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Your PLN is a Series of Tubes: A How-To Guide for Beginners, by Sara Bryce

“Okay, all of your great posts on creating a PLN make me really want to start one!

…okay, got my Twitter all set up, and my Facebook account is ready to be part of my PLN, and I thought of a good name for my blog/Tumblr, and……..

what now?”

Do you see that and think this?

Okay, or, if you don’t speak Internet: “Sound familiar”?

If you’re unsure where to start in creating your PLN, or just need an extra boost, this post is for you.

Twitter: I consider myself really lucky. My PLN was basically started in a class I took through Florida State in 2009 on Web 2.0 tools. We were all required to sign up for Twitter, and try it out. My first couple tweets were things like “Can anyone see me? Am I alive?” and stuff like that. I followed everyone in my class and got to know them through links and sayings they would post.

Then Natalie Binder (OF #LIBCHAT FAME but a classmate at the time) created #libchat, and I made sure to at least follow that. Additionally, it gave me something to respond to, rather than jumping into conversations (which I do now, because social awkwardness is part of my “brand”(no really though don’t worry about your brand, because you’re a person)). I ended up in conversations with library students and young librarians that lasted long after the chat was done, and walked away each week with new followers and people to follow.

If this appeals to you, check out:

  • #libchat: questions regarding all areas of librarianship; Wednesdays 9 ET (I asked this week for suggestions for this post. Here’s what some of the responses were! (Sorry, not very good at Storify yet))
  • #readav: chatting about reader’s advisory; 1st and 3rd Thursday each month 8ET
  • #alscchat: issues in children’s librarianship; 2nd Thursday each month 9 ET

Participating is easy if you use TweetDeck; keep a column open that’s a search for the hashtag.

If you’re feeling particularly silly, #saturdaylibrarian is always a fun hashtag to follow. While not a moderated chat, librarians all over use this hashtag to commiserate over the ups and downs that is working on a Saturday. I use this to find particularly snarky librarians who I might easily befriend. True story, Anna was one of those people! (LUCKY HER, AMIRITE?)

Tumblr: I admit that I don’t have quite the handle on Tumblr as I do Twitter. This post was one of my most successful, and I think it was because it brought to mind a kind of odd humor that’s prominent there. Here’s a Buzzfeed post that’s full of people successfully using Tumblr. You’ll see what I mean.

To get started following and interacting with librarians, check out this awesome list from the person who spearheaded the librarian presence on Tumblr, Kate Tkacik. You can also search for the tag “tumblarians”.

When you post, tag your stuff with #tumblarians, #librarians, and then whatever else your post is about. That’ll help others find, reblog, favorite, and follow you.

Facebook: Facebook means different things for different people. I used to use it the way most people claim to: keep in touch with family/friends you don’t see very often. But lately, come on. That version of “use” just doesn’t fly anymore, at least with me. I mean, yeah, I’ll actually click on pages of my immediate family members to make sure I haven’t missed anything, because with Facebook’s screwy algorithm I WILL miss something personally important for Facebook’s favor on “share this photo so I can find my birth parents” posts. From political memes, to upworthy/viralnova link bait, to weird debate choices on neutral statuses from people you hardly know, to passive aggressive statuses where you’ve literally commented “I hardly know you and I know who you’re talking about,” Facebook has just gotten ridiculous.

Rather than make one of those huge “defiant” statuses about how you’re not going to use Facebook anymore–which is silly and you know it because it’s seriously the easiest place to go when you want to Hate Read the life out of something–join a librarian group. Because if there’s one thing I hope you’ve learned from this series, it’s that librarians are the Internet. We are Everywhere.

There’s ALA Think Tank, which has over 5000 members. It’s an interesting crowd and you’re welcome to try it. I’m part of it, but I make sure to direct any youth services questions to the following groups you’re welcome to join, since they tend to get lost at ALATT:

Blogs: Just start writing. Seriously. When I was starting out as a librarian, most of the blogs I read did some theory, some programs, but were mostly review blogs. Not being someone who felt she could actually review books, I decided to just read and take notes about it. Here’s my very first post. Point is, I really didn’t have a vision for it, and my blog actually ended up taking on a life of its own with my first Iron Fist management post, which continues to be actually relevant and useful to people. I decided to do more of that, and now I mostly post how-tos for programming and free downloads to help everyone out (Pinterest loved me before I even knew what it was) as well as help me keep a running record of what I’m doing and how it goes. The exceptions are my occasional Unsolicited Rant posts, which get the most views by far, because everyone likes to read a rant  Point is, you do you, write about what you’re thinking and what you’re doing, and invite others to do the same. Comment on other blogs that you enjoy.

To find blogs to follow, find a friend’s blog and just follow everyone they have on their blogroll, then follow your friend’s blogroll’s blogrolls (for those keeping score at home, that’s the second Xzibit meme reference this series). Or start following any blog featured in Cory’s Coolest Things posts. Or you can Google “youth services librarian blog.”

In conclusion, be honest: did you just scroll down to whichever social media tool interests you most in this moment and followed that advice? Good, because that’s what I was hoping.

Any other go-to tips for PLN beginners? Share in the comments!

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Sara Bryce blogs at Bryce Don’t Play and tweets @PLSanders. She should be everyone’s go-to resource for questions about gifs and beer.
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The PLN Conversation Continues with the Neatly Enumerated Advice of Anna Haase Krueger

I have presented pretty extensively at conferences during the past two years about using social media to develop your Personal Learning Network, or PLN, and these are the three things I would recommend as you get started:

1. Figure out your goals. Spend some time thinking about why you are doing this. Is it because you feel isolated and want professional friends, because you want more ideas and resources, a combination of those two, or something else entirely? Knowing why you are doing this will help you stick with it as you experiment to find what works for you.

2. Figure out your online identity. Are you going to be representing your library? Totally personal? Totally private? A combination? I personally decided that I wanted my social media presence to be something that potential employers could find, and went for using my full name. Whatever you decide is fine, just know that it can be harder to get to know people (especially meeting at conferences!) if you use a pseudonym or anonymized version of your name. I’ve been embarrassed several times by not knowing or recognizing someone in person who I totally “know” online.

3. Find what works for you. There is no one right way to have a PLN (Read that, for realz.). I started my PLN with an RSS reader and blogs, and that changed my life. Now I primarily rely on personal relationships via Twitter and email, but if I still just read blogs and that worked for me? Totally legit. Whatever works is the right way to do your PLN. Whatever makes you feel fulfilled and gives you what you need. One of my pet peeves is hating on social media formats that you don’t use. Just because I don’t personally find Facebook fulfilling doesn’t mean that it isn’t a TOTALLY AWESOME way for others to develop their PLN. I was very put off at ALA when I attended a session for a particular social media network and they spent a bunch of time bashing Twitter. Twitter works for me–it might not work for you, though, and THAT’S OK. So don’t be a hater. If you’re doing it, you’re doing it right.

I didn’t bring up all the presenting I’ve done just to brag, but so that I could share some  resources. This site, Making Social Media Work for YOU: Creating a Personal Learning Network was created to help people explore some of the options for getting started on a PLN, and it wouldn’t exist without these awesome librarians in my personal PLN: Sara Bryce, Sarah Wethern, and LeAnn Suchy. So go check it out, and find what works for you!

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Anna Haase Krueger blogs at Future Librarian Superhero and tweets @opinionsbyanna. Her ability to remember (and then link to, because she remembers it!) terrific online content is pretty gosh darn impressive and I, for one, benefit as a direct result. I’m also jealous of her glasses.

“I heard you like PLNs so here’s a PLN for your PLN.” – Julie Jurgens

I’m so glad Anne wrote her post first, because it’s made my job so much easier. Do everything she said.

Once you’ve found your people (youth librarians doing storytimes, for most of us), start seeking out librarians outside your specialty. Find other kinds of librarians (public, school, academic), teachers, innovators, leaders, customer service workers, authors, etc., and get a broad perspective on the wide variety of duties and experiences that librarianship entails. Engage people in your community, because you never know when an opportunity for collaboration will emerge.

I’d also add that, if at all possible, you should make your twitter public. Now this isn’t for everyone, and everyone has their own reasons for wanting locked accounts. If you lock yours because of stalking, harassment, or any other intensely personal reason, keep on keeping on. If yours is locked because you’re always bad mouthing your library, your coworkers, and the people you serve, well, then, quit it, because even with a locked account, you shouldn’t be saying anything on social media that you wouldn’t be okay with your boss or your boss’s boss overhearing.

But Julie! you cry. My boss and my job and my patrons are terrible and I need to vent!

Sure, I get this. I’ve had terrible jobs and terrible bosses. Yet while venting conversations are important–and can often help you solve problems–those are not the kind of conversations you should be having out in the open on social media. Every workplace, no matter how wonderful, will have issues from time to time. But often times twitter or a large and very public facebook group is not the place to discuss these problems. There are exceptions, of course, but generally, if you’re happily employed and would like to remain so, don’t air your grievances in public.

But I have a solution for you! Not the only solution, mind you, but a solution. Once you have your vast, public PLN in place, start finding and curating your smaller, more intimate PLN. Find people who you click with on a deeper level, who might be a few steps beyond you on their career path, people whose judgment you trust. Exchange email addresses with them, or create a private facebook or google group. Then, have those negative, tricky, thorny, venting conversations with them in those private spaces.

This is where you’ll vent, in gory and exacting detail, about how much your coworkers can annoy you, about how you’re convinced your director is embezzling money, about that one patron who drives you absolutely batty. And you’ll vent not just to be a dick, but because you know your PLN is going to have good advice about how to deal with your situation. They will let you know that your workplace is beyond dysfunctional, it’s abusive, and you need to start job hunting. They will let you know that stress is normal, but crying every afternoon in the bathroom is not. They will let you know that saying “no” to more projects is okay sometimes. And on and on.

Lastly, with both your inner and outer PLN, I’d suggest finding opportunities to take things offline and into the real world. Organize meet ups in your general area so people can socialize and put faces and names to twitter handles. Connect at conferences as much as possible. As great as connecting online is, getting to hang in real life is so much better, so try to get as much of that happening as you can. Even a google hangout can go a long way in helping strengthen connections.

In summation, I’ve never made a flannel board set. One time I laminated pictures of goats and stuck velcro on the back of them to tell “The Three Billy Goats Gruff.” It was pretty awesomely terrible.

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Julie Jurgens blogs at Hi Miss Julie! and tweets @himissjulie. I eagerly await the day she releases a full album of storytime staples. Maybe with some bonus tracks that are not storytime appropriate.

How to Steal Other People’s Lives without Really Trying: From Storytime Dads to Flannel Friday the Scandalous TL;DR of Anne Clark

Field 246 [Varying form of title]: If You Build It: How I Built My Personal Learning Network, by guest guerrilla Anne Clark

The year is 2007. I’ve just been promoted from circulation assistant to youth services paraprofessional. I’m half-way through library school. I mostly take classes online or drive to Lansing from Grand Rapids for class one day per week. Sometimes two days. The other students are nice but not overwhelmingly friendly. I carpool with two fellow students from Holland sometimes, and we’ve gotten to be friends, but neither works in youth services (by 2013, they both will have converted!). While I work in a big system, I’m the only youth services staff member at my branch and see the others about 3-4 times a year.

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I’ve started a blog as a class assignment. I’m chronicling my classes and storytimes to keep a record. No one really reads it but that’s fine. I leave a few comments on other blogs I’m reading and some of their writers start to read my blog too. It’s nice but I don’t really know these people and it’s all at kind of a distance.

Now it’s the end of December 2008. My brother-in-law, a Web developer, has been pressuring me to start an account at this new site, Twitter. I protest for a while, since I’ve already got a Facebook account and this Twitter thing has a LOT fewer people on it and fewer features. I mean, why bother? But I’m bored over the holidays and start an account.

In January of 2009, I start my first professional job as a librarian. Holy crap! There is so much to learn. I spend hours reading blogs and then notice that a lot of the people I’m reading have really active Twitter accounts. I start following them on Twitter. They all seem to know each other and have really wise and funny things to say. Eventually I spot my all-time librarian hero Melissa Depper on Twitter. I take a deep breath and tweet to @melissazd to tell her how much I like her blog. A few tweets here and there and a friendship begins.

Eventually other youth services librarians start Twitter accounts. We don’t really know each other but will favorite or re-tweet other people’s one liners, anecdotes from working with kids, and links to each other’s blog posts. It’s an incredibly supportive group of people.

When Mel Depper begins posting a “Flannel Friday” on her blog, I’m ridiculously excited.* I have just begun building a professional collection of props and flannel stories for my own use at work and was in need of ideas and patterns to emulate. A few months into the project, and without asking for permission (that’s how I roll), I posted my own “Flannel Friday” contribution. Mel was so kind about me ripping off borrowing her idea and left me a nice comment. Readers I didn’t even know I had did the same.

We decided to encourage some of the other librarians on Twitter to join us in creating an ongoing blog project. A couple people did. And then some more did. And more. We decided to promote this project on the listserv PubYAC. We got lots of readers from that.

I organized a page on my blog where I keep track of all the “round-ups” of Flannel Friday posts. Since I coordinated that archive, I was the natural contact person for the project and received emails regularly from people who wanted to be involved. I tried to help them out with advice on starting a blog, taking photos, and anything else they might want to try.

Meanwhile, I got married to a wonderful man I met at storytime (this is not a homewrecking situation FYI) and we decided to try and have a baby. When I found out I was pregnant, Melissa Depper was one of the first people to know. We decided to organize a system of coordinators who would take turns leading Flannel Friday so that I could concentrate on my new baby.

Meanwhile, some of the people who would be the new “Fairy Godmothers” were scheming to make my baby a beautiful felt busy book. I received it in the mail a few days before my due date in June of 2012. I was amazed and incredibly touched that a group of complete strangers (at this point I STILL had not met any of these women) would spend hours putting together such a heartfelt gift.

A few months after my daughter was born, my husband and I decided to take her with us to Chicago to visit some of his extended family. Since we would be there for a few days, I decided to contact some of the Flannel Friday crew who live in that area. Cate Levinson was one of them and so we met in February 2013 for Sunday brunch. We had a great time and became even better friends.

In April of last year, I presented with Anna Haase Krueger and Sara Bryce at the Michigan Spring Institute conference. I met both of them a few short hours before we gave a presentation together. It went really well and we received lots of positive feedback.

This month, my family and I returned to Chicago. I contacted Cate again to see if we could meet up. I wanted to see the renovation at her library. Julie Jurgens was able to come out to lunch with us (and my husband and daughter) and we chatted for a long time at a very busy Panera. Again, the conversation flowed naturally and never had an awkward pause because we knew enough about each other from reading blogs and tweets.

Basically, this is all a really long way of saying that I have met some of my best friends from my whole life through social media. I have found my people. They challenge me to try new skills and grow, they laugh with me. They sometimes laugh at me, but never in a mean way. They are nearly as fond of my adorable genius daughter as my own family is. And I’ve got the “likes” on my Facebook pictures to prove it.

I know a lot of people will think these are weird connections. We are taught that we should be wary of people we don’t know online. I’ve had good luck (with no Catfishes) so my experience has been that, yes, be cautious with your safety. I do keep my Twitter account “locked” so it’s not out there for just Anyone With an Internet Connection to read so I feel more comfortable sharing pictures of my daughter and our adventures as a family.

As far as my career goes, I am 100% positive that getting involved in social media has helped me be a much better librarian than I ever would have been. I have a much bigger knowledge base to draw from (hey, I have a friend that tried this service or program and it worked well. She said the drawbacks were X and Y) as well as people I can ask for advice on any topic (work-related or not) without fearing judgment. It’s like I have my own personal, invisible cheerleaders.

What’s really been fun as a younger librarian, is having people around my age, with similar life experiences to grow through my career with. Some of us are beginning to get jobs higher in our libraries and it’s awesome to be able to talk about the pros and cons of moving into management.

I’d strongly encourage anyone interested in developing a professional network to be active on social media, particularly on Twitter, which is fantastic for letting you jump into a conversation with ANYONE at ANY TIME. I once got a Twitter mention from Casper Van Dien. Yeah, I don’t know who he is either. You can just read what people have to say and at some point you will come across something you want to respond to even if it’s just to say “I totally agree.” And eventually you may be brave enough to tell someone “I totally disagree.”

* I’d never heard of flannel stories until a children’s programming class in graduate school when I was assigned to make one. I had no idea how to create one and none of the necessary materials but eventually rigged up a cardboard (yes, really!) and sandpaper (WHAT?) version of My Friend is Sad by Mo Willems. It only somewhat stuck to the flannel board when I presented my story, but my animated telling most have been amusing to the professor because I got full marks for the assignment. My methods have improved a little bit since then!

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Anne Clark blogs at so tomorrow and tweets @sotomorrow. She’s one of the original Flannel Friday Fairy Godmothers. Her daughter is pretty darn cute, and I’m being totally objective when I say that.
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