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… 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!

Time to pass the baton

About a month ago I resigned from my position of Co-ordinator for the ALIA New Graduates Group. This was a big step for me. It was time to pass the baton on to new co-ordinators and allow them the chance to benefit from being in this role. I knew it was time for a while, but I couldn’t step away without some comfort the group would continue the momentum we’ve got going here in Brisbane. From my conversations at the January social get-together, there is an enthusiastic bunch coming through the LIS courses at the moment. I hope the new co-ordinators will identify their professional development and networking needs and endeavour to meet them. Students and new graduates alike, if a chance comes your way, I encourage you to get involved as an ALIA New Graduates co-ordinator. Here I’ll tell my story…

I had barely completed two semesters of my LIS Masters course when I saw the role of EEI column co-ordinator advertised. I attended a networking event at QUT where someone advised against applying for the EEI role and told me that newbies looking to get involved usually start out as group co-ordinators. I was then immediately introduced to the only NewGrads Co-ordinator for Queensland. I signed up straight away. I joined because I was eager to contribute and become a part of the profession. I wanted to hit the ground running with my new career direction. Yes, I was only a first-year student when I started out as a NewGrads Co-ordinator in October 2010.

I had a rocky start. Early on in the new year, the other co-ordinator resigned. I was on my own. I had barely gained enough experience with organising events. I knew next to no one. This didn’t stop me. I was determined to make this NewGrads group an active one and with a planned calendar of events. A few months later, I ran the first Resume Reviews event in ALIA NewGrads. It was a hit. Thank you to Claudia Davies for her support for this event. She checked in on the day to ensure all was okay. Resume Reviews has remained on the NewGrads calendar since.

It wasn’t long until I had another NewGrads co-ordinator on board – Kelly Johnson. In November 2011, we put on a successful NLS5 Encore event. From here, our partnership went from strength to strength as we continued to organise regular PD and social events. We’ve made an awesome team. Our co-ordinator catch ups were usually over a beer in West End. That’s how we roll. I’ve really enjoyed working with Kelly in this role and I continue to do so.  :)

During my time as NewGrads Co-ordinator, I’ve had a hand in at least 10 events, possibly more. Not bad, if I do say so myself. Being a NewGrads Co-ordinator has provided me with opportunities to keep up to date with what’s happening in the profession, connect with people I wouldn’t have otherwise, organise learning and networking events for my newbie peers and has consequently, accelerated my finding a place in this profession. Being a NewGrads Co-ordinator places you in the thick of it. You become pivotal to the success of a local professional community. A thriving, supportive students and new graduates community cannot happen without co-ordinators.

My resignation from the NewGrads Co-ordinator role closes a chapter for me. I am an early career information professional. Looking to the future, I may not identify as new graduate (though I have only graduated last year) but I am still passionate about student and new graduate issues. Many thanks to my fellow co-ordinators, both here and interstate, for your support and kind words of appreciation. I look forward to making a contribution again soon.

A note on presenting

Last week I presented at a forum – regular events which my workplace organises, on the significant project I’m currently working on. The audience was over 130 people and included some of my work colleagues, the State Archivist, as well as other records and information practitioners and managers. This presentation wasn’t so much a big deal as it is expected of me in my role to do presentations, participate and coordinate meetings, etc, but I couldn’t help but notice a few things had evolved in my presenting skills over the years. So I wish to take a moment to reflect on the road so far.

The audience I presented to last week was probably the biggest since my very first conference presentation in September 2011 – the 5th New Librarians’ Symposium where I presented my findings of an independent research project about new information professionals creating a personal learning network (PLN). I had a roving microphone attached to me and a podium with somewhere to place my notes. I remember supporters being in the audience, including my boyfriend who managed to sneak in the back (sorry, organisers!). I also remember David Lee King and how nervous I was to be presenting to such awesome people in the profession. I had rehearsed a number of times with a mentor and the presentation went reasonably well. The support I received in the safe environment was humbling and put a smile on my face.

Presenting at NLS5

Presenting at NLS5

The set up last week wasn’t much different, but it was recorded. I have been fortunate in taking up opportunities to practice presenting through my studies, research, work and professional involvement, such as speaking to newbies in the QUT LIS course. Developing presenting skills has certainly been a journey of finding out what works and what doesn’t with my unique presenting style.

Between then and now, some things have improved or have tweaked while others haven’t changed. I’ll start on the improvements.

  • I’m okay with pausing if I’ve lost my spot in the notes. I don’t panic so much. Or at least I didn’t at the forum last week. Presenting is not a race and I’ve learnt the audience won’t know I’ve lost my place if I take regular pauses and speak at an even tone and pace.
  • I almost have preparing my notes down to a fine art. I’ve been fortunate so far to not have a situation where I have nowhere to place my notes. Perhaps that’s my next challenge. I prefer to use index cards for my notes, one for each slide or point. If I fill an index card with notes and need more space, I’m talking too much and I can estimate I’ll go over time. (Going over time by the way is something I consider unprofessional.)
  • I’m okay with being recorded. It doesn’t fill me with extra dread when I’m told the presentation will be recorded and made available elsewhere.

And now the things that haven’t changed…

  • I still move and wave my hands around. It actually helps me to keep a level of clarity on what I’m trying to say. I prefer a roving microphone for this purpose.
  • I still say ‘G’day’ to the audience. Yep, even in front of the State Archivist. I like to think it puts both myself and the audience at ease. (I hope it says) I’m approachable and not a stiff. I like a conversational style while also being professional. Almost as soon as I left the podium last week (we broke for morning tea), I had a lady come up to me to ask a question. I was happy to help.
  • I still get incredibly nervous, though I’m usually okay after the first few slides. If someone tells you presenting gets easier over time, in some ways this is true. Presenting gets easier when you hone your style and prep. But the nerves will likely stay.
  • I’m still more nervous presenting in front of colleagues and peers than strangers. The size of the audience doesn’t bother me. It’s who I know is there watching me.

The changes I have seen over time has also been due to coming into my own as a professional. I’ve experienced a shift over the last 12 months. I’ve slowly learnt that ‘yes, I am a professional, knowledgeable and my opinions are valid and worthy of consideration’. Basically this means putting on the ‘big girl shoes’, standing on my own two feet and owning what I have to say. By doing and feeling this, I’ve felt more confidence going into a presentation.

Presenting isn’t something many people tend to enjoy. I’m one of those people. As a kid, I was more than happy to make a fool of myself in front of people (and I still do this sometimes, but to save face and hide my nerves). But something changed in me during my mid-teens and I’ve found presenting to be daunting ever since. These days I think of presenting as sharing ideas. And I’m certainly passionate about that. I’d suggest trying that perspective and see if it changes your outlook on presenting.

On a final note, no one can read a heap of blog posts, books, etc on presenting tips and then magically turn into a fabulous presenter. It doesn’t work that way. Being a fabulous presenter means having taken the time to practice and tweaking the tips you’ve read about until you find a rhythm you’re comfortable dancing to.