Unfortunately, despite starting with the best of intentions, I didn’t make it beyond Thing Five in last year’s 23 Things for Professional Development. I’m glad there’s a round 2 this year. It gives people like me the chance to pick up where we left off (and also see what’s changed in our approach to professional development since last year). And hopefully lots of new people can get involved and learn new things!

Professionally, things have changed for me since I wrote about Thing One last year. I left my library job at the University of Oxford last week and later this week will begin working as an Assistant Information Specialist for the NHS. I’m a bit scared about this next step, to be honest, but I keep reminding myself of all the new skills I’ll learn!

I’ve also just finished the taught part of library school at UWE and am about to begin my dissertation.

Hopefully, both the start of my dissertation and the start of my new job will feed into my 23 Things experience.

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Thing 5: Reflective Practice

Posted: August 12, 2011 in Uncategorized
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I’ve read blog posts and tweets from people who are putting together their chartership portfolios, and seen them refer to ‘reflective writing’. To be honest, I never really knew what that meant. Was it something mysterious and sophisticated that someone only starting out in the LIS sector would be unable to do?

Well, no. I now know that it’s actually a variation of a process many of us already go through unconsciously – it’s just approached in a more systematic fashion.

Being someone with a fondness for arranging information, I already have a spreadsheet that records workshops, conferences and library networking events etc that I have been to. As well as some practical ‘title’, ‘speaker’, ‘date’ columns, there is one that optimistically invites me to fill in what I have taken away from each event and how I will apply it at work. I am yet to fill in that column for anything I’ve been to! Partly this is because I find it a difficult question to answer straightaway.

Which leads to a concern I have about reflective practice in real life. It’s often very hard to identify the point when something ends. It’s fine to reflect on the value of a workshop or a conference as these have clear boundaries and, crucially, finishing points. Much of what I do at work will  – by its very nature – never finish. It’s hard to find a point at which it’s possible to step back and reflect.

Nevertheless, I think this is a vital tool and can enable intelligent growth – both for individuals and organisations. Can organisations engage in reflective practice? Definitely. Many of the questions we should be asking of ourselves when we reflect are the same questions our employers should be encouraging us to ask when we prepare for appraisals or annual reviews.  And reflective practice strikes me as not just something that is useful when things have gone well. Arguably, it is of more use as a tool to unpick less successful activities, in order to work out what went wrong and – vitally – what can be learnt from that. This is certainly a process that could be valuable at both an organisational and an individual level.

If blog posts needed abstracts then the abstract for this would simply read:

1. Twitter – yay

2. RSS – useful but can never stay on top of things

3. Pushnote – what’s that?

I first signed up to Twitter in 2009, when I saw how incredible it had been as a communication tool during the riots in Iran. I struggled to understand why Twitter was so popular, though. As a committed Facebook user, I just saw Twitter as a series of status updates, without any of the other tools Facebook offers. The sparseness confused me.

I don’t know how it happened, though, but I gradually began to see the use of Twitter after a while. I followed a couple of LIS friends and looked to see who they followed, and then who those people followed etc etc. It took me a while to get over my Twitter shyness (Twyness? Twame?) and start tweeting strangers. But, having a connection such as an interest in library-and-information issues is all the link you need.

I see Twitter as a classic example of “you get out what you put in”. It’s tempting, and very easy, to be an observer on Twitter – but the true value only becomes obvious when you start communicating yourself.

I began using Google Reader as an RSS reader last year when I began the Oxford 23 Things programme. I have never really got into the mindset of using this to follow blogs though, as I find the amount of information overwhelming. Every time I click through and see the number of unread blog posts, I just become demoralised. I find Twitter an easier way to find good, relevant blog posts – either through links tweeted by the blog’s author, or through links tweeted by others who have found it useful.

I had never heard of Pushnote until I came to this Thing.  I found this article on TechCrunch a good overview of what Pushnote is and what it does. I duly signed up for a Pushnote account on Firefox, then spent a long time looking for a webpage that anyone had actually commented on! It’s an interesting tool and I will think a bit more about whether this could be useful. I just think that, if you want to share links, a tool such as Twitter or Delicious might be more appropriate and better designed.

I was also concerned to read, in a more recent Techcrunch article that a website’s owner cannot remove any of the Pushnote comments linked to their site. If Pushnote users flag up scams etc, then this is a useful feature. Worryingly, many comments might be false or malicious.

In essence, I’m glad I now know what Pushnote is, but I don’t think it offers anything new. If a critical mass of web users begin to comment, though, then this may change.

I Google myself on a fairly regular basis – perhaps because I’m paranoid, perhaps because I’m vain … but mostly to keep an eye on what’s out there and what other people (including prospective employers) can see about me.

Pleasingly, most of the results I get are good reflections on myself as an active information professional, including my Twitter page, the blog I used when I was a graduate library trainee, and a couple of pages from the recent New Professionals’ Conference. Towards the bottom of the first page are a couple of non-library references to me, reflecting some of my other interests: quizzing and Amnesty International.

The top result was my Facebook page. Clicking on this would, if you’re not my friend on Facebook, not tell you very much about me. I’ve chosen to have things this way. I used to have quite a strict line that “Facebook is for friends and fun, Twitter is for work and networking.” That has now blurred a little bit, as I’ve added some colleagues as friends on Facebook, and follow some friends on Twitter. Nonetheless, I try to keep my Twitterfeed for portraying an image of me that I’m happy for anyone in my sector (or beyond) to see. The colleagues I’ve added as friends on Facebook are generally people I’d happily go to the pub with anyway, so I wouldn’t be too embarassed if they saw any daft pictures of me!

Most of the Google results are accidental i.e. I’ve made little attempt to cultivate a web brand or to push certain sites to the top of a Google search. When I’ve made my blog into something that would take longert than 30 seconds to read, I may try and push that a bit more and make sure more things link to it. A LinkedIn profile would also look good as a Google result.

Interestingly, I saw an article in the Guardian, ‘Build Brand You’, which discussed becoming an ‘Elvis’ figure in the workplace – i.e. the interesting, go-to-person that everyone remembers. One anecdote in this article was about a wannabe advertising employee. He knew that all good creative directors would regularly Google themselves. So, he utilised Google AdWords so that, when certain top creative directors Googled themselves, they’d see an advert saying “Googling yourself is a lot of fun. Hiring me is fun too.” Apparently it cost him $6, he got two job offers and he’s now a senior copywriter at a New York advertising agency.

I used the Delicious tags created by the CPD23 team to see who else was blogging about their professional development. The short answer – absolutely loads of people! It was excellent to see that so many people have become enthusiastic about this programme. I did find it a bit overwhelming, though.

I chose to look at bloggers who said they worked in HE libraries in the UK – like me. If there had been a smaller pool of people, then it would have been interesting to look at participants from different sectors and/or different countries. Perhaps I will do this at a later date.

I also focused on people who’d included the phrase “23 things” in their blog titles, as this suggested they were people who’d set up blogs specifically for this programme, and weren’t necessarily experienced bloggers.

What did I learn? Well, I found I wasn’t the only person who has previously given up on a 23 Things programme. Which is a comfort. I also found that many people’s Thing One blog posts were much more concise and to-the-point than mine was! I also liked reading The Neon Librarian’s reflections on Thing Two. I share her feelings of having previously been a lurker, rather than a participant in other people’s blogs.

 

OK, let’s get the shameful confession out of the way first of all. Last year I started  the Oxford 23 Things programme, but lost enthusiasm and momentum around about Thing 9, and didn’t complete the programme. This was partly because many of the early Things covered familiar ground, and partly because no one else at my library was participating.

Nevertheless, I think the 23 Things for Professional Development looks worthwhile so I’m determined to have a go. I may even make double figures this time!

I’m still working at Oxford University, and am also attending library school part-time. Library school has made me more aware of the direction I want my career to move in, and also given me some of the theoretial knowledge I know will be of use in the future.

I see professional development as being something above and beyond what I’m learning at library school, though. It’s tough to ‘teach’ this … because everyone in my class will have their own idea of how they want to develop and why, and because it needs to be self-driven.

I’ve taken positive steps to engage with other library and information professionals, both in person and online. I’ve met my local CILIP group and am just back from the New Professionals Conference 2011 (where Helen Murphy‘s paper gave me the final nudge I needed to get Thing-ing.)

In terms of the 23 Things, I’m looking forward to Thing 15, as I hope it will give me some ideas about how to get the most out of conferences and seminars. And Thing 17 may help me finally understand the mad world of Prezi.

And this time, I may even persuade some people at work to join me on the journey! And I shall also endeavour to find other people at Oxford who are participating, and make sure it feels less of a lonely journey than my last trip down 23 Things lane.