"Enhancing ur work": Developing your Personal Learning Network

By Michael Stephens |

Last week, I visited Rutgers University's School of Communication and Information to give the 2009 fall lecture for the Beta Phi Mu, International Library and Information Studies Honor Society, Omicron Chapter. The talk centered around my model of "The Hyperlinked Library."

Based on our preliminary findings from the Australian CAVAL research project, “Measuring the Value and Effect of Learning 2.0 Programs in Libraries”, I’ve incorporated some new sections to my talks and to the model itself. One benefit of the program that has been mentioned again again in survey data and in focus groups is that Learning 2.0 programs often lead library staff to the process of augmenting their professional development with online tools like reading and writing on blogs or using an RSS reader to monitor news and commentary.

The survey question “What changes have you made to your personal professional practice because of the program?” yielded many statements focused on RSS, blogs and participation in a community, including this one:

“I now use RSS feeds all the time. I use Google documents for things that I share amongst others in my profession and I blog about library matters fortnightly.”

To me, this speaks to the importance of developing one’s Personal Learning Network (PLN) and using online communication and sharing tools to extend that network as far and as wide as possible. A PLN can include connections to people that we know in the profession as well as people at a distance that might share similar goals. We might also connect to those who we don’t always agree with to engage in open debate and provide an added dimension of thought. Take a look at David Warlick’s presentation at Slideshare on the topic for a practical guide to PLNs.

To illustrate the point of the talk, I posed a question to part of my own PLN - my Twitter followers:

“Hey Biblio-Twitterverse - what advice would you give the Rutgers library students I'm talking to this evening?”

In the few hours before the talk some wonderful responses came in. Many from students of mine but also from the larger crowd. They included:

Michelle in Australia: “Be open to new ideas, new technologies, new ways of doing things, but remember ultimately who its for - your users” 

Carrie in Illinois: “I would make sure to do a practicum. The experience & connections I made were invaluable.”

Denise in Illinois: “Tell them that working the circulation desk will be the best training for the ref desk they can get.”

Ameet in Georgia: “analyze user experience in your personal world and apply to professional/library realm”

Aaron in Oregon: “for students: don't assume anything about what a library can do. watch people and solve their problems.”

Warren in Australia (my co-investigator on the CAVAL Project): “student advice: find your work-related passion and do whatever it takes to keep it alive. Passionless work is soul destroying”

And a favorite of mine from Rebecca in Canada:“be curious; when u r working understand the broad context in which ur work is occuring & the impact of ur work; laugh, yep, laff” 

I used these answers in the slides, which created some good conversation and some excitement from the crowd. Suddenly, it wasn’t just 100 people in a room at Rutgers, but a broader semi-syncronous meetup of folks from all a wide variety of locales. It illustrated the fact that ongoing learning is as easy as spending some time online once a day or once a week, connecting, and sharing with others in the profession. I was especially fond of Rebecca’s entry because she wrote it in Twitter shorthand. Not only was she speaking the language, she was also teaching a bit too--use abbreviations to deliver more bang for your 140 character buck.

I had a great time at Rutgers--speaking with library students fires me up like nothing else these days. I have high hopes for our future when I meet bright, up-and-coming professionals like the folks I met that night. What other advice would you give to them? And how have you developed your PLN lately?

The Rutgers slides are here:



I’m still gathering thoughts about the Social media Predictions for 2010. Please share them here for a future post: