an article about branding or marketing has had the same hilarious idea – blast their eyes.

Secondly: from reading other people’s blogs this week I know I’m not the only one who felt a bit sceptical – not to say downright icky – about thinking of myself in terms of my “brand”.

But having read Jo Alcock’s introductory post on the subject I can agree that it is sensible to present yourself in a consistent, distinctive yet professional manner in your online communications. And just as in the real world most people would attend a job interview wearing a smart suit and a polite smile – as opposed to, say, turning up in a “Federal Boob Inspector” t-shirt and belching in the interviewer’s face – so on the internet we’d do well to keep some of the more, ahem, “frivolous” parts of our personality under wraps.

Jo asks us to run a web search of our names and see what results are returned. As I expected, there were almost no results related to me, just a couple of links to a directory I compiled in a previous job and a mailing list including my current work email address. Both are work-related examples, but they are buried in the third or fourth pages of results. 

This online absence has been a conscious decision on my part. Ramblings of a Trainee Bookshelf Prowler sums up the reasoning behind this better than I can.  Suffice it to say that even in the physical world I am somewhat reserved and private; online, just revealing my first name and a potted employment history on this blog has left me feeling unnecessarily exposed.  I’ve never signed up for Facebook or MySpace or LinkedIn.  I do have a profile, which I tend obsessively as though it was my own child, and a LibraryThing profile, which I neglect like an unwanted step-child, but I don’t think you could identify me from anything posted on them. 

However, my reading and reflections this week have led me to wonder if maybe I am missing a trick by taking this approach.  Among the links to further reading that Jo provides, Danah Boyd and Dave Fleet both suggest that whatever the pitfalls of presenting yourself for public inspection on the internet, declining to do so entirely is not an option – or not an advisible one at any rate. There was also an interesting interview in last Friday’s Guardian with Professor Viktor Mayer-Schönberger, about his new book, Delete: The Virtue of Forgetting in the Digital Age.  The author has misgivings about the fact that today’s digital information will most likely hang around forever waiting to embarrass our future selves, but even so states:  
I don't like digital abstinence. I want us to embrace participation in digital culture and global networks. Just not at any cost. 
The internet is where people live and forge relationships for much of the time now and withdrawing from it is like withdrawing from the world.

The good news is that, if I decide to build my online “brand”, I will be starting from scratch and so should be able to implement some of Jo’s suggestions – choose a meaningful user name and if possible use it consistently across all your profiles; decide how much you want your personal identity to overlap with your professional identity – from the off.  The bad news is... I’m starting from scratch.  I am going to see how this blog evolves over the coming weeks, although at the moment I am quite happy to use it mainly as a kind of personal diary in which I reflect on my cpd23 activities and basically amuse myself.  I also see that a future “Thing” is going to cover online networking, where your online identity is obviously of crucial importance, so I expect I’ll be returning to these issues – and possibly trying out some other profiles and platforms – then.

Although... as a final thought for the time being: I wonder if it is ultimately a bit futile to manage your brand too closely, as you try to second guess (often incorrectly) the impression you’re creating on other people.  A case in point: a previous commenter referred (in a nice way) to this blog’s title as “girly”; in the real world, I am as ungirly as it’s possible to be while still being in possession of two X chromosomes.  Before you’ve typed a word, every little decision you make about your online communications – what platform or software you choose, your user name, blog title, colour scheme – will say something about you, and usually they say different things to different people.  So you may as well just do what you like (within reason) and, in the words of many a tedious indie band giving their first NME interview, “if anyone else likes it that’s a bonus”.