Saturday, 30 July 2011

Thing 6: online networks

I am a big fan of using online networks to make contacts in the LIS world. I’ve been doing it in some form or another since I started my MA, and I honestly believe that it has been beneficial in helping me through my MA, getting my job, and getting other opportunities. I’ve already blogged in Thing 4 about how much I value Twitter, and that is probably the network that I find most useful, but I do use others too. When I spoke at the New Professionals Conference about the importance of establishing dialogues between new and experienced LIS professionals, I proposed online networks as being one of the most, if not the most, ideal spaces in which this can happen. CPD23 sets out a number of online networks for us to consider for Thing 6, and I have varying experience of all of them.

I am fairly new to LinkedIn. It felt like something that I really should be signed up to, and, when I was unemployed after my MA and worrying about getting a job, I signed up and created a profile, which I promptly neglected when I did get a job. Recently I decided to have another look at it, mainly because I had seen people tweeting about the discussions which take place on the LinkedIn groups; they seemed interesting, and, again, an ideal space in which to start conversations between new and experienced professionals. I am still not doing much with it though. I added a few people who I know as contacts, and have received a few requests myself. I can see its potential; as Helen Murphy explains in the CPD23 blog post on Thing 6, LinkedIn profiles are usually found quite high-up in Google searches, and, with the opportunity to add experience, interests, publications etc. to your profile, this can mean that someone can get a good idea about the professional you when they Google you. This is particularly useful, I think, when you’ve met someone at an event or a conference; people don’t always have their full names on Twitter accounts or blogs, so LinkedIn in a good place to find them (and also to check that you’ve got the right person!). I also think that the groups are a good place to get involved in discussions, but I must confess I haven’t done so myself yet. 

I am still a bit unsure about the etiquette of LinkedIn though. Do you add/accept requests from people who you don’t know or haven’t met in “real life”? And what should you say, if anything, in your request to connect? During a workshop at the New Professionals Conference, Suzanne Wheatley said that you should never just use the standard text that LinkedIn provides, but should write a personalised message. I’ve been doing that when I’ve been asking people to connect with me, but I’ve received several requests which just use the standard text. It all still feels very new to me!

I’ve been using Facebook since the second term of my first year at university, when it became available to the University of York (this was in the days when Facebook was open only to university students, and you couldn’t join until your university had been added to the list of accepted institutions by the people running Facebook!). I have always used it to stay connected with old friends and to add photographs (tagging people in them too, obviously). I don’t use it so actively these days, but I do appreciate being able to keep track of old friends; people change numbers, email addresses etc., but Facebook keeps them there for you (provided they don’t get fed up of Facebook and delete their accounts!). It’s also very helpful for remembering friends’ birthdays!

I set up a Facebook group for LISNPN, which I would like to overhaul at some point soon, but, other than that, I don’t use Facebook for professional purposes (except maybe posting links to my blog, for librarian friends who aren’t on Twitter, or for anyone else who might be interested!). I am not convinced of its value for such purposes; Facebook keeps changing its group pages and I don’t think Facebook groups are so popular or easy to use any more. I think Twitter and other online networks are better for the purposes that Facebook groups serve. That said, I do think that Facebook is much more accessible than Twitter and other online spaces; it’s widely used and is simpler. For this reason, I think it can be used to attract people who are nervous or unsure about using Twitter, which is why I want to maintain the LISNPN Facebook group; Facebook is in many ways the friendly, approachable face of social media, and I think it can be useful in introducing people to the idea of online networking.

I don’t have any work colleagues, and only have very few people who I know through my professional activity, as Facebook friends, and probably wouldn’t accept friend requests from current colleagues; my online presence is generally so open that I do value having that space where I can share things with friends without the world seeing. I use a fake forename on Facebook, partly so that I am not so easily discoverable on there, and so that my Facebook profile doesn’t appear in Google searches.

I am a bit biased when it comes to LISNPN, being a member of the team who runs it (and a newly promoted Super-Admin – thanks Ned!). However, I do think it is an incredibly useful site. Some people are not so keen on using a “Web 1.0” concept like a forum as an online network, but I think that it has value; Twitter moves so fast that you can often miss things, whereas LISNPN keeps things there for you until you have time to get to them. LISNPN also has a Resources section, and Events page, on which anyone can set up an event, which is an added extra which a forum can offer. When I started my graduate traineeship three years ago, I searched for online forums for newly-qualified librarians, and then for any kind of librarians, and found nothing, so, when I was invited to help with LISNPN last year, I jumped at the chance.

We also have a Facebook group and a Twitter account, which allows us to engage with users further, and I think that this is really effective; the Twitter profile in particular. As I’ve said, I’d like to see what more we can do with the Facebook group, and we have a few plans for developing our use of Twitter. While I believe that LISNPN is a useful site, I think it’s important to develop a presence on other online networks too, to promote the site and to make it as accessible as possible.

I’ve been reading about what people think of LISNPN in their Thing 6 blog posts, but if anyone has any thoughts to share on their use of LISNPN and/or how it could be more useful, I’d love to hear them.

Librarians as Teachers network
I signed up to the LAT network last year, as teaching is one of the aspects of librarianship that has most interested me, since my undergraduate days when I started wondering whether I might want to be an academic librarian. However, I haven’t been back on it much since then. This is not because I don’t think it would be useful, but because I have just been so busy over the past year that it’s something that has slipped down my list. As I started my job in November, I missed the start of the academic year so haven’t had much chance to do teaching yet, so I think that it just hasn’t been on my mind. I’m starting to think about September now, though, so I think I’ll have another look at the LAT network, and perhaps start or get involved in some discussions. Teaching can be one of the most challenging aspects of our roles, I think, so it’s good that there is a support network in place for it!

CILIP communities
I don’t use CILIP communities. I have tried to in the past, but found it slow and a bit frustrating, and then decided I could probably find whatever I was looking for on Twitter or LISNPN. Reading other Thing 6 blog posts, it sounds like I’m not alone in this! I do, however, like the CILIP members blog landscape; it brings together blog posts from a diverse collection of interesting LIS people, and is easy to scan through. I often have a look to see what people are blogging about.

I have started using Google+, but not very heavily. I’m not sure about the usefulness of my personal “stream” – it’s nothing that I can’t get from Twitter, as all of my Google+ contacts have come from there! However, I do see the potential of circles to create discussion spaces for groups of people i.e. committees. This will, however, depend on take-up, and a lot of the people on my Twitter feed and Google+ stream appear to be unsure about the usefulness of Google+ too.

Bringing them all together
I think that the online networks that I use serve different purposes; Twitter for sharing information and having fast-moving, timely discussions, LISNPN for resources and slower discussions, LinkedIn for maintaining a professional presence in one place, Facebook for staying connected with friends. I am a huge advocate for online networks, and encourage people who I meet, new professionals in particular, to get involved. If anyone is unsure, I suggest that they start with LISNPN, and then branch out from there. I do, however, worry that my enthusiasm for online networks sometimes becomes harassment or nagging!  It’s only because I think they are so valuable, providing access to discussions and opportunities that you might otherwise miss.

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