Putting the social into social media

So, I originally thought I’d said all I needed to say about social media with Thing 6. But when I really got to read Claire’s explanation of Thing 12, and Jo’s response, I realized that this post is our opportunity to think about social networking beyond the utility of specific tools. While the tools can help us find people and keep in contact, it’s really the people that matter!

Perhaps it seems contradictory for an introvert to discuss “putting the social” in anything, but like woodsiegirl wrote in Thing 6, I have found that social media is essential to my networking efforts. Even The Atlantic is talking about how technology has created a “Golden Age for introverts,” so perhaps I really am on the right track.

Social media is great for networking…

In my involvement with social media, I have experienced most of the benefits Claire quoted from Debby Raven:

  • Better communication between individuals who may or may not have the chance to meet otherwise – I ramped up my Twitter usage in preparation for the SLA 2011 Conference. Reaching out to people I hadn’t met prior to the conference led to more in-person conversations!
  • More collaborative working space – I haven’t had many occasions to use online collaboration tools yet, but recently activity has picked up on the Wiki for a committee on which I serve.
  • Building online communities, which can then turn into real-life communities – I’m hoping to see this in action soon! We’ve recently grown a Twitter list of Indianapolis-area librarians and will hopefully be planning a tweetup in September.
  • Easy access to other fields of the profession – Social media isn’t making it any easier for me to find my niche. There are so many interesting librarians and libraries out there! I’d say #libchat is probably the best example of how I connect with a diverse array of librarians through social media.

I was already pretty active with social media prior to beginning CPD23, and will continue to stay engaged for the foreseeable future. While the tools were already familiar, this program has certainly helped me reflect on my involvement in a new way. I’m learning to be more intentional about how I use social media, especially when it comes to building relationships. It’s easy to share updates and read news from other people, but there’s more to gain from the harder work of conversations. I’m thankful to CPD23 for providing some inspiration in that regard.

Also, if it weren’t for CPD23, I would have never connected with so many international colleagues! I’ve also “met” at least one other Indianapolis-area librarian I didn’t already know. Bring on the tweetup!

…but it’s not perfect.

As much as I love social media, I can see a few disadvantages worth noting. First of all, staying informed and connected can be overwhelming! I haven’t gone as far as Lis-Britt in declaring an anti-social week, but I can understand the temptation to unplug. While visiting family in Iowa over the past weekend, I was far less electronically social than usual. I maybe checked my e-mail and Facebook twice a day, and I completely ignored my RSS and Twitter feeds. It felt good at the time, but it has been tough getting back in the groove.

This leads me to another potential disadvantage, which is simply that we may rely too much on social media to communicate. Unlike the proverbial tree falling in the forest, I know for certain there’s a lot of noise on Twitter even when I’m not listening. It’s futile to go back and read everything, so I just have to hope that nothing too important happened. My RSS feeds help with some of that, as things stay there until I’ve read them (or at least marked them as read). Although I know there’s no way to read everything or talk to everyone, I can’t help but wonder what I’m missing.

On a related note, I think we also take social media presence for granted. It’s easy to forget that others aren’t necessarily active on the same sites with the same frequency that we are. And I’m not just talking about my mom, who likes to comment on my Facebook posts months after the fact, I’m talking about our patrons and colleagues. Everyone has different preferences for social media, and it’s impossible to maintain a truly active presence everywhere. How do we make sure our less technologically-inclined colleagues don’t feel left out? How do we make sure our messages get to the right people in the right place at the right time? And how do we balance our social lives with our social media lives?

What do you think?


All the cool kids have a mentor. Why don’t I?

Mentoring has been a buzzword in my life for at least the last six years. I served as an AmeriCorps VISTA with a mentoring organization, and my current employer is spearheading a statewide mentoring initiative. Of course, these experiences mostly focus on adults mentoring young people, rather than professional mentoring as is the focus of Thing 11. Even so, I feel as though I have developed an appreciation for the potential value of mentoring, and I’ve certainly seen positive results.

So why haven’t I ever had a formal mentor myself?

I can think of a couple reasons:

  1. My independent streak. For better or worse, I often find it difficult to ask for help. I like to think I can learn what I need to do a good job without inconveniencing other people. I’m not afraid to ask questions when I don’t know an answer, but specifically seeking personal/professional guidance can be tough for me. It’s awkward to be so open about strengths, weaknesses, concerns, ambitions, etc. Remember how I said I was better with information problems than emotion problems?
  2. My nichelessness. As I mentioned in my first post, I’m still not sure what type of librarian I’m going to be. A part of me thinks it might be nice to have someone I could bounce ideas around with, but the rest of me still feels like I need to figure it out for myself. It’s a bit of a chicken and egg situation, really. Which comes first: career direction or a mentor?

I didn’t say they were good reasons.

While I’m not quite ready to formally ask anyone to be my mentor, I do plan to continue building my network of informal mentors. I’ve made valuable connections through active participation in cpd23 and increased engagement on Twitter. I’m improving my in-person networking skills, partially because of these online experiences.

Blogging may soften my independent streak, as I learn to practice self-awareness in a public forum. And I hope all of the reading, networking, and reflection will help me find my niche. If I find a formal mentor along the way, great! If not, I know my fellow librarians excel at advice-giving and knowledge-sharing, so I’ll settle for their collective wisdom.


Information Problems vs. Emotion Problems – Or, Why I Became a Librarian

“You should go to library school.” When I first heard those words, I honestly laughed.

It was late 2007, and I was riding in a car with some coworkers. I had been complaining about how frustrated I was with my first semester as a Master of Social Work student. While I was succeeding academically, my first few classes had left me with nagging feeling that I was out of place. I wasn’t interested in becoming a therapist, and I could feel the program pushing us in that direction. One of my coworkers chimed in and suggested I go to library school instead. Was she kidding? I couldn’t just give up on the MSW after three classes, could I?

No, I couldn’t just quit. I decided to give social work one more semester to see if I’d feel any differently. The research and policy courses were coming up next, and I was certain I’d like those better, given my undergraduate background in political science. Unfortunately, my classmates’ apathy toward these subjects and ignorance of related concepts just further convinced me that I didn’t belong amongst them. At the same time, I couldn’t seem to shake my coworker’s suggestion.

Already thinking about becoming a librarian? Sadly, no.

The more I thought about the idea of library school, the better it sounded. My job already involved a considerable amount of work in the agency’s special library, and that was usually my favorite part of the day. After doing a little research and a lot of thinking, I decided it wouldn’t hurt to take the summer off from social work in order to enroll in a library science course. That turned out to be one of the best decisions I ever made. While I did learn quite a bit from that first class (reference, if you’re wondering), I had a more notable epiphany that summer: I am much better suited for helping people with information problems than emotion problems.

When I thought about it that way, an MLS made a lot more sense than an MSW. I had stumbled onto the career path I never knew I always wanted to take.

I think I have always been looking for a career in which I could help people, but I certainly made quite a journey out of looking in all the wrong places. Reflecting back on the obligatory career exploration papers completed in middle school and high school, I see “helping” professions as a common thread represented by fields such as environmental science and pediatrics. In college, I all but abandoned the biological sciences for the social ones, majoring in political science and Spanish. Of course, that’s not a degree with clear job prospects! The most obvious next step would have been law school, but as many times as I considered it, I was never really excited about the idea. Instead, I served for two years as an AmeriCorps member, racking up priceless experience as a tutor, mentor, program coordinator, team leader, event planner, volunteer manager, grant writer, and more.

Instead, I ended up covered in paint.

When I moved to Indianapolis to begin my second year of AmeriCorps service in 2005, I intended to follow my VISTA experience with a Master of Public Affairs (MPA) degree, concentrated in nonprofit management. Instead, I became intrigued with the idea of returning to direct service as a school counselor/social worker, so I chose to go for the MSW. You already know how that turned out.

The good news is that I was fortunate to have stumbled into a full-time job upon completion of my VISTA service – one that has offered the balance of professional growth and personal stability needed to support my changing academic endeavors. And of course, it was also the first time I had ever worked behind-the-scenes in any type of library. Without this opportunity and my coworker’s suggestion, I doubt I would have considered this fabulous profession, which I now see as the closest match for my interests, skills, and values.

My experiences among SLIS students and librarians have made me confident in my decision, as I have felt much of the kindred spirit that was missing in my previous academic and professional endeavors. Like me, the librarians I have met tend to be people who love to learn and to share knowledge. I always used to say I was born to be a “professional student” because I liked to study just about everything and never developed a particularly burning passion for any one thing. I am thrilled to have discovered that being passionate about learning and sharing information can lead to a productive career.

A library! Finally!

So, as you can see, my decision to pursue a career in librarianship had nothing to do with books, although I have always loved books. I’ve always loved libraries, too, from my days in the summer reading program as a child to my late nights studying in the 3rd floor carrels in college. I’m only sorry it took me so long to figure out everything else libraries and librarians have to offer.

I am excited to discover the best way to use my shiny new Master of Library Science degree and transfer the skills from my varied professional experiences. I haven’t figured out exactly what the next step in my journey will be, but as I continue to immerse myself in the profession, I am at least convinced I’m on the right path this time.

And should I ever strike it rich as a librarian, I will reward that coworker I laughed at. Until then, she’ll have to settle for my thanks.

These are my Library Roots/Routes, in response to Things 10 and 20 of the 23 Things for Professional Development.


Organizing myself…why Google Calendar is great and Evernote is excellent

I have been putting off the “organizing yourself” posts for cpd23 Things 8 and 9 for awhile, partially because I was focused on Library Day in the Life last week, but also because I’m finding it difficult to organize my thoughts about organization. I’ve always been a pretty organized person (isn’t that a librarian litmus test?), but I’ve never really tried to explain my personal strategies before.

Honestly, I would argue that organizing myself goes way beyond the technical assistance offered by tools such as Google Calendar and Evernote. But for now, let me focus on how I’ve incorporated this technology.

Google Calendar

I have been using Google Calendar for a couple years, and I am well aware that it has potential beyond what I’ve explored. However, right now I’m happy enough using it to keep track of personal appointments only. My work calendar needs to stay in Outlook for collaboration purposes, but I would ideally love to sync the two, so that I have a place to view my entire schedule from anywhere without having to create duplicate events. I have discovered this is technically possible using Google Calendar Sync, but I unfortunately cannot download it because I don’t have administrator privileges on my work computer. Perhaps this post will inspire me to finally make this request! And while I’m at it, I’ve been contemplating asking to install Evernote and Dropbox on my work computer as well. These are all tools I’m finding increasingly useful in my personal organization, and would love to make full use of this technology at work, where quite frankly I need it the most.

A glimpse into my SLA2011 planning...

My favorite thing about Google Calendar so far is how it helped me plan my schedule for the ALA (2009) and SLA (2010 & 2011) conferences I’ve attended. The official online conference planners weren’t been particularly user-friendly, so I started putting sessions that interested me into Google Calendar. It looks a little overwhelming, but this method allowed me to see my competing options in each timeslot. Ultimately, that made it easier to select sessions, schedule face-to-face meetups, and spot the free hours I could use for sightseeing.

This is about as much as I’ve done with Google Calendar to date. I maintained a paper calendar/planner through grad school because I found it easier to manage my daily to-do lists in written form. However, I’ve been paying less and less attention to it lately, so I suspect when I finally upgrade to a smartphone later this year, I’ll abandon the paper calendar altogether. I’ll probably keep some type of paper to-do list though, because nothing beats physically crossing off the items I’ve accomplished!

Evernote

I have been experimenting with Evernote for a year or so, and I’m honestly still figuring out how I can use it most effectively. I’ve read some interesting posts about using it for uncluttering, saving time, and getting things done. I hope to implement at least a few of these ideas, but so far, I’ve mostly just been using it as an electronic commonplace book. I’ve clipped quite a few quotations and comics that amuse and inspire, but I can’t say it’s making me more productive so far.

My notebooks so far...

I doubt I will ever be a strict Getting Things Done (GTD) follower, but I am intrigued by the concept. I think I might have more success with a system like Zen to Done, but even still I struggle a bit with the collecting vs. doing aspects of the structure. There’s a part of me that loves to collect information and make lists, but another part of me that feels like I should just DO the stuff rather than writing it down. I’ll go for awhile with really nice to do lists, but then hit a busy week and just plow forward with doing the most pressing things. While I can be productive either way, sometimes the changing rhythm frustrates me and I wind up reconsidering my organization strategies.

I’m in a reflective mood right now, so I have been trying to figure out how Evernote might be able to help in the collecting/planning stages. Perhaps the biggest shift I’ve made in the last few months is trying to clip articles to Evernote rather than bookmarking them for future reference. As much as I love Xmarks for syncing my bookmarks across computers, I suspect for certain content it will be more useful to search my notebooks rather than scan a list website titles.

We’ll see how it goes.

I’ll also be watching to see what happens with ZenDone, an app I discovered through a tweet from @Annie_Bob.

Have you discovered an approach to Google Calendar or Evernote that would complement mine? I’m always open to new tips and tricks!