Tag Archives: Social media

Thoughts on positive thinking

A little while ago I wrote a guest post for the Library Trainee Network, a new website which aims to curate people’s views and experiences of their traineeships, qualifications and first professional posts. My post, which is about my experience of the MA Librarianship course at Sheffield, just went live yesterday and you can read it here. It’s been getting quite a good reaction on Twitter and I think this might be because it’s an overwhelmingly positive post, which is (dare I say) a little bit unusual. A lot of the stuff I’ve read about the various LIS courses on offer in the UK has been a lot more negative and there seems to be a strong feeling out there that the qualification is “just a piece of paper” or “just a hoop to jump through”, with little in the way of redeeming qualities. I do understand where this feeling has come from – this is a qualification you have to get if you want to “unlock” the next level of job (I know there are other routes, but this seems to be the most-used one if you want your career to progress quickly), and so it can feel like it’s just something that needs to be ticked off a long list of qualifications, training and development on the journey to becoming a fully-fledged library/information professional.


However, I also believe that it’s far too easy to focus on the negatives and forget that there are any positives at all – and I don’t mean this just about your MA/MSc, but about all areas of life. It’s much easier to have a moan to your friends, whether it’s face-to-face, on social media or by other means, than it is to celebrate small positive points about life. I know it’s true for me, at least; I often find that when I get together with friends over coffee or food, our conversation will become a stream of gripes and complaints about work, study, home life, other friends, etc. It’s far more common for me to log on to Twitter to post a moany tweet about trains than it is to say something positive. Of course this can be useful and constructive – friends and Twitter followers can help you work out what to do about a problem, or see a different side of a story, or sympathise with you, or remind you that it’s not all that bad. They can just sit and agree with you as well, and that’s ok too. Getting stuff off your chest and letting off steam are things we all need to do, and should do. I’m not saying there’s no place for having a bit of a moan now and then, but I think it’s a shame if all anyone ever hears about a certain topic (e.g. the MA course) is its bad points.


I suppose what I’m trying to say is that I don’t believe that there’s anyone who gets to the end of their Masters course and honestly says, “well, that was a complete waste of time (and money)”. We all benefit in some way from choosing to study on this course – whether it be new knowledge, new opportunities, new skills or new friends. I know that it would have taken me a lot longer to build up the knowledge and abilities that I have now, if I hadn’t done the course. In just 20 weeks of teaching I’ve developed as a person and as a professional, and I’m really proud of what I’ve achieved. No, I haven’t learned everything there is to learn – but I’ve got the rest of my career to do that!


Of course there are some things I didn’t enjoy about the course. Of course there are! These courses are designed to fit a lot of very different people who all want slightly different things from the same set of modules, and you can’t please everyone all the time. I think that there’s something to be said for the whole “change the things you can change, accept the things you can’t” idea, though; when we were unhappy with how a module was going, we gave lots of feedback to the Information School, and they’re completely overhauling it for next year. Granted, this doesn’t affect my experience of that module, but it does (hopefully) mean that the people who come after me will have a better time of it. I’m pleased that as a year group and a community we didn’t just resort to complaining about it amongst ourselves, but actually did something about it and got things changed. Out of a negative experience came positive action.


I know that this all might come across as a bit moany in itself, and I do see the irony in that, but I’m going with the defence that this is something I’ve been wanting to get off my chest for a while. It’s not directed at anyone specific, it’s just the result of hearing a lot of complaints about people’s courses during the last couple of years, and getting a little bit tired of the seemingly endless negativity (about all aspects of life) on Twitter. I don’t want to be controversial or to spark a huge debate about who exactly is too negative or bitchy or whatever. I’m just resolving to be a more positive person and to share more of the good stuff than the bad stuff about the course, about librarianship in general, and about life. (Cheesy!)


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Enhancing Your Professional Profile: Job Hunting and Social Media

On Thursday I went up to the MMU Business School to attend an afternoon of talks as part of our regular training schedule. The theme this month was Job Hunting and Social Media, and there were three sessions over the course of the afternoon on different aspects of this topic.
http://www.flickr.com/photos/aslanmedia_official/6292167103/The first session was entitled “Amazing Applications”, and was run by the University’s Careers Service. There were a couple of good points raised during this session, such as the importance of mirroring the employer’s language in your application (are they groovy and relaxed, like In nocent, or businesslike, like Barclays?) to show you’ll fit in with their culture and the need for clear structure in your answers. I liked the advice about using the STAR technique when giving evidence of competencies (list the Situation, Task, Action, and Result) as well. Apart from this, though, I felt that this was a session better suited to students than to us, as we already had to fill in an application form to get the GT job. I’ve written about applying to library school before, and the advice is pretty much exactly the same for applying for jobs: research the employer thoroughly, list all your skills and experiences before you start writing the application for easy reference, and give evidence for every single one of the competencies required, in the order they require them. I didn’t feel that this was the most helpful session I’ve ever been to, although it’s always good to refresh your knowledge.
The next session, run by @catmcmanamon and another librarian, was called “Your Professional Profile”, and was much more interesting. It was about how you can use your online identity to show potential employers your value to them as an employee. A good point that was raised was that social media is user-centred, and that this is something we should be exploiting in order to get ourselves out there and show ourselves in a good light. Essentially, you’re putting the best of yourself on show for everyone to judge. This of course means that you’ve got to engage responsibly; it’s no good putting yourself all over the internet if it’s not helping you out. Paris Brown is a good recent example of when your online presence hinders rather than helps your image.
Responsible engagement means occasionally biting your tongue – tweeting about a bad day can lose you your job! Many workplaces and universities have specific policies about what would happen if you were to bring them into disrepute with your actions. We saw several examples of students losing their places at university or being taken to court for writing inappropriate tweets, such as Joshua Cryer last year. If you want to check whether you’re at risk for being fired, there’s a website for that (which also shows some excellent examples of what not to do!) Remember that people have suffered serious repercussions for “joke” tweets before, so it’s definitely a case of “think before you tweet”.
“[S]ocial media is not a lesser form of communication; it is as worthy of a disciplinary hearing as anything said out loud.”Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett
 But the real point of this session wasn’t to discourage us from using social media altogether, but rather to use it as a force for good. In order to show your best self online, you may need to do a bit of spring cleaning – hide or delete things that don’t paint you in the best light and make sure all your privacy settings are up to date. This is especially important on services like Facebook, who change their privacy policies and settings pages frequently. Another way of improving your online identity is to flood Google with impressive results that push down unwanted ones – after all, nobody really reads past the first page or so of Google search results. The trick is to have a managed, “PR-ready” profile on the accounts that Google ranks highly, such as LinkedIn, Twitter, blogs, and Facebook.
In this digital age, employers are looking for people who are digitally literate, so using social media astutely can help you with this. It doesn’t have to be all dry and dusty, though; you can show your personality too, as long as it looks “professional”. Pinterest and Flickr are good ways of showing your hobbies and interests, for example. An interesting tool that I hadn’t heard of before is Vizify, which creates “graphical biographies”. We had a little play around with it during the session, and it’s really simple to set up your own Vizify page and populate it with the information that you want people to see – your education, employment history, hobbies, and anything else. It collects the information from the social media services you link to it, and you can pick and choose exactly what it displays. I had some fun creating mine – check it out here. (Among other things, it’s made me realize that I need to stop tweeting about how much I hate trains!)
You can also use social media to make great connections (obviously) and hunt for new opportunities. Start following updates on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook or RSS from companies and brands who do the sort of work you’re looking for, and get yourself noticed by them. Interacting with the important people is easier online than it would be face-to-face, as social media isn’t hierarchical. A good tip is to use keywords in your profiles and bios so that you’re more easily searchable, as well as talking about your interests (professional and personal) and interacting with relevant people. It takes time to build up a good network of people who can help you get where you want, but there are plenty of success stories out there that show what can be achieved.
This session will be run for students during Employability Week here at MMU, and those students are in for a treat! I’ve been feeling quite inspired by this talk, and have been tweaking my “identity” all weekend. Next stop: a proper photo.
Finally, we had a short talk about job hunting in the LIS sector. It’s getting towards the time of year where I need to be thinking about getting some part-time work for the next academic year, so I was looking forward to picking up some tips. I’ve created a Google Doc here of the helpful job search websites we looked at during the session, which I would love for people to add to and share. Darren, who ran the session, recommended thinking about the job you want, not the sector you want to work in. If you like teaching infoskills sessions, there’s no point in applying for a cataloguing job just because it’s at an academic library, when there could be a more suitable role in a different organisation. He also pointed out that librarians aren’t just called librarians any more – they’re also information officers, data analysts and knowledge managers (here’s a large but not exhaustive list), so it can be a bit hit-and-miss when searching on job websites. Some websites have a drop-down list or selection of tick-boxes which help you narrow your search to a field, e.g. “library” or “information management” or similar, which can help prevent you from missing out on jobs with unusual titles.
Darren’s tips for job hunting are as follows:
  • Use RSS or email alerts for searches (where possible) so that you don’t have to keep going back to websites to run the same search.
  • do placements not volunteering
  • keep up on your current awareness
  • join a professional body (it’s cheap for students and GTs)
  • attend training courses and events (look out for the free and cheap ones)
  • join peer networks like the Manchester NLPN 
  • share job opportunities with friends and peers – they may well do the same in return!

Overall, this was a great afternoon and it’s certainly got me thinking about ways to get my personal brand shipshape and ready for the competitive jobs market that lies ahead.


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What I learned this week: QR Codes

This week I learned about QR codes, thanks to a mini-session by one of our site librarians after I missed the Digital Library Services Roadshow, where library staff were introduced to Open Access, QR codes and statistics (not sure what kind of statistics). I already knew a little bit about QR codes, because they’ve been around for a few years now, but what was interesting about this session was the ways in which libraries can use them.

First of all, the basics: What is a QR code? QR codes are “Quick Response” codes. They’re called that because they’re very quickly readable by digital scanners, such as the camera in a smartphone. They’re a sort of square barcode, essentially. You can encode a lot more data in a QR code than in a standard barcode, though, and that’s what makes them so useful.

QR codes allow you to get your video, URL, text, PDF or whatever else onto someone’s smartphone or tablet in a matter or seconds. They’re therefore a pretty handy way of getting help and information to people at the point of need – and that’s where they tie in with libraries. We can use them to hook people up with the information they need, without them having to go and find someone to talk to, which could be tricky in a large or busy library. At our library we’re using QR codes in a variety of ways – if you’re unsure of how to use the catalogue, there’s a QR code with a link to our podcast to show you how. If you’re not sure how self-service machines work, we’ve got a QR code for a video on that too. We’ve put one on the floorplan of the library, which links you to the website listing our opening times. We’ve got codes that link to our Facebook and Twitter pages, too.

There are tons of other uses for QR codes in libraries – apparently some libraries even use them in a noise-reporting system: if you’re in a room that’s too noisy, just scan the code and it’ll generate an email to the staff detailing your location, and they can come and deal with it. I found a webpage that lists some of the uses libraries have found for QR codes – check it out: http://www.libsuccess.org/QR_Codes I like the idea of using them for (self-)guided tours.

There are of course rules to using QR codes in libraries – the first is that obviously not everyone has the necessary equipment to use QR codes, and so in order to cater for them as well it’s a good idea to provide alternative ways of accessing the information they’re providing. Our catalogue help posters say something like “scan this code or visit YouTube and type in ‘xxxxx’”, which not only gives you a second method of getting to the video, but also provides transparency, making the poster more trustworthy than if it just displayed a QR code with no further information.

The other main rule is – as with a lot of things – less is more! This is to combat information overload. In the same way that most students seem to ignore the hundreds of posters cluttering up our walls, if you put a QR code on everything then people will stop noticing them. Therefore, at our library there is a dedicated inter-site team who decide what gets a QR code and what doesn’t, to maximise the impact of our messages.

An interesting point raised during our mini-session was whether you can actually tell whether QR codes are being used or not – and you can, sort of. If you’re willing to pay (and the prices are quite steep), you can use the analytics provided by QR-generating websites to track usage statistics. If you’d rather not, then you can make use of some free services, for example if you’re using your code to link to a YouTube video then you can use their analytics to see how many views came from a mobile device.

If you want to have a go at creating your own QR codes, there are loads of websites that will do it for you, for example qrstuff.com. The Android app I use to scan codes, QR Droid, also creates them for you on your phone, and has options that include creating codes for a geolocation, a PayPal payment or your business card! While looking around the internet for bits and pieces about QR codes, I came across some interesting stuff about their commercial uses in big marketing campaigns. For example,did you know you can get custom-made QR codes that incorporate logos or pictures? Maybe you did, but did you know you can also get chocolate QR codes? I’m imagining using these at a conference or fair as a marketing tool, although there’d have to be an allergy-free alternative too. Finally, here’s an article about some of the creative ways QR codes were used in advertising last year.


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February Training Session (finally)

A couple of weeks ago now I attended another training session – this time it was the annual staff updating session. This was a chance for library staff to learn about some of the recent developments that have gone on in the library, which is quite interesting for us at the “satellite” sites who don’t always get all the news filtered through from the main library. It was advertised as a hands-on session where we’d learn about new technologies, and the topics covered were going to be quite varied. In reality, there were maybe a few too many topics, as we did not manage to get through everything, but some of what we did hear about was quite interesting.

We started off with an overview of the developments at the main library, which has recently undergone a refurbishment on the ground floor, and will be undergoing more work to make it ready for extra stock to be moved in during the summer. The facts and figures were interesting – it costs a lot to refurbish a library, and there’s still a lot to be done on a fairly small budget before the other libraries start to move their stock in during the next 18 months.

We looked at the recent developments with the catalogue – we now have a lovely mobile version with all the functionality of the normal one, and there are neat little shortcuts you can use while searching that I didn’t know about, such as writing “Location:Gaskell” in front of your search terms to limit your results.

We then heard about the Customer Service Excellence award, which we are the only department of the university to hold, and had a short quiz on service level targets, which was interesting as some of them were not quite what we expected – although perhaps that’s down to our relative lack of experience.

The next topic was plagiarism and referencing, which started off with a short quiz on Harvard referencing, which I did quite well on despite never actually having used it before (I used another referencing system during my degree and it’s subtly different to Harvard). We also looked at the punishments for plagiarism offences, which again were quite surprising – who knew you could commit multiple plagiarism offences and still be allowed to stay on your course?!

We also looked a bit at podcasting/instructional videos; this is something that is a large part of my job, so I was quite interested by this section. We heard about the MMU Libraries YouTube page, which is being promoted more and more in an effort to raise awareness of the help and guidance we provide (and to increase the pageviews, which are quite low at the moment). We discussed the pros and cons of podcasts – pro: bitesize chunks of information, con: no opportunity for Q&A, etc – and also had a look at podcasts and videos produced by other libraries, to see what’s going on. Some of these were really good, such as this one or this one, but some of them made people cringe, such as the Librarians Do Gaga video. It’s interesting to see the range of styles and production values across library videos – some of them are really slick, while others… not so much. I like to think that ours at MMU are comfortably mid-range.

We then heard a little about informal learning, which is learning that doesn’t take place in formal settings such as classrooms. This was quite interesting to me, as I am often teaching myself new things in my spare time, exploring subjects and falling down Wikipedia holes. It was suggested that things like podcasts can help with informal learning, but the main point of this section was social learning, and how interacting in social media can be valuable in learning. We looked at some websites which analyse information on Twitter and other social media sites, and discussed whether we would actually use these. The websites I liked the look of were Topsy and SocialMention, both of which do real-time searches and provide various ways to analyse the results you get. I think I would mainly use websites like these for personal interest, like “how many people are watching Great British Bake Off right now?”, but can see value in them for people like journalists, who can use them to gauge reactions to major events. I’m not sure I could see myself using them for academic research, as I’m not sure they’d work as well for that sort of thing. I’m more than happy to be proved wrong if you’ve got evidence to the contrary though!

Disappointingly, we did not have time to talk about Open Access, which I understand is a big talking point at the moment for academic libraries. I don’t know very much about it at all, so I’m sad that I missed out on a chance to hear about what it is and how it affects us at the university. Hopefully during the rest of my year here, and my MA course, I can get to grips with it.

All in all, this was quite a mixed session, as I was already familiar with some of the topics, and the things I would have liked to know more about were passed over quite quickly or missed completely.  But I picked up some good tips and tricks as well as some inspiration for my podcasts, so it was useful in parts!

Our next session is on social media in libraries, which should be good, and it’s a NoWAL session, so there are networking opportunities to be had too. Stay tuned for a write-up of that!

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Well begun is half done


I’m officially halfway through my traineeship now – week 26 is over and done with. I thought I’d have a look back at some of the things I was most nervous about at the beginning, and see how things have changed now. I went through my first few blog posts and found loads of places where I said “I’m scared of X” or “I don’t really like Y”. Here are a few things that terrified me six months ago:

–          Having a job. As I’ve mentioned a few times, this is my first ever 9-5 real-world job, and so I was really nervous about what it actually would be like, and whether I’d fit in and actually like it. Luckily my fears about this were unfounded, as everyone’s really friendly and the work is (mostly) interesting and enjoyable (giant spreadsheets excluded).

–          Being the “new girl”. I’ve never liked being the centre of attention, so being the new person who everyone’s watching, and who’s being a bit of a nuisance because she doesn’t have a clue what she’s doing, made me feel a bit uncomfortable at first. But again, as I got to know people and learned more, I felt less like a sore thumb and more like part of the team. When I started being able to do projects such as digitisation on my own, it helped me feel less like I was getting under people’s feet, which really helped.

–          Doing something wrong. I think this is a pretty normal fear, to be honest! I was deathly afraid of doing something so terribly wrong that I’d get fired on the spot – but even though I did make mistakes, they were easily fixable, and the world didn’t end. After I broke the photocopier by accidentally pulling its lid off, I think this fear was well and truly vanquished. Of course I still don’t want to make mistakes, but I’m able to acknowledge now that everyone will do so now and then, and I’m not so scared of the consequences any more.

–          Answering the phone. I am quite shy in social situations, which has meant in the past that I didn’t want to go to places like the bank or the post office, or generally put myself in situations where I’d have to talk to people I didn’t know. I’m slowly getting better at this, although I still have to rehearse conversations in my head before going to the bank. For the first few weeks here I was, understandably, quite wary of the phone – I knew I would be unable to help whoever was on the other end of it, so I tended to just run away from it instead. But these days I can answer the phone to pretty much anyone and know that I can deal with most queries unless they’re really unusual, which has helped me feel a lot more confident in myself in terms of social skills.

–          Dealing with customers. This is another “social skills” thing that I feel a lot better about these days. I’ve always been able to talk to people and explain things to them, but since working here and interacting with students and staff with all sorts of queries and complaints, I feel a lot more secure in how I deal with various situations. The training we had back before Christmas on dealing with difficult customers certainly helped as well, as I’ve had quite a few times where I’ve had to tell people about large fines or other problems. Obviously, for librarianship, customer service skills can be really important, so I’m really glad I’ve had so many opportunities to get better at this during the year.

–          Podcasting. This is something I’d never done before, but seeing as making a podcast involves a PowerPoint presentation and a spoken explanation of how to use something, it wasn’t nearly as terrifying as I’d imagined, and I’m now on to my third one.

I’ve definitely come a long way since the early days of my traineeship, but there’s a lot of stuff I still want to try out and become braver about. Next week is my first joint teaching session, which I’m looking forward to (and a bit nervous about). Hopefully I’ll have other opportunities to do this later on in the year, because even though I’m apprehensive, I think I’ll enjoy it.

I also want to attend some events on librarianship, so I’m starting off with Manchester NLPN’s Spring Event in April. After that I may even get brave enough to attend an unconference or Library Camp!

I want to get more involved in projects where I can test my skills and learn new things, for example the overhaul of our digitisation records, which I did before Christmas. Hopefully as we progress through this year and more preparations are made for the move in 2014, there’ll be opportunities for me to take on some responsibilities for things like this.

Finally, I want to do more networking. Generally, being a shy person has meant that I’ve shied away (geddit?) from interacting with people, either face-to-face or on social media, but I’m gradually getting more involved in online chats about library-related things. I’m a regular lurker on #uklibchat discussions on Twitter, but one day soon I might actually bite the bullet and join in – what’s the worst that can happen? I think attending events will also help with networking, as we don’t get many opportunities in our traineeship to meet people from outside MMU, and it’ll be interesting to meet people from other types of libraries at the MNLPN event in April.

The first six months of this job have flown by, and I’m really looking forward to seeing what the warmer, sunnier half of my traineeship will bring. Here’s to the future!


(featured header image from http://www.flickr.com/photos/ewestrum/4590703575/)


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