Monday, 25 July 2011

'Real' networks

As opposed to online networks (thing 6), thing 7 is about the real thing – real people meeting in real places. Ironically, the ‘real life’ meet up we held this week at Milgi’s yurt in Cardiff (below) couldn’t possibly have been arranged without blogs and Twitter, so don’t throw away the modem just yet!

I met up with colleagues from Cardiff University, as well as librarians from three other institutions in the city – UWIC, University of Glamorgan, and the National Museum of Wales, and even one very brave soul who made it all the way from the National Library of Wales, Aberystwyth! I was surprised that we managed to round up so many librarians working locally, most of whom I had not met before. It was lots of fun and very eye-opening, not all about CPD23(!), and it’s something I would certainly want to repeat in future.

Thing 7 also covers professional networks such as CILIP and ARA. I’ve been a member of ARA (Archives and Records Association) since I was an archives student in 2006. I like reading their magazine, which is informative and professionally presented, and also the journal, which is more academic in tone. I attended the annual conference once as a day delegate; I don’t think I got as much out of it as I would now that I ‘know’ several archivists on Twitter. None of the names on the delegate list were familiar to me and many seemed to have been sent en masse from the same organisation. This makes it tricky to break into a group and introduce yourself. I would go again, but lately the themes haven’t been relevant enough to convince the University to fund me. The vast majority of archivists working in the UK work for county record offices, and their concerns are sometimes very different to mine. 

I wouldn’t say that I benefit from ARA training events either. Due to the relatively small numbers of UK archivists – compared to librarians, for example – training events, when they are held at all, tend to be centred in London. With the exception of the ARA Wales regional meeting, not one event or training session has been held in Wales this year. Fortunately my employer provides very good general management and IT courses, but as the only archivist, my needs are specialist and can’t be provided for institutionally. I was enrolled on an upcoming EAD course, organised by Archives Hub, but I have just heard it has been cancelled as only four were enrolled. If I really felt training were necessary, I would need to fund it privately, and this seems to be the way things are going. Once I have completed Registration, for which I need to have been a continuous member, I will sadly need to consider spending the membership money on funding myself to attend remote conferences and training. 

ARA have, in line with CILIP, set up the social network ARA Community. While over 700 have joined, there is very little activity taking place (with the exception of spammers). Professional communities are in danger of reinventing the wheel, as there are many existing social networks such as Facebook and Twitter, which people are already using as part of their daily routine. Aside from social network fatigue, who can remember all the passwords?!

Online networks

Thing 6 is online networks, of which I belong to several. I currently find Twitter to be the most useful. I was an early adopter of Facebook, but lately I’m more likely to check in every few days to see what family and friends are up to, rather than several times a day as I would in the past. On the whole I find it is much less heavily used than it used to be, obviously not just by me but also by the friends that populate my news feed. If people don’t write status updates, or post pictures and links, the news feed doesn’t update, there’s no need to check it as frequently, which means I don’t add content as frequently, and the whole thing winds down. A social network is only the sum of its members’ activity. 

How much of this perceived fall off in user numbers is due to Facebook’s control over the content I see? For some time, Facebook has only shown content from friends you ‘regularly interact’ with, which makes this cycle of disuse more apparent. If I only regularly interact with 10% of my Facebook friends, and their use of Facebook decreases, that means very few news feed items for me. If anyone knows a way around this filtering of updates, I’d love to hear it.

Twitter is at the other end of the spectrum; it shows you every post from every person you follow, with no filtering. As a result, those I follow get culled very frequently as space in that feed is at such a premium. I brought Facebook habits to Twitter – thinking that I had to scroll back to the last comment I’d read before reading up to the most current post, which for a while made me quite overwhelmed and resentful of this ‘tool’ which was eating every spare moment I had. There is just too much content on Twitter to follow it all 24-7. I could use lists but have never found the time to organise this – in any case it would be the same number of tweets to read, just in different boxes. I try to keep those I follow under 200 – I could pare it down further but fear I would miss things. My interests range between archives, rare books, library advocacy, book history, digitisation, social media... many people only tweet about one of these things, so my net needs to be fairly wide.

I joined LinkedIn as part of Thing 3: online brands, as LinkedIn results feature highly in Google and I wanted to ensure a presence on a search for my name. I must confess to not having yet learnt how to use it effectively – I’m not job seeking so have little impetus to do so, but I have ensured that my CV is up to date so that anyone who does Google me is met with accurate information. I didn’t know that you could join groups, so I’ve joined 23 Things, CILIP, Archives*Open Network and Archives Professionals. I have been hesitant in adding people to my network – what’s the thinking on adding people you don’t know personally? Faux pas?

I joined LISNPN and Librarians as Teachers network. I had never heard of the latter and am very grateful for its existence. I’m expected to teach undergraduates and postgraduates as part of my job, but have never received any training in this area, which is one I can feel quite nervous about. I’ll explore these networks over the next week or so. I haven’t joined CILIP Communities as I‘m a member of the Archives and Records Association rather than CILIP, but ARA have a similar network in place which I have joined.

My colleague Helen Price-Saunders made a particularly astute point on her blog, that with the advent of the internet, the world of networking is a much easier place for the introvert to inhabit, and for this I’m very grateful!

Friday, 15 July 2011

And... reflect

Thing 5 is reflective practice – simply, what have I learnt so far and has it been useful? I’m glad this is being addressed as a ‘thing’ in its own right - reflective practice is becoming central to professional development. Whether a librarian seeking Chartership or Archivist seeking Registration, both schemes require a reflective presentation of a portfolio of developed skills. 

The professional body for archivists, the Archives and Records Association, recently surveyed its members on the question of long-term CPD – one question asked, should Registration expire and require renewing via a fresh application, every 5 years for instance? I would personally welcome such a move – but may be in the minority on this one. I feel strongly that information professionals shouldn’t consider themselves ‘safely’ Chartered or Registered – reflective CPD should be a ongoing activity throughout our careers. The alternatives – ranging from apathetic disinterest to outspoken complacent scorn toward any new practice or technology – will leave us at risk of being left behind by the bright young things of the future. 

So far, I have found CPD23 extremely useful in a number of areas. One would be building networks – not just virtually using tools like Twitter, but right here on campus. I can feel quite isolated as the only archivist in my workplace, surrounded by librarians. Taking part along with them has helped me to feel on an equal footing as a fellow information professional, and I feel we’ve got to know each other better through reading each other’s blogs.

Another major benefit has been the development of a Special Collections and Archives blog, in the last couple of weeks. This has been the subject of theoretical discussion for a couple of years, but upon three of the five members of the new ‘blog team’ setting up their own blogs for CPD23, the subject of blogging came to the fore and we were able to push together to set one very quickly and with minimum fuss. I’m not permitted to launch it publically yet, but watch this space in the coming weeks : )

I have been using Twitter for some time and have found it extremely useful in building networks, sharing links, keeping up to date, and generally feeling part of something larger than my desk in the basement. RSS feeds were new to me, and I’m using them regularly now I’ve downloaded a Google Reader app for my Android. This pushes new notifications at me, which helps a great deal, otherwise I would never find the time or opportunity to check it.

Lastly, I’m really looking forward to a South Wales librarians’ meet-up next week as part of Thing 6. This wouldn’t have happened without CPD23 to provide the impetus and Twitter/blog comments to help with the organising. I’m going to meet several people I only know through Twitter, one of which works in a library 200m from my workplace, which I have never visited. 

More generally I have learnt to speak up and participate more online. I’m working to get over the feeling that I have nothing original, or of interest to say. 

Less lurking, more interaction.

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Staying connected

This week, thing 4 is all about current awareness via tools such as Twitter, RSS feeds and Pushnote.

I signed up to Twitter two years ago, and tweeted a grand total of 5 times in the first six months. No one I knew used it, so I followed my interests - bands, events, venues, comedians, and general arts media. I glanced at it occasionally to see what was going on, a bit like the glossy supplement in the weekend papers, but I couldn't see where I fitted in. I later realised that Twitter doesn't make sense until you have followers.

My first use of Twitter at a library conference changed everything - and I would recommend it to anyone. It might take a while to get the hang of typing and listening simultaneously, but it is worth it.

Why you should tweet at conferences:

  • Tweeting allows those who can't attend to receive a point-by-point feed during the presentations from those in attendance. I now follow all conferences that interest me from my desk, six or seven so far this year, whereas in the past I would have to be content with picking just one to attend, if I'm lucky. With budget restrictions tightening throughout the sector, this is a very welcome development. 
  • You know those indecipherable notes you take and almost immediately lose? The ideas, impetus and enthusiasm you had when surrounded by a forum of like-minded individuals which inevitably passes on returning to the daily grind? No more of that - you have an online record, not just of your own tweets made in the moment, but those of others. For anyone who has to draw up a conference report on returning to work, to justify the funds spent, or for chartership/registration purposes, this is invaluable.
  • Develop an instant network of professionals working in your area - follow all those tweeting and they will usually follow you back. Now the conference can continue long after the event itself, and you will have made some valuable contacts.

After the conference I found myself with actual followers. Then it happened - the first time I was mentioned. I was hooked from then on - I was talking, people were listening, and talking back - a genuine multi-way network was taking shape. My followers were retweeting my content, and their followers began following me. I wanted to add to my numbers, and went follow crazy for a few days. When I realised I couldn't keep up with the feed, I dropped all the celebrity/media stuff, and retained solely library/information people who regularly conference tweet and are otherwise helpful and informed. I still purge occasionally, so if you've made the cut, feel proud! If you're new to using Twitter to keep up with library news here are some of the top people I follow, in no particular order:


RSS feeds - I must admit to being entirely ignorant of these until setting up this blog a couple of weeks ago. I'm using Google Reader, and have added a few blogs to it. It seems straightforward enough, but I'm not sure I'll remember to check it all that often - I think I'd prefer some sort of email digest which is forcibly pushed at me at intervals.

Pushnote - Hmmm. I don't get it. No one I know seems to be using it. Browsing some other CPD23 blogs, I don't think I'm alone in this. Though I felt the same about Twitter, so I will wait to be proved wrong : )