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The NoWAL Exchange of Experience event yesterday (hashtag #nmee) was hugely enjoyable! Most people spoke about how they were using social media in the workplace, but I’d been asked to do something a bit different, and talk about how I used social media for my personal and professional development. Not one to waste effort, I’m posting my talk here as a blog post. (NB – this isn’t exactly what I said. I can’t remember exactly what I said. But it’s the script that my notes were based on, so it’s pretty close. Apologies to those of you who already know my social media story!)

From pretty much the start of my career, I’ve lived my professional life in the public eye. I first joined Twitter in March 2008, when I was a library student at MMU. I realised no-one I knew was on it, and did nothing with it for about 6 months, when it started being talked about in the media. So, I started following my friend Kendra, and Stephen Fry, who at that point had a mere 50,000 followers or so, and followed everyone back. Well, I was so overwhelmed that Stephen Fry was following me on Twitter that I promptly ran away again, and didn’t dare tweet for months.

I started using Twitter as an information professional in Feb 2009. Looking at my followers list, it starts off slowly, with colleagues, and then a few external contacts, and then gradually my followers build up and up and up – and most of them are people I’ve never met. My very first tweet – which said ‘Bethan is discovering that no-one she knows is on Twitter, which makes it kind of pointless’ couldn’t have been more wrong. I now rely on Twitter for a large amount of my professional interaction and networking, and I have to admit that I can’t really remember the early days!

I started blogging in October 2009. At this point I was reading a lot of library/information professional blogs, and I was also in the process of chartering. I decided to start blogging to force myself to take time to reflect – something which I was having real problems doing. I don’t think I ever really expected anyone outside my immediate social network to read my blog – but they do! I’ve got 79 subscribers and – more importantly – people who engage with the blog, comment and start discussions. It makes me focus on issues, and put my thoughts in a coherent order. Reading other people’s blogs gives me an insight into a) what they do and b) what they think.

I’d like to tell you a couple of stories about social media, and what it’s done for my – and others’! – careers.
Firstly, some of you may have seen an article recently about what I do in CILIP Gazette. That article is a result of my use of social media – I’ll take you on a journey to it 🙂

Earlier this year, I was named as a Rising Star of SLA. This is an award for SLA members in the first five years of their career, who show ‘exceptional promise of leadership’. No, I don’t know what I did to deserve the award. I’m pretty sure I didn’t do anything that other people aren’t doing – but what I did do, I did visibly. I got involved in the debate about the proposed SLA name change, writing several blog posts, and talking about it on Twitter; I started a ning for SLA Europe – all things that are obvious and available online.

When the announcement of the Rising Stars came through, I didn’t tweet about it. I didn’t need to – my peers did it for me. I find my twitter group wonderfully encouraging and supportive – always ready to tout any triumphs that peers and friends have had. So, my twitter group tweeted it, and SLA and SLA Europe blogged it, and soon I got a message on twitter from Debby Raven, editor of Gazette, saying ‘congratulations’, and asking if I’d like to be interviewed for Gazette about the award. I said ‘yes’, told her my email address, and it went on from there. I’d never met Debby, and our original point of contact was purely social media based. Of course, once the article was published I didn’t need to promote it either – again, my twitter group promoted it for me, and I gained loads of exposure – and a reputation for modesty!

Another story – and one, I’m afraid, which doesn’t have an end yet, is that of Ned and Laura. They met through blogging, and set up the Library Routes project, which is a wiki to collect stories of how people became librarians. This now has over 130 entries, from librarians in all sectors, and from across the world. It has been promoted through social media, in articles, and at conferences.

Not satisfied with this success, they started a debate on twitter about how to get discussions by/about libraries and librarians outside the echo chamber. It started as a hashtag: #echolib, and grew into blog posts (by them and others). From this, it grew into an article, and a presentation, and now they’re submitting a proposal to turn it into a book chapter. All of the ideas that have fed into this (you can see them on the presentation) have come through social media – tweets, blogs, videos, and the LISNPN social network. The tweets tagged with #echolib are stored on twapperkeeper, and Ned and Laura are updating the presentation on Prezi as new ideas and suggestions come in.

The #echolib idea is being picked up by leaders in the profession in the US, too, and has the potential to have a really positive impact on the profession. It’s fantastic that the genesis of this idea has taken place in social media settings, under the public eye – you can chart the growth of it through twitter and blog posts, see what has influenced it, and how it has evolved. And it’s great for Ned and Laura – they are directly connecting with many of the leaders in the profession, getting their names and ideas recognised.

I brought a lot of these stories together in my presentation earlier this year at the CDG New Professionals conference. I was presenting on ‘proving the value of peer networks’, and gathered all of the information for the presentation from my peer networks – mainly my social media networks.

I decided that I needed real-world data to make the presentation of value, and so I put together a questionnaire, and asked people on lis-link and in my twitter network to fill it out. I got 104 responses, many of them very detailed, which was fantastic. My definition of peer networks was ‘contact groups consisting of fellow Library/Information professionals, workers, or others associated with the profession. These may include groups such as work colleagues; fellow members of an association; members of a social group such as a ning or facebook group; conference attendees; twitter followers; and other groups with whom you interact on a professional basis.’

I included social networking via the web on the same level as more traditional, face-to-face networking, and didn’t ask any questions specifically about web 2.0 social networking. However, a number of respondents specified that they used social networking tools, with twitter, facebook, linkedin, nings and forums on various sites (library and non-library related!) all getting a mention.

One question which I did ask was ‘has being involved in peer network contributed to your career? (eg have you become involved in a project/found a job through peer networks?)’. 50% of respondents said that it had, and again a number of them mentioned social media in their answers. Respondents using Twitter said that they had been invited to speak at events, become involved in committees, written articles, given presentations and become involved in projects – directly through their use of Twitter.

Twitter, blogs, and social networks are mentioned as keeping people up-to-date; providing quick & easily accessible sources of good information; providing a wider perspective on the profession; being great places to make friends and meet like-minded info profs; helping with CILIP Chartership and Fellowship; finding out about resources, projects and events.

One quote which I particularly like:

I’ve only recently started to feel properly connected to a peer network -and this is really due to twitter and blogging. Funnily enough I ‘know’ more new professionals this way than I do in ‘real life’ in my own region. So I find a sense of community in this online network and that helps me to feel motivated and engaged with professional issues; to feel that I am a librarian rather than someone who just happens to work in a library. I’ve become more reflective about my professional activities and I think I’ve also become more ambitious because I am tapped into the interesting things my peers are doing. I’ve started to blog more, and I’ve ended up joining the CDG in my area (which has in turn has allowed me to meet other new professionals).

Social media gives you easy ways to help others in their professional development, as well as helping yourself. My Chartership portfolio is available online – on my blog, on the LISNPN network, and on CILIP communities. Having my portfolio available gives other Chartership candidates another point of reference – beyond the 3 official examples on the CILIP website. It also means that I’ve been forced to look at my portfolio after submitting it – rather than just stick it in a drawer and forget about it, I’ve had to go through and make sure that there was nothing confidential that needed removing before I made it public. This, of course, made me groan with horror, as I thought ‘ugg! Could have done that better’ – which means I’m already thinking of ways I could have improved my – successful – portfolio.

This use of social media also means that I can track my own growth online – which is fantastically useful for appraisals, applications etc. My professional development is archived and searchable! And, of course, I’ve made loads of good friends 🙂

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