It fascinates me that studying to be a librarian involves so much blogging, social media awareness and open-source software expertise. What happens if you’re not that conversant with technology?I have to count myself in that category. After all, most of the software I’ve been introduced to in the last 3 months have been a bolt from the blue. MS Office and Open Office? No problem. Facebook? Used it for fun. Twitter? Just followed a few things. Piazza? Omeka? Never even heard of them.
Well, this is where the Library and Information Science skills have to develop. After all learning how to learn is a key skill we all need. Learning how to teach is another one. And one way to achieve both of these things is to start building a Personal Learning Network (PLN) which will give you the support and advice you need.
So what exactly is a PLN? It is a network (physical, online or better yet both) which puts you in touch with people who have knowledge and expertise you can benefit from. Building your PLN is not just a one-way street though. As much as you benefit from the help and expertise of others, you need to give back too. You need to build your own e-presence in a credible and professional way ensuring that your virtual footprint isn’t just an ego-trip but that it involves introspection and personal reflection on your own development.
Where do you start? That depends on where you’re coming from. Probably the simplest way for most people is to begin with social media; Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn etc This allows you to observe or engage with people who are writing, webcasting or podcasting about topics of interest to you. It also allows you to put your opinions/information/advice online for others to view and interact with.
The use of technology is one of the strongest themes of the Masters in Library and Information Studies (MLIS) course here in UCD. In fact, judging by most of the journal articles, books, blogs and other reference material we are using, one might be forgiven for thinking that the course was solely dedicated to the online environment. However, this focus was definitely one of the key selling points of the course for me. The reality is that we live in a fast-changing world. Being comfortable with the new technologies which are out there will be key for anyone hoping to thrive in it.
Of course, a little hand-holding never hurt anyone and for the less tech-savvy among us, it’s great to be able to rely on fellow students who are willing to share their expertise and time. It says a lot about someone when they are willing to take the time to help a colleague who is confused or just in need of a little nudge in the right direction. Sometimes, this help comes from explaining terminology or theory, sometimes from posting a useful link. In any event it shows that they have one of, what I would consider, the key qualities for an information professional – a belief that information should be shared. I’m very fortunate to have so many of them on the course with me.
This is not always the case. When I worked in the private sector (not in a library admittedly), information was treated like gold – hoarded, coveted and rarel,y if ever, shared unless there was something to be gained. Unfortunately the promotion and reward systems in place supported this behaviour, recognising individual endeavour rather than prioritising teamwork and collaboration.
However, the focus at the School of Information and Library Studies (SILS) is definitely on teamwork. So far we have had a number of group work projects across our modules, all of which help develop our collaborative and teamwork skills – key attributes in any profession, not just library science. Of course, it’s not all fun and games. In any team, there will be times when people butt heads, team members don’t pull their weight or feelings get hurt because a contribution has been edited, amended or ignored. It’s unpleasant, it’s unfortunate, but it happens. So out of that comes what I consider another key competency – the ability to work professionally. The Library and Information Studies community is very small. The person who is driving you mad in group today might be your co-worker (or your boss!) in a few years time. So, you need to develop a good thick skin and a very bad memory (the faster you can forget what bothered you about them, the easier it will be to work with them again).
Getting back to Personal Learning Networks and key skills for an information professional, it’s important to remember that long before all the wonderful technology we now have, there was a really fantastic network already available to people – actual physical people! The Library Association of Ireland (LAI) and many other organisations offer open days, training seminars and networking events to allow information professionals network. Attending these gives access not only to informative presentations, but also frequently offers the chance to meet and greet key influencers and potential advisors. I know my membership fees will be heading to the LAI over the coming days.
So, that’s all my accumulated wisdom for the week. No doubt I’ll learn lots more as the course progresses and I’ll be sharing with you as I do. However, right now my brain is overloaded with the volume of new software I have to engage with, the readings still to do and the classes yet to come for the week. So I’m going to finish up my camomile tea and call it a night. See you next week!