Commenting is free…so why don’t I do it more often?

Despite being fairly active on various social networks I have to confess that I’m quite selfish when it comes to blogging and Tweeting. Despite following about 260 people on Twitter and 10-15 blogs by librarians via Google Reader I write my own, original stuff far more than I comment on the content of others.

As a Librarian with a Life, one of the timestretched (no, it’s not a real word but it is a Divine Comedy song and if it’s good enough for Neil Hannon…), it strikes me that I’m creating a lot of work for myself here. There are a number of blog posts that discuss how to make the most of Twitter but one that really struck a chord with me was this by The Wikiman. It advocates the importance of regarding Twitter as a conversation tool rather than just punting a random thought out into cyberspace and hoping that someone, somewhere will see it.

This makes sense. Why spend ages wracking my brain for interesting/witty/wise/controversial things to write about when I can simply read something that someone else has written (which I do anyway) and spend an extra minute or two writing a comment? I could then pat myself on the back for participating in a conversation, make someone else feel valuable and popular and put it in my Revalidation portfolio. Job done.

So why don’t I comment more often? The first excuse reason is that on Twitter it’s hard to fit what you want to say in 140 characters and you don’t want to clog up someone’s stream with a six-part diatribe on something you feel passionate on. Google Reader is brilliant but I do find myself skimming much of the content, thinking ‘Ooh, that’s interesting’ and then switching off the laptop to watch The X-Factor. It makes me a consumer of content, rather than a participator in it.

There’s also the fear factor to consider. What if I say something and it’s the comment equivalent of making a joke at a dinner party that no-one laughs at? Or worse, what if everyone thinks I’m a pathetic simpleton? On occasion, I find myself disagreeing with something that I read and have a long discussion with the angel on my right shoulder and the devil on my left as to whether I should be nice and leave well alone or nasty and instigate a virtual plate-hurling argument. The upshot of this is that I generally manage to talk myself out of writing anything at all.

There are undoubted benefits for getting involved and engaging with the conversation though. I started LWL six weeks ago and I’ve already recruited a co-editor and ‘met’ a number of people through Twitter that I would like to meet up and have a drink (or three) with in real life. My follower count on Twitter is now far higher than my Tweets deserve. I almost got involved in a campaign…then stopped myself when I realised that I couldn’t add anything to it. I feel more engaged professionally. I don’t feel like I’m wandering down the high street in my pyjamas, shouting random thoughts on librarianship to passers-by any more.

I’m making a conscious effort to make the leap and participate and I’m now doing this reasonably effectively on Twitter. Most of the conversations I get involved with aren’t actually about librarianship – recent subjects have included: winter boots, the Labour leadership contest (the lesson here? Don’t get involved in political Tweeting after a stomach bug), whether Phileas Fogg was a real person or not (don’t ask), the X Factor (of course) and the merits of dancing librarians (must never, ever post links to those You Tube Videos). It’s a step in the right direction though.

I need to get better at commenting on blog posts. I read so many interesting things and I really need to stop absorbing them mindlessly and start using them as a catalyst for my own thoughts. I need to put aside the sneaking suspicion that everything I say is stupid and instead focus on the fact that bloggers like receiving comments on their posts…as long as they’re positive and/or constructive. I’ll try to keep the hissy-fits to a minimum.

Guest post #6: Practical approaches to CPD

The latest guest post come from Frances Machell @hybridcollector and I’m very pleased to announce that I’ve recruited her as co-editor of Librarians with Lives, which means there will now be two of us asking for content on Twitter! Please join me in welcoming her to LwL. She wrote her own introduction to this piece and will be adding her own, longer contribution to the About section of LwL in due course:

I currently work for a university in the wonderfully titled post of “Hybrid Collections Coordinator”. Although it sounds like my job should involve cross-breeding butterflies, I actually spend most of my time working in e-resource management/content development/acquisitions areas. I’ve worked most of my library career so far in universities, both on the content and subject support side, and sometimes get deeply irritated by library world as only someone who loves it could do.

Frances’ post is a great, down-to earth look at CPD which sums up everything that LwL is about:

I’ll start with a confession. I used to be one of those super enthusiastic new professionals, the kind of person who stayed late at work doing my Chartership and who volunteered as a Candidate Support Officer. These days… well, I still enjoy my job (most of the time) and still feel that enthusiasm (when not banging my head against the wall) but I’m also a pretty typical time-poor, mid-career, middle management librarian whose “Professional Involvement” section of the CV is maybe starting to look a little bit dated.

And so time for a few salutary reminders – for myself and for the other Librarians with Lives out there.

Continuing Professional Development is not the same thing as going on courses. It’s also not the same thing as:

  • Going to many many conferences
  • Posting loads on Twitter and having hundreds of followers
  • Joining lots of local committees
  • In fact, you can pretty much insert whatever professional activity you feel guilty for not doing here, whether it’s reading the Gazette or keeping a blog or whatever.

Don’t get me wrong, all these things can be fun, motivating, and certainly a good way to see and be seen, but they’re not an automatic pass to being a good professional. The biggest problem has never been a shortage of information: it’s the application that’s the problem (how many times have I come back from a conference or course ready put the world to rights, only to be swamped by the everyday necessities?). It’s an old CSO cliche, but it’s not what you’ve done or read that matters, it’s what you learned and changed as a result.

So don’t worry about it. You don’t have to be an expert on all aspects of Library World. If time is short, focus on the useful stuff. In my area (e-resources/digital content/acquisitions), there’s maybe two or three mailing lists where most of the useful conversations happen, one really good conference, a couple of blogs which are worth reading and an awful lot of material out there on the Internet which can be skimmed or just plain ignored. And as for all those long reports – remember, executive summaries are there for a reason…

However I do honestly believe in true CPD. Which for me is about the serious question of: how can I be good at my job? Faced with this project/this team/this deadline/this set of limitations, how can I do my job better both as a librarian and, just as importantly, as a manager. And it’s precisely when I’m time-poor, that it becomes easiest to fall back on old habits of working, not even by conscious choice but simply out of pressure to get a job done.

That’s why I’d say that there’s one area of professional involvement (with a lower case p and a lower case i) that’s always worth investing time in: namely building up a strong, relevant network of people you can talk to. Like-minded individuals you can bounce ideas off, compare plans with, draw on for inspiration and outright copy from. Colleagues, ex-colleagues, local librarians doing similar jobs or just old mates from library school days, I’ve had long and useful discussions with all of them, and not just because I love a good gossip either.

So do I still think I’m not doing enough CPD? Maybe not, as long as I can still say “some of my best friends are librarians… and good ones at that”.*

* And yes, I’ve just written in praise of professional networks without talking about social networking. That’s a whole subject in its own right…

Guest post #3: The Social Networking beast upon my back

The weeks’ guest post comes from…well..he wrote his own blurb so here it is:

Gaz J Johnson (aka @llordllama) blogs over here  and here. In between gardening, writing, and far too much computer gaming he also makes (somewhat) entertaining videos with puppets.  He also fits some work as a library manager around this somehow.

I have a little story to about Gaz (I see Gaz, I desperately want to add and extra z and the surname Topp but that would tell you far too much about my childhood) but I’ll leave that to the end of the post. Here’s his excellent piece on professional development and Social Networking:

Professional development’s a tricky little beast.  Today if you turn around and ask your manager what it’s all about chances are they’ll tell you it’s about making you better at what you do.  Then they’ll blink, look sideways, and remember that there was something in your most recent appraisal about “wider professional engagement”.

 There used to be that bit in my appraisals too way back in the late 90s when I was starting out as a professional librarian; after a successful stint as a sales manager, drug researcher and late night telephone operator (don’t ask!).  These days I almost have to tone down what I’m doing with the wider librarian environment and try and make sure there’s something about the day to day job.   Don’t get me wrong, I’m fascinated by the countless aspects of my job that I have to learn more about each day (did someone say “Copyright”? Lordy I know someone will have!) but for me what’s got me stimulated and keeps me coming back for more in being able to reach out and touch someone.

 No wait, come back, not like that!  No matter what you’ve heard about me and the weasel.

 What I mean is being able to connect with people.  In the old days (well early 2000s) this was at conferences.  Little secret, I’m really a shy retiring flower who finds going to conferences a bit of a trauma – having to make new friends, all that unknown elements of the sessions, worrying that no one will turn up to hear me talk.

But what do I love when I’m on the motorway hammering back to Leicestershire at exactly  the speed limit?  Why it’s all the new friends I’ve made, the new things I’ve learned and the fact that I had a packed room to my talk and no one laughed.  Well at least not at the wrong bits.  For me this kind of contact reminds me of the fabulous people who make this profession such a delight to work within.

But conferences and events cost time and money, something organisations are often loathed to give in large quantity.  How can the busy professional (and professional manager in my case these days) stay on top of everything that’s going on?  Easy answer is you can’t, but since I’ve got a voracious apatite for learning new things I’m not going to accept that.  Sure I could read the literature (I do, it’s what gets me to sleep at night).  Problem is I have a digital native wired brain with the attention span of gnat; which is probably why the bit sized chuckettes that my social networking feed (largely Twitter, but blogs and Facebook all play a part too) delivers to me are consumed with gusto.  I love that by the time someone in the office gets around to recommending a new report, I’ve read it about three weeks ago thanks to some bright spark suggesting it to me.  And once in a while I get to repay the community by pushing a new report that’s caught my eye too.

So does social networking give me everything a conference would?  Not quite – I need those too, but in between these joyous blends of learning and socialising, I’ve got social networking to tantalise me with nuggets of news, isotopes of information and wedges of wisdom.  Keeps me fresh, keeps me current and it hardly takes any time at all.

Well unless you start replying to people….

My @llordllama story, which kind-of relates to networking online and at conferences, goes like this:

If you were at Umbrella 2009 you’ll remember that there was a conference dinner at RAF Hendon. There was also alcohol. There was also karaoke. I partook in the first two. I did not partake in the third – if they’d had Tainted Love it would have been a different story…

I digress. I was sitting with a few people enduring  enjoying the karaoke and occasionally checking the Umbrella Twitter feeds to see what everyone else was up to when I noticed quite a few posts from a Tweeter that called himself @llordllama – most were about the conference itself but as the evening progressed he did a commentary on the entertainment.

I have what can best be described as a heightened sense of moral injustice which magnifies ten-fold when I’ve had a drink. Or six. My indignance at @llordllama increased with every Tweet he posted. I turned to one of my friends and demanded “WHO IS THIS LLORDLLAMA PERSON?” (swearing removed to preserve professionalism). She pointed out a guy sitting across the room from us on his own and said that he was well-known  in the Library world, very well-respected, etc., so I showed her his Tweets.

I can’t quite recall what was said next but, emboldened by wine and vodka I decided that I should go and have a ‘chat’ with him. I felt (probably heavily influenced by my slightly iniebriated state) that some of his Tweets had crossed the line and that I should ‘have a word’. I got up and started to move towards him when @michaelstead sat down next to him….and I had a moment of clarity. I went back to my seat and did some Muttley style growling under my breath. I then wrote @llordllama off as an idiot and he avoided getting asked to ‘discuss’ his Tweets ‘outside’ with me (I suspect I may have wanted to challenge him to a fight and I actually hate physical violence), which was probably for the best all-round really.

Of course, I now know that he’s one of the good guys but it just shows how Twitter can create a false impression of someone. I judged him based on some late-night Tweets at a conference and I very nearly made a fool of myself by challenging him about his behaviour whilst under the influence. I guess this is a lighthearted cautionary tale of when Social Networking AND networking at conferences goes awry.

No Librarians were harmed in the retelling of this story…

Guest post #2: fitting CPD into a busy life – some tips

This  post is by Janet Clapton, Senior Information Specialist at the Social Care Institute for Excellence (SCIE) and actually someone I know in real life! She works in the same building as me (albeit for a different organisation) and we have lunch together regularly. At our last lunch we discussed ways in which I could avoid becoming professionally senile  – a very real fear of mine. The discussion that we had led (in a rather roundabout way) to the creation of LwL – so she has a lot to answer for!

“We now have many and varied opportunities to keep up to date, but so little time. I’m convinced the answer is in efficient and tailored professional current awareness, and feeling enough benefits to persevere.

The approach has to work for you – for me, this meant carefully chosen e-alerts (who can resist reading an email?), culls of subscriptions I didn’t read (no guilt!), converting feeds from other sources (such Linked In groups, e.g. Commercial Legal and Scientific Information Group) and media (such as Twitter, e.g. @LISResearch), using tools such as Feed my Inbox and Tweetdeck. I don’t access my RSS feed reader very often, however when I do I can search within it for topics of research interest. Reading hard copies of professional literature sometimes fits into commuting time (when not sleeping).

Going to events has social benefits as well as finding out what’s going on and adding to your network. If activities are a burden, you’re not going to keep them up whereas tangible benefit from being well informed makes extra effort seem worthwhile”.

Janet isn’t on Twitter but she is on Linked In, although she describes herself as ‘not an enthusiastic user’. Her recent publications are:

Clapton, J. (2010) Choosing databases for social care topics. Poster at Health Libraries Group Conference, Salford, July 19-20 2010. (Soon to be uploaded at http://www.cilip.org.uk/get-involved/special-interest-groups/health/events/conferences/pages/conference-2010.aspx#posters )

Clapton, J. (2010). Bibliographic databases for social care searching. Report 34. SCIE: London. http://www.scie.org.uk/publications/reports/report34.asp

Clapton, J. (2010). Library and information science practitioners writing for publication: motivations, barriers and supports. Library and Information Research 34 (106)
http://www.lirg.org.uk/lir/ojs/index.php/lir/article/view/217/287

Clapton, J. (2009). Establishing the context for your research project. Library and Information Research 33(104), http://www.lirg.org.uk/lir/ojs/index.php/lir/article/view/154

CPD for the CBA

Ok, so the CBA isn’t stricty true. Maybe CPD for the timestretched is more accurate?

One of the things I’d really like to do on this blog in share ideas and tips for doing quick, easy and cheap (preferably free) CPD activities.

Using Twitter is a no-brainer. Making friends with CPD-obsessed peers and colleagues so that you can steal borrow their notes from courses and conferences is another. It’s the equivalent of copying their homework. Following blogs (and having a good blog reader) is another must because you can dip in and out.

What else can I do? What else do you do to keep up your CPD?