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Back in 2008, Tara Brabazon visited CERLIM to give a talk. If you’ve never seen Tara speak, I’d recommend it! I found her an intelligent, engaging, and entertaining speaker. I didn’t take notes – I just sat there and listened, absorbed in the talk. At the end of the talk, she told me that I was such a good listener, she wanted to take me back to Brighton.

Alas, I’m unlikely to gain any such approbation now. Despite knowing that speakers value attentive, smiling faces, you’re more likely to find me hunched over my keypad, frantically tweeting. This might be good for me, but…

Hang on – is this actually good for me? I’m generally a big fan of tweeting at conferences. I say it helps me to engage; gives me an online, searchable note archive; and helps others to experience the conference. It can also help the speaker to see what people have taken away from their talk. While I’m not doubting the value of these things, I’m starting to wonder if I’m really engaging in such a way as to give and others maximum value.

When I was in college, we were given a listening lesson. We all sat round in a circle, and closed our eyes while listening to Dylan Thomas’s Under Milk Wood. The idea was that closing our eyes would help us to focus, help us to forget that we were in a grubby portacabin instead of Llareggub. Being one of those annoyingly ‘good’ people, I kept my eyes faithfully shut the whole time, and it did work. Not surprising, really – deny your primary sense, and others come bounding into play.

But it’s not really practical in everyday life. It may be all well and good to recline, yeux firmly fermé, and enjoy some Wagner, or a jolly good play on Radio 4, but it’s not quite so practical in a large conference hall. And besides, people are bound to think you’ve fallen asleep, and snigger at you during networking.

Nor would either of these methods go down very well at work. You may have noticed that in the opening sentence of this post I’ve very carefully not mentioned exactly what Tara Brabazon came to talk about. Why? Because I’ve forgotten. Oh, I’ve got a vague idea (something to do with undergrads and research), but I don’t know exactly – and I have no notes to refer to, to find out. And while speakers do value attentive faces, I’m sure they value what they say being taken away, remembered and used more.

So, note-taking wins out here. And using those notes to spread the learning, to enlighten and inform others, is an absolute must. But is twittering as I go along really the best way to do it?

I tend to choose tweeting events over blogging for a fairly simple reason: I don’t have time to go back after each event, revisit my notes, and write them up as a blog post. I wish I did! In an ideal world, of course, that’s what I’d do – read and digest my notes, to produce a blog post about each session that not only reports session content, but contains reflections and links, ideas and questions. But if I did that, I’d never have time to go to any other events…

Some talented people can live-blog events. I like to blame my inability to do this on my inability to touch-type, but I know it’s more than that – it’s the pace of my thoughts, as well as my typing, that’s holding me back. Something to aspire to, but for now? Out of the question.

Which brings us back to tweeting. I’ve got my conference tweeting method down: start off with the name of the presenter and title of talk. For all subsequent tweets, get the presenters initials and the hashtag ready written, then wait for a snippet. Tweet and repeat. This has worked for me quite well so far, but I’m not sure if it’s giving maximum value. While I tweet, I’m missing things. While I’m tweeting one point, another, more important one might come along. There might be important things that don’t – shock horror! – fit into 140 characters. What to do about this?

Well, here’s an interesting question: does tweeting from an event need to be live-tweeting? Would it be better to take notes, and then tweet selected highlights? This could be done during breaks and changeovers, or on the train home. It would give me a chance to go back through my notes, but in a less time-consuming way than reworking for a blog post. It would give those following on twitter a chance to read my selected highlights – what I think, after consideration, are the main points of the talk – not just what I manage to type.

Obviously, there are drawbacks: where there are other people tweeting from the event, my out-of-synch tweets might be confusing for followers. Fine in a digest-format, not so fine in a timeline. The less the difference in synchronisation, the better.

There’s also the issue of my time. I optimistically say ‘during breaks and changeovers’. Well, there’s other stuff I want to do during that time too. You know, like have a break. Drink some coffee. Chat to some people. Conferences don’t (currently) have tweeting/blogging breaks – maybe they should?

So what I’d need is a tool that makes tweeting from notes as quick and easy as possible. My ideal? A cloud-based word processor that allows you to tweet selected text. with the addition of a pre-defined hashtag. So, if my blog is #blog, and I wanted to tweet that previous sentence, I could highlight it, select the ‘tweet with #’ option, and bam! my followers see ‘@bethanar: #blog A cloud-based word processor that allows you to tweet selected text’.

I really hoped Evernote would do this (it seems to do everything else!) but, alas, its twitter integration seems to be purely in the other direction. Anyone know of anything that might do the job?

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 🙂

[I wrote this post several days ago, but didn’t get round to publishing it. Apologies if everyone is bored of the whole issue by now!]

With the recent (and much discussed!) news that the Library of Congress had acquired the Twitter archives, I have one question (well, several actually, but we’ll stick with this one for now): will this change the way you tweet?

Tweets are ephemera. Now, ephemera is considered an extremely valuable historical/social research tool, but one of the prerequisites of ephemera is that it is not intended for preservation. What happens now when it is?

Nothing. Probably. We’ll forget about it. The way we forget about cctv and those guys in the golf balls on the Yorkshire moors who read all our emails.

But – for the first few days, at least – will you try to add a little extra insight, a little extra pizzazz for the sake of future readers? Will you take this as your chance to influence how history remembers you? To be the guy who had that really funny and insightful tweet about the leaders debate or the Iceland volcano? To be quoted in a future thesis or book?

Do the Twitter archives hold potential future value for researchers? Will tweets have a chance at immortality? Of course. But the thing about future researchers – as everyone who has had to think about collection/acquisition policies will know – is that we have no idea what they will find valuable. So while you’re trying to wow posterity with your political acumen and elegant turn of phrase, it might be the person who tweets what they have for their lunch every day who ends up as the cornerstone of ‘Sandwiches as an economic force: an exploration of working lunch habits in the early 21st century’.

Being remembered by history is still a lottery, but Twitter and the LoC may just have given you a few free tickets…

Something that’s been on my mind recently is the issue of swearing on twitter. This hasn’t been prompted by anything in particular, and it’s purely relating to my own tweets. I’m not criticising anyone else for swearing (or not!), just trying to work out where I stand on it.

Now, I swear. A lot. And I don’t have a problem with other people swearing. I’m not going to go into why I think swearing has a place in the language – others have done that far more eloquently than I could hope to – but whether it has a place on my twitter stream.

The thing is, I’ve always lived by the rule that you don’t swear in professional situations, or in front of clients. Spilled a cup of tea over a huge stack of newspapers? Oh sugar. Getting torrents of abuse from punters? Smile, grit your teeth, and call them sir. I’d never swear while working a reference desk, or at an interview. I wouldn’t swear on a conference stand, or in a work-related blog post (in general, yeah? Appreciate that this post might be a little hard to write otherwise! So, if you haven’t already guessed, there will be swearing in this post. Look away now if you’re of a nervous disposition.)

But what about twitter? Is it a professional milieu? Sure, I have a lot of professional contacts on twitter, but we don’t just talk about work all the time. Sure, my twitter contacts may one day be interviewing me for a job, or reviewing my papers, but will it really matter then that I once called someone a wanker on twitter? Will they remember? Will they care?

It really does come down to where I feel my twitter circle fits in the professional/personal scale. Many of my tweets are personal, or not directly professionally relevant; but I know that when I do have something of professional interest to say, then I have an audience who will be interested and engaged. So how do I deal with this mix?

I’ve come to the conclusion that, for me, twitter is like after-conference drinks in the pub. For an even more concrete example, twitter is like drinks in the Head of Steam after Mash oop North (possibly because I met a lot of tweeps for the first time there). It’s a friendly, collegial atmosphere, where you know that you can appreciate each other’s professional interests, but are also more relaxed, talking about telly and books and music and making jokes. It’s an atmosphere where a bit of judicious swearing is perfectly in order.

And so, I have decided, for my twitter. Don’t worry that my stream is going to become NSFW, with random expletives jammed into every post. This is, after all, judicious swearing – and I do have to remember that other people’s twitter milieus might not be the same as mine. They may feel that it is a professional only area, and that swearing is inappropriate. But what sort of swearing? I doubt anyone would be offended by the occasional ‘sod it’ or ‘bloody’. ‘Bugger’ is probably ok, and I think I could get away with ‘shit’. ‘Bollocks’ is probably moving closer to the wire. And as for the f and c words? Well, as you can see, I’ve wimped out of using them here, in a post about swearing, where I’ve warned people there will be swearing. So probably not, no. (why am I so worried about it? It’s not like no-one’s ever said ‘fuck’ on the internet. oh, there we go!)

I realise that this might seem like a trivial post – or an excuse to chuck swearwords around on my blog – but it has actually made me think quite carefully about what being a professional entails. I’d always had this vague sense that being professional meant being on your best behaviour at all times – until you’d locked the door and taken your shoes off, and then you could do what the hell you liked. Problem is, a lot of our professional interaction now is taking place behind that locked door, and I can tell you for a fact I’m not wearing any shoes right now.

I can also tell you that the professionals I respect most are those who let their human side show. Those people who are efficient, informative, and amusing. Who can get the job done and still have time for a natter. Who are confident enough in themselves to find the balance between formality and informality. People who are ‘always on’ I find intimidating. Little touches of the personal help people to relate to you, feel more comfortable with you, and (I believe) make for better working relationships.

So, that interviewer who remembers me swearing on twitter. Will it hinder my chances? Could it even help? Or would it simply be of no importance? We are adults, communicating with each other by the tools commonly used in society, and swearing is one of those tools. So why am I agonising about it? I think it’s about time I bloody well shut up 😉

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