Things 6 and 7: Professional networking – better known, better connected, better equipped

This post was written for 23 Things for Professional Development, Thing 6: Online networks and Thing 7: Real-life networks.

Professional networking is all about building relationships with people, sharing information with them and helping each other.  I often find the initial connecting stage of networking daunting, particularly in a large room/online network full of people I don’t know, but it’s something I’m definitely getting better at.  Once I’ve got past that first stage though, I find networking really fun.  I love talking to people and finding out what they do, I really enjoy helping other people – that’s one of the main reasons I joined the profession – and having people I can turn to when I need help makes life much easier and less stressful.

On the cpd23 Thing 6 post Helen suggests all the advantages of online professional networking fall under the headings of becoming:

  1. Better known
  2. Better connected
  3. Better equipped

I like this way of thinking about networking and I think it applies to real-life networking as well as online networking.  If you want more information on the What, How, Who, Where, When and Why of networking I would recommend the recorded webinar on this blog post.  I’ll now go on to discuss some networks I already use and some I have investigated for things 6 and 7.

Colleagues

My workplace is where I do most of my real-life professional networking.  I work for a large library and get a chance to work alongside, or at least chat during tea breaks with, a fairly large number of library professionals at various stages in their careers and with various areas of expertise.  I also have a ready made network in the other Oxford University library trainees, who meet regularly for training sessions.

Twitter

Twitter is currently my main online networking tool.  As I said in my Thing 4 post, I find my twitter network really useful for keeping up to date with news and trends in the profession.  One of the best things about twitter as a professional network is that there are so many different people there – it’s not limited to one sector or one career stage like some of my other networks are.  Even though I’ve only been on twitter a few months I already have 99 followers on twitter (almost all library and information professionals), most of whom would probably never have heard of me if it weren’t for twitter, and I’ve had tweets retweeted so even more people will have seen my name in connection with something library-related.  Twitter has also helped me keep in contact with people who I’ve met at real-life networking events such as the CILIP New Professionals Day.

CILIP

CILIP, and other professional associations, have great potential as a source of networking opportunities.  So far the only one I’ve really taken advantage of was the New Professionals Day, but I’m planning to attend my first regional branch meeting on the 4th of July in Reading (on updates in copyright) and hope to be able to make it to more events in London once I’m studying there.  I really enjoyed the New Professionals Day not just because of what I learnt at the sessions, but also because I got to meet lots of other new library and information professionals.  Talking to other attendees between the sessions, at lunch and afterwards at the pub I got to find out more about where other people were in their career, what they do, where they were going and their opinions on the talks and workshops.  My only regret was not getting contact details for some of the interesting people I met.

Even though I’ve been a member of CILIP for about eight months I didn’t know about the existence CILIP communities, a collection of forums, blogs and people, until I started Thing 6.  It’s interesting to know it’s there, but looking through recent threads on the forums there weren’t any conversations I felt I immediately wanted to join in with and I seem to follow most of the blogs that I find interesting already.

LISNPN

LISNPN was the first online professional network I joined and it really made me feel part of something bigger.  I enjoyed finding out about other graduate trainees on the forum, which resulted in my first real-life networking event outside my workplace when I went to London to meet other trainees and LIS students.  I’ve also found the downloadable resources section with anonymous reviews of LIS degrees and how to guides for tasks such as using twitter, getting published and interviewing well (as the interviewee).

LinkedIn

The Oxford trainees had a session at the Oxford University Careers Service a couple of weeks ago which was amazingly useful and covered, among other things, LinkedIn.  Some of the top tips I came away with were:

  •  The headline, summary and your name are the bits that are searchable from a search engine, so make sure keywords are there. (The headline is the bit below your name, e.g. ‘Radcliffe Science Library Graduate Trainee at Bodleian Libraries’, and you can change it by going to Edit profile and clicking on the edit link next to your name)
  • Recommendations! You can get recommendations from anyone your connected with, which means you can basically have references from people you’ve worked with or for, but who aren’t your line manager.  I think this is brilliant, but it does have the rather large downside that you can only get recommendations from people who are on LinkedIn.
  • There are lots of sections you can add if you think they’re relevant, such as courses, projects and volunteer experience.  Find the link to add them just under the big grey box on the Edit profile page.
  • You can change your public profile url so that it’s your name rather than a string of numbers, for example mine is http://uk.linkedin.com/in/lizzieatkinson
  • A good LinkedIn profile can back up what you’ve put on a job application.  According to a 2011 US survey by Reppler 48% of hirers use LinkedIn to screen candidates and although (I strongly hope) you won’t be rejected for not having a LinkedIn profile, 68% of hirers had hired someone because of what they saw on a social networking site (not necessarily LinkedIn).  I’ve no idea what those stats would be like for library and information jobs in the UK, but if it might help me get a job it sounds like a good idea.

I came away from the session feeling very positive about LinkedIn and determined to vamp up my rather bare and neglected LinkedIn profile.  I wanted to include details about all the jobs I’ve had and all the volunteering I’ve done as they’ve all developed skills that would be useful for jobs I might want to apply for and I didn’t want to miss anything out.  Then I sat down and had a bit of a rethink.  I’m fairly open and happy for people to find me online, but I felt like I was putting my life history out there online and wasn’t really comfortable with that.  So, for now, I’ve stuck to my library work experience, with a description of my current post, and my degree with a bit of an explanation of what it was because the title doesn’t make it obvious, the projects I did and a list of the societies I was on the committee for and some of the outreach volunteering I did.

LIKE

LIKE is the London Information & Knowledge Exchange.  I’ve not been to any of their events before but had heard of them and some of their meetings sound really interesting.  I’m hoping to make it to some of their meetings once I’m studying in London.

Organise your own event

Finally, if you think it would be good if there was an event to share ideas about a particular topic or for a particular group of people to meet then make it happen.  It might involve a lot of work or it might not.  I organised a cpd23 meet up in Oxford last week.  All I had to do was suggest a time and place via this blog and twitter and I got to meet some interesting library and information professionals who I’d not met before (as well as some who I had).

Into the web 2.0 jungle

Over the past month I’ve started using a number of web 2.0 technologies as tools professional development and networking.  They have varied in ease of use and how useful I have found them, though I can’t say I am using any to their full potential yet.  Here is a summary of my findings of this journey into the web 2.0 jungle (at times it has definitely felt like a jungle).

LIS New Professionals Network (LISNPN)

This was the quickest and easiest tool to set up.  The forums are great for getting information and connecting people, I’ve found the how-to-guides (in the downloadable resources section) extremely useful and it was through LISNPN that I found myself in London last Monday evening meeting up with other graduate trainees and library school students.  It was a brilliant evening and one that really made me really feel I am part of a community.  So a big thumbs up to LISNPN!

LinkedIn

I set up a LinkedIn account back in (I think) September, but wasn’t really sure about it and had very little information on there and no connections.  An invitation from another trainee to connect on LinkedIn prompted me to have another go with LinkedIn.  I’ve added some more information, made a few connections and joined a couple of groups, but it’s not something I’ve managed to integrate into my routine and I’m not using it well yet.  Definitely one to come back to, but I’ll probably put it on hold until I feel I’ve settled in to blogging and twitter.  I think I’ve probably tried to start too many things at once and would be better focussing on fewer things for now.

Twitter

I started using twitter because I wanted to participate in #uklibchat and initially I thought that might be all I’d use twitter for.  I’ve really enjoyed the two #uklibchats I’ve attended and have got some useful information from them.  However, the main use I have got out of twitter has ended up being the new source of information opened up to me through the frequent tweets of links to news items and blog posts.  So twitter has ended up being more of a success than I expected, though I feel I could still be getting more out of it if I used it more for its original purpose – conversation.

Getting started with twitter took more time than LISNPN, but not as long as I thought it might before I started.  An hour or so setting up the account, reading the twitter help pages and playing around searching for people and hashtags, and experimentally following a couple of interesting looking organisations and I was away.

Blogging

Blogging, as expected, has been by far the most time consuming exercise.  Blogging for the Library Day in the Life project this week on the Oxford Libraries trainees’ blog has been particularly intensive.  I’m trying to blog both on this blog and the trainees’ blog because I see the two blogs as having very different main purposes:

  • I use the Oxford Libraries trainee’s blog to inform people who are interested about my traineeship – what I’m doing and what I’m learning through what I’m doing.
  • I use this blog to reflect on what I’m doing and thinking about and as somewhere for me to write down my thoughts.  I’d like other people to read it and find it interesting, but that’s really a bonus.

So far I’m struggling to get as many posts written as I’d like.  I’ve now got several half written posts but they all need more research or investigation to be ready to post and I’m not managing to find enough time for that at the moment.  This is probably another consequence of taking on too many new things at once on top of a full time job and my ongoing efforts to learn more about the profession I’m entering via more traditional methods (CILIP Update, journal articles and books).  Hopefully I’ll get quicker at the writing stage at least with practice.

Facebook

I have made the decision to keep facebook as my personal social networking space and not using it in a professional capacity.  Although web 2.0 tools now blur the divide our between professional and personal lives, I still want to keep some distinction between the two.  Though saying that, I have always been careful to make sure there is nothing on my facebook profile I wouldn’t be happy with a (potential) employer or colleague seeing.  As much as I try to keep on top of my privacy settings I don’t feel that I can trust facebook to keep private what I want private.

So, in conclusion, I’m glad I made the leap and initiated my library self into the web 2.0 world.  I’m thoroughly enjoying the experience and finding value in these tools.  However, I do sometimes feel a little like I’m drowning in everything and it may have been better to start one new thing at a time.  On the other hand, everything is so interconnected now maybe doing several things at once is useful?