To disconnect is to reconnect

In the few weeks leading up to a holiday, and now a couple of weeks after, I’ve been a bit pre-occupied and noticeably absent here. I learnt a lot while away on holiday, much more than I had expected. I trekked to a remote, private island in the Solomons – Papatura Island. A world away and disconnected from everything. Not even Twitter could reach me. My mum replied to my mere three text messages sent via satellite phone. No TV, no radio. And all this just a three hour flight from Brisbane to Honiara, an hour’s flight in a small turbo prop landing on a spit of grass where boats floated awaiting to take us to the retreat.

Sound crazy? Could you do nearly two weeks without internet?

Who knew disconnection could be bliss?

Constantly connected and filled with ‘busyness’ I realised wasn’t good for me. In fact, the more I was connected, the more the connection hindered my self-esteem, confidence and eventually feeling ‘stuck’ (and I’ve felt this way for a long while now). Disconnected from everything was confronting at first, sobering second and then eventually liberating.

This (forced) disconnection taught me of its importance. Actually, disconnecting led to feeling more connected – mind, body, emotions and friends through conversation. I was reminded of how great doing nothing feels; to talk with no real purpose other than to laugh, joke and have a great time. Without an ‘audience’, feeling like I should be doing something this way or that and the any number of right ways, I was free to be me. I let go all judgment from media and criticism internally. Being disconnected and having ‘nothing’ mornings or afternoons were some of the most productive times for ideas and learning.

This has me thinking about the importance of having ‘nothing’ times and allowing the mind to wander a little. As a hyper connected community of passionate professionals, us info pros are at risk of losing the joy and comfort of just doing nothing. We’re very involved in our work. Interests, professional development activities, commitments are not limited to one ‘container’ or workIng hours. This is one of the strengths of this profession and it’s professionals, but it can be our downfall if we don’t fully process ideas and knowledge in order to make meaningful connections within our collective body of knowledge and evolve practices and service delivery. Taking in, making sense and learning about new things within the profession can take time to mull over or for new ideas to brew.

What I learnt being disconnected is that it’s okay to have these times and we need to give ourselves permission. Yes, things move quickly and there is always something to do, check, write, plan. But I’m talking about stepping off the hamster wheel for just a few hours, put aside the ‘to do’ list and allow yourself (and the mind) to wander and gravitate to what you really feel like doing at that particular time. If that’s to stare aimlessly at the ceiling while laying in bed, do it. If that’s to have another pot of tea and enjoy the view from your place, do it.

Here are a few things that made my ‘nothing’ sessions productive (yes, productive!):

  1. No access to the internet or a phone anywhere near you. I mean it!
  2. No laptop. Actually, no technology of any sort.
  3. Have a notebook and pen handy to record or explore any thoughts and ideas that come to you. This is so you can remember them later.
  4. If you write, only do it when you feel the need. No ‘should-ing’ all over yourself!
  5. Get comfy – a chair, bed, whatever.

My best ‘nothing’ session was when I set myself up with a magazine, a book and a pile of notebooks at the ready. I read my magazine, had an idea, wrote it down, returned to my magazine. Looked out over the bay, dozed, picked up my book. Later that day, I had a nap (guilt free), did a bit of yoga, picked up my camera and started taking pics of the sunset.

Sunset over the jetty on Papatura Island, Solomon Islands.

Sunset over the jetty on Papatura Island, Solomon Islands.

The key here is to plan nothing but have a few things on hand you could gravitate towards. This could be a book, some knitting, etc. In this ‘nothing’ session, the aim is to be more present by effectively ‘listening’ and reacting ‘as it happens’. This is particularly useful when you’ve been going in circles about something and need some clarity. Some answers and ideas can’t be rushed.

A ‘nothing’ morning or afternoon is about reducing the mind clutter getting in the way of those ‘ta-dah’ moments. So give yourself permission and enjoy!

Adopting a PLN: where are you at?

Further to my last blog post about the concept of a Personal Learning Network (PLN), I thought I’d look at the stages through which we tend to go through in adopting a PLN to be part of our ongoing learning and development. Stages of PLN adoption by Jeff Utecht on “The Thinking Stick” provides a resonating model particularly for library and information practitioners and basis for reflecting where we might be directing our professional development energies.

Where are you in adopting an PLN? CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 by Jutecht via Flickr

Where are you in adopting an PLN?
CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 by Jutecht via Flickr

You can find a more detailed (and perhaps less comical) explanation of this model with an earlier post I wrote as part of my PLN research project. But here, I’ll walk you through each stage as I’ve experienced them:

Immersion

  • oooh! Twitter!….oh wow! There’s so much cool stuff here!
  • oh, hello! Tweet up! I guess we’re friends now, right?
  • oh no! Wait! I haven’t seen Twitter in over two hours! What have I missed?! *frantic Twitter feed loading proceeds while completely ignoring boyfriend at dinner*
  • Hey? What? I don’t know this. I NEED TO KNOW MORE!
  • oh dear, I’m a hopeless information professional. I don’t know much at all.

Evaluation

  • still ignoring boyfriend at dinner time….proceed to retreat to Twittersphere to soak up more information and hang with my PLN peeps, see what they’re up to – reading, tweeting, writing. Nothing else exists right now.
  • meet new people at events….must follow on Twitter
  • hey, that’s an interesting blog….I’ll follow that too.
  • okay, so who follows me? who do I converse with? who is awesome at passing on information?
  • madly try to keep up with self-imposed blogging schedule….must finish….one more….right now (even though it’s 8pm on a Sunday night)

Know it all

  • cool! I know stuff about this…and that, and little here and there. There’s too much to know!
  • how on Earth am I to put all this knowledge together in my head so it makes sense?!
  • still lots of cool stuff to know and do in the profession – spoilt for choice!
  • I LOVE IT ALL! And I won’t be an awesome information professional if I don’t know ALL THIS STUFF.
  • Wake up. Twitter. Get to work. Twitter. More Twitter. Looking through Google Reader. Comment here. Twitter with a side of lunch. Draft blog post. Twitter.

Perspective (or intervention)

  • geez! just leave it for a day! *self-imposed Twitter-free Saturday*
  • hey, this ain’t so bad. hi, boyfriend!
  • there’s so much to learn in my new job! oh wow! the experienced professionals around me, and just a chair glide away!
  • hey yo PLN peeps! what’s doing?
  • progressively coming to realise that the ‘need to know’ stuff will be circulated time and time again. not missing too much if I spend some time away from it all.

Balance

  • currently moving into this phase – Twitter? I’ll catch up tomorrow. Today’s Sunday
  • interested in this and that and only these few things to keep my development focused
  • realising I can’t know everything all at once. need to integrate what I know with experience and practicing it
  • re-connecting with PLN after Masters degree and contributing where I can – I hope that’s cool with everyone
  • know more about myself and my needs as a professional and where I can reasonably dedicate time to professional involvement (and not at the expense of other roles I play in my life)

It has become easy to feel overwhelmed with the information available and the generosity of others’ support within the library and information practice community. As a newbie to the profession, I wanted to know everyone and all the ‘cool kids’ from which I could learn the most (and still do).  The difference between then and now is a journey of discovering the kind of information professional I’d like to become, understanding my career development needs and striving to attain a balance between the info pro me and all the other ‘me’s. Knowing when and where to direct energies to professional development activities, including participating in a PLN, can be assisted with a personal professional development plan. Learning heaps while in a new role? Don’t stress if you’re not checking Twitter as frequently or blogging so often. A personal professional development plan will identify where you’re learning is happening right now.

The trick I’ve found with professional development and in particular, progressing through the stages of PLN adoption is to be okay with where the energies are directed. Set priorities and keep them as reminders near your workstation or study area. It took me a while to realise I can’t do all the things at the same time. Nor will I be an awesome info pro straight off the bat. Striking a balance with participating in a PLN and contributing to the profession is necessary to prevent feeling overwhelmed by what becoming info pro is all about. There is enormous respect for each other within the library and information practice community making the PLN a wonderful experience (and I thank you all for this).

Let go. Roll with it. Be okay with where you’re at. Don’t stress. ‘Tis all good. (*repeat to myself*)

Reflecting on the PLN concept: what is it?

It’s been some time since I last put pen to paper (so to speak) about the concept of a personal learning network (PLN). I came across the term about three years ago when it was just starting to gain momentum and earn ‘buzzword’ status. I thought it might be time to revisit my thoughts to see if anything has changed.

Why was I writing about personal learning networks three years ago? I was in my second year of the LIS Masters course when I started to venture more into the Twittersphere. I was a newbie librarian, dipping the toes in for the first time. I was (and still am) motivated to learn everything I possibly could, and so Twitter fast became my ‘go to’ platform to access information relevant to the information profession and where I made my first online connections with others in the community. A research project, which I did with some guidance and encouragement, looking into how a personal learning network develops for a newbie was actually one of the reasons for starting this blog. During this research project I documented my experience in establishing and building a personal learning network and presented my learning at the 5th New Librarians’ Symposium in September 2011. If you’re super keen, you can read these blog posts under the ‘PLN Project’ category.

At the time of the research project I did a literature review and since then have presented on the topic of PLNs. Has the concept of a PLN changed? No, not really. How people understand what they are, appears to have moved forward, which I believe is a good thing as we can now better understand the value and benefits of a PLN. There is more distinction between understanding the PLN and what is a PLE, or personal learning environment. Your PLN resides in the learning environment you create for yourself. Your PLN is made up of the people you connect with. And you use the tools chosen to be a part of your PLE in order to connect, interact and converse with your PLN.

A definition for a PLN I presented at NLS5 is a mish-mash of a number of definitions that didn’t seem to fit in isolation.

“a group of people with whom you connect to interact and exchange information resources; share knowledge, experience and ideas, collectively creating an informed guide to professional development opportunities and continual learning

(Klingensmith 2009; Berge & McElvaney 2009; Tobin 1998)

While I continue to agree with this definition, there are a few things missing that I’ve come to understand about personal learning networks. I may have implied or meant this with the definition but two words immediately come to mind that belong here – ‘support’ and ‘conversation’. There is definitely a ‘support’ element within personal learning networks. I remember I may have used the term ‘cheerleading squad’ in my NLS5 presentation to demonstrate this. But the word ‘support’ should be included in the definition, I think. Support doesn’t need to be in the professional sense, particularly as experienced in the library and information online professional community. Support can also be more personal and be related to non-professional interests and life happenings. This is perhaps one of the library and information community’s greatest strengths. And building a strong network means faster connections between each other’s professional knowledge when its needed.

Now, conversation. ‘Interact’ might be a more formal word to convey that a personal learning network – building, maintaining, participating in one, comprises of ongoing conversation. Serendipitous connections to people, information and knowledge happen with conversation. Following someone on Twitter or finding a re-tweet pop up from someone you follow, can lead to others aligned with a professional interest or field. A diverse network will have conversations about different things. A network doesn’t expand or strengthen without diversity. Conversations then, are an integral part to a thriving personal learning network.

I guess one thing which strikes me from this reflection is how informal a personal learning network has become for me. This is possibly a sign of having become comfy with the concept and the spaces in which I participate. It could also be a sign that since finishing my Masters I’ve realised there are other parts of my life (needing attention) I wish to share and so I’m better able to let go of the professional stuff from time to time and participate in other conversations.

What I think a personal learning network is geared towards and perhaps the reason for being, is the continual learning. Participants in personal learning networks are motivated, lifelong learners. This is what binds us and enables us to be big sharers of information and knowledge, but also big givers of support. A personal learning network then needs three things – conversation, mutual support and information to go around, which spur us on our own journeys and pathways in the pursuit of continual learning.

Developing a (personal) PD plan: a presentation

Last week I was kindly invited to deliver a presentation to TAFE Library staff about developing a personal professional development (PD) plan. I’m no expert, but developed a PD plan as part of my ePortfolio requirements in my LIS Masters course. I was happy to help out and aimed to share my process, tips and learnings on developing (and reviewing) my own PD plan. I hoped I shed some light and made a bit of sense of the mystery around what a personal PD plan looks like, what it does and the benefits of having one handy.

My presentation was roughly divided into three parts:

  • what is a personal PD plan and why information professionals should have one
  • what the personal PD plan looks like: what guides it, tools available, parts of the plan and some learning options, and
  • how to keep track of the personal PD plan (aka how you can make it work for yourself and your needs)

So, what is a personal PD plan and why should you have one?

1. Productive conversations

No doubt there will be (dreaded) HR processes in a workplace about PD planning every six months or so. By having a personal PD plan handy, you can have a productive conversation with your manager about opportunities in your workplace towards building your desired skills and experience. This also means that the conversation you have won’t be a ‘self discovery’ session, but a prepared and productive one, mapping out your next actions.

I have previously written about a unplanned conversation with the big, big boss at my workplace late last year. She flat out asked me ‘So, what do you want to do?’, to which I had an informed reply about the current stage of my career, my wishing to explore and I outlined a couple of goals I had set for myself. This information came directly out of my personal PD plan.

2. Meaningful contributions to your organisation, your profession and your career

With a personal PD plan, you can carve a career path that is personally satisfying and fuels that sense of progress and meaning to your career, as well as make meaningful contributions aligned with your organisation’s strategic direction and objectives. And if you’re super keen (and there are many reasons why you should be), make a meaningful contribution to the information profession. Make your mark. Be informed about where you’d like to go.

3. Make informed decisions

Just a few notes on a beer coaster or spare piece of paper and 15 minutes can chart a course and next actions that are informed. A personal PD plan can help with making strategic and informed decisions about your next career step or learning experience, and also guide where to direct your PD energies and focus. I have to remind myself fairly regularly that I can’t be all the information professional I want to be within even a short few years. This stuff takes time.

 

There is no magic formula to developing a personal PD plan. (I’m sorry)

What I have found helpful is to examine my current career need and be guided by my career mission. I also love collecting position descriptions I aspire to as I can conduct a bit of a gap analysis of where I am now and the skills, knowledge and experience I need to gain to become the information professional I want to be.

Having a sense of priorities in your life is important. I have a section devoted to this in my own personal PD plan. I have listed my life priorities over the next two years. This serves as a reminder to myself that it is okay to not take on everything (all at once) and that I am focused on other things in my life too, like writing (not here, but other kinds of writing).

A personal PD plan can be as long or as short as it needs to be, and as loose (think beer coaster) or as detailed as it needs to be…..to work for YOU. The plan could be a few notes to a project plan and schedule. It could be for two years, three years, five or ten years. Really, the personal PD plan is a document that charts your course from A to B. Seriously, that’s it. The PD plan is a living document and will need reviewing from time to time. My top tip is to keep track of the amendments you make along the way and I recommend having a brief review every six months and a more thorough review every 12.

The overall aim of the personal PD plan is to have a clear enough path to work with to forge meaningful career experiences, opportunities and outcomes.

Here are my slides.

It was absolutely my pleasure to present to the TAFE Library staff last week. I jumped at the opportunity and really enjoyed myself. I loved giving others a chance to work out the benefits of a personal PD plan for themselves and I really hope it was worthwhile. I was fortunate to have a tour of the Southbank TAFE library (which has some really cool chairs by the way) and be taken out for a chai latte with good company afterwards. :)

Dual-career households: some reflection

Every now and then I’ll write a blog post that is a little on the personal side. Yesterday, or last night rather, I wrote a post on my ‘other’ blog reflecting on a recent article from INALJ (I Need A Library Job) about negotiating dual-career households, but I think it is equally relevant to be posted here too. So here it is….

An interesting blog post popped in my RSS feeds from INALJ (I need a library job) about negotiating dual-career households. In this blog post, Alphild Dick shares her experiences and tips about juggling her library career with her husband’s career in the military.  I recommend reading this post as Alphild covers some considerations around the impact of decision making and compromising when you have a dual-career household.

This blog post had me reflecting on some of my thoughts and discussions my boyfriend and I have had with regards to our careers. We have very different careers – I’m in the library and information sector and he’s an accountant. We’re of similar age and career stage. And we’re both very independent, passionate, career-driven people. Our situation is probably not uncommon, particularly as us girls have been for years now, told at a young age that we can achieve whatever we want. There are some keys I think, to negotiating a dual-career household. However these are yet to be fully tested as we potentially move to the life stage of having a family.

Respect for each other and each other’s professions

We have very different professions and in particular, will have very different pay scales and earning potential. While I am fiercely independent and currently insist on ‘pulling my weight’ by paying half of everything, I need to realise one day that I will likely play a game of snakes and ladders in my profession. This will mean moving sideways, diagonally downwards then up, up, then down again. I will potentially never earn the same as an accountant. Luckily, I don’t participate in my profession necessarily for the money (though of course there are financial commitments). Moving sideways, etc doesn’t bother me. I seek satisfaction in my work, my contribution to the profession and seeing the potentially positive impact on people’s information experiences and learning.

There is also respect by the way of what we’re required to do to get the job done and/or succeed in our professions. My boyfriend was incredibly supportive of my completing the Masters degree and the other professional involvement I participate in, including writing here and my professional blog, Flight Path. He has seen me present at events and can appreciate the passion I have for my work. Vice versa, he has times when he comes home crabby or has to stay back late or work weekends to ensure his outputs are delivered and delivered well. Respect for each other is about some realisations and some give and take.

Knowing there are other outlets than the workplace to make a contribution

I’m coming up to a time when I need to start thinking about (though really, this is years away!) how I will continue to contribute to the profession while raising a family. A few years ago I freaked out with the thought that my career would be over once I have children and I need to jam in as much as possible before this happens. Well, now I just find this thinking a bit silly. Firstly, my work is only one part of me. I have other roles I play in my life, as well as interests and hobbies. Having children won’t be the end of my life as I know it (or will it? :) ) We, as in nowadays, have tools and avenues available to 1) keep in touch with the profession, and 2) continue to make a contribution while away from the workplace. We have Twitter, blogs, conferences to attend, online webinars and chats, etc to keep in touch with industry trends and issues, as well as people in our networks. There are other ways and arrangements available to share and grow knowledge, to contribute, and I guess you never know where these might lead! What I aim to achieve is to keep up some pace, some momentum throughout my career. Whether this means from a laptop at home or at my desk in a workplace, I’ll find an outlet for my passion.

Understanding the need for ‘wriggle room’ when opportunity comes knocking

It is unlikely my boyfriend will be transferred somewhere at a moment’s notice. But we have considered, and have plans for working overseas together….some day. In addition to the places where we’re willing to live and due to our very different professions, there are certain areas of the world where we can both enjoy good job prospects or career incentives. For example, I’d really, really like to gain some experience in the Trinity College Library in Dublin with digitising, preserving, cataloguing and promoting historical items. But there is little to no career incentive for my boyfriend to do this beyond a couple of months or so. Similarly with other parts of the world, there are places I wouldn’t enjoy benefits for my career where my boyfriend could. So if we were to live and work somewhere overseas for something like 12-18 months, we need to compromise, find the ‘wriggle room’  to find a happy medium. What if that isn’t possible? Well, we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it. What if something is too good to pass up? We’ll find a way. Neither of us could ask the other to give up on something completely.

Alphild asks some really good questions to think about when negotiating dual-career households. My favourite is “What are your long-term plans for your career?” I think it could be easy to get caught up thinking about the short or medium term, that we may lose sight of what we ultimately want to achieve. When something comes up in either person’s career that prompt thinking about ‘your team’, following this question, then next would be, “What else would I be happy doing?” There’s always a need for perspective.

Thanks Alphild for a thought provoking post.

 

Happy International Archives Day!

Today, 9th June, is International Archives Day. Around the world, archivists and those who appreciate the role of archives to society celebrate archival institutions and their collections. The International Council on Archives is calling for contributions to its celebration by bringing together photos of archival material linked to the local area. You can take a look at how others are celebrating by searching #InternationalArchivesDay on Twitter.

I do have one wish on this International Archives Day. I wish for more co-operation and collaboration between archivists and librarians. From what I’ve seen, there isn’t enough to ensure cultural heritage content is brought together and preserved for generations, and that these collections continue to be relevant and treasured by relating them to today’s user needs, expectations and the possibilities for further content engagement, inspiration and discovery.

Archivists and librarians have a lot to learn from each other. There need not be fear or threat in reaching out to professional knowledge, practices and experience beyond each of these profession’s parameters or self-imposed boundaries. Just because someone works in an archival institution, doesn’t mean they should only consult the professional body of knowledge of archivists or work within what other archival institutions are doing, particularly in relation to providing access to collections, and vice versa. Borrowing from each other’s professional knowledge is imperative to accelerating progress of generating new knowledge and its application to the delivery of services. I strongly encourage and would like to see increased conversation and connections between these two professions.

Being an archivist or librarian are two, distinct kinds of information professions. I personally identify as a librarian or information professional and work within an archival institution. I wouldn’t call myself an archivist just because of my context. I don’t think it is fair to other archivists who have undertaken their training and qualifications in this area. It is because of this that I can sometimes feel like ‘piggy in the middle’ in professional conversations, trying to promote appreciation of, and balance out the different perspectives.

Librarians are skilled at making sense of information and delivering services in line with needs of identified users (and non-users) of information sources and in ways that enrich their information experiences. Librarians look outward. Archivists specialise in the description, arrangement and long term preservation of records and other primary materials. Archivists are more naturally inclined to focus on their processes. There is nothing wrong with either perspective, inward or outward, they’re just different professions, focusing on different aspects of information and information services with a corresponding body of knowledge that allows them to fulfil their roles.

There are archival institutions and libraries which have merged. For example, LINC Tasmania and more recently, the back end functions of the Australian national collecting institutions. As long as there is respect for each other’s professional knowledge, this pooling of resources and knowledge can only be a good thing for maintaining and providing access to collections. Though I must note my concern for the advisory role to the government that assist agencies and their records with making it into the collection in the first place.

I’d like librarians to be better utilised in the land of archives. I’m not saying librarians are saviours, but they may be able contribute to deriving as much value out of the archival collection as possible to further serve the community. And archivists’ knowledge need to be tapped into more in a variety of settings, not just cultural heritage. I’m a librarian, an information professional. I appreciate the role of archives and archivists in the information professions. It is therefore my wish for the two information professions play nicely with each other because after all, we’re on the same team.

Learning code

As part of completing my personal professional development plan, this year I’m seeking opportunities to develop technical skills, particularly in the online environment. The Edge at the State Library of Queensland run a number of short courses throughout the year. So far I have attended three workshops, with more I’m planning to attend in the second half of the year.

My first experiences with HTML and CSS were while completing my LIS Masters course. These skills have proven invaluable in understanding content management systems and tinkering with code for website updates in my work roles.

I’m keen to develop my skills in this area to further understand how things work from the back end and keep up to date with the possibilities for online content engagement and delivery of information services. I’m looking to potentially move my ‘other’ blog to a self-hosting set up so I can add more functionality with what I want this website to become. It also has customised WordPress theme which I would like to make alterations to the CSS. At least now after an intermediate ‘Coding for the web’ workshop, I’ll be able to understand more about what I’m looking at.

My first workshop at The Edge was an Intro to Javascript. I met up with a fellow LIS grad which made the experience a little less daunting. (Javascript is cool!) My second and third workshops have been related to coding for the web, mainly focusing on HTML and CSS. I’ll admit four hours on a Sunday arvo wasn’t the ideal time to be coding. By the end I was all ‘coded out’ and only managed to space out for the rest of the evening. But I learnt a lot.

I believe it is incredibly important for information professionals to learn the ‘lingo’ of the systems we use to manage and provide access to content, no matter the context we may find ourselves. We need not be afraid to dive in and get our hands dirty with this sort of back end stuff and keep up to date with how and what makes systems tick. It is likely librarians and other information professionals will see a possibility not seen by others. When this happens, at least we’ll have some understanding and ways of communicating what we need to make things happen for our clients.

I’d like to learn more about Javascript and SQL, as well as some other techy things related to my new found hobby, photography. The Edge will be releasing their short course calendar for the rest of the year next month. Go have a look at the list now and see what interests you. Take a friend or colleague with you to book in and get your geek on!