I've considered the questions on quite a personal basis, rather than a generalist perspective.
What are the advantages of social media in the context of professional development?
- I work in a world where, despite constant reassurances that training is still available, the reality is somewhat different. Getting up early, travelling to London, taking time out of the office, paying for a train, spending the day sat in a classroom before being hurled back into the office again with barely time to digest the learning from the day before is no longer possible. Professional development isn't just about classroom learning. Engaging in social media provides another avenue to consider other viewpoints, discover new idea's and develop our skills.
- I'm a single mum with a disabled child, tied to the school-run-home-tea-bed-by-eight-o'clock-collapse routine. It is sometimes possible to leave the house again at night, but it's rarely possible to do this on nights when face-to-face meetings and events actually happen. Being able to take part in online networking helps me to feel like I'm still part of the conversation.
- I'm partially deaf, and find group conversations quite challenging, particularly if they are fast-paced, or I'm faced with an unfamiliar accent. (Or a particularly animated moustache!) The delay between me hearing the sounds, and being able to interpret means that by the time I've formed a response, the conversation has moved on and my contribution is no longer relevant. Social media levels the playing field for me and allows me to contribute.
- Defying geography, time and space. Sharing idea's with information professionals from beyond the borders of, not just my own library, but my own town and my own country. Takes the idea of engaging in the wider profession to a new level.
What are the disadvantages?
- Whilst Twitter has grown on me, the limits of 140 characters are obvious. Words need to be chosen carefully, meaning is easily misinterpreted and conversations splintered. I have already fallen victim to this.
- Needs to be used to compliment other communications tools, not instead of other communication tools. I include picking up the telephone; getting up out of your chair and walking across the room to talk to someone and good old fashioned email in this.
- Not all workplaces have embraced social media. Some are actively blocking it, despite evidence of the value of social media in the workplace. Stopblocking.org notes that none of the top 100 companies to work for in the UK block access to social media. My own workplace has a clear social media policy. We are able to use social media to communicate with our customers only if it is authorised by our Communications department. Personal engagement in social media is allowed, but without reference to the workplace. Which makes writing about developments in libraries in the specialist sector tricky, and something I'm still figuring out. I've often complained about the lack of visibility of librarians working in government libraries in the UK. I hold this policy to blame.
- Which brings me on to the next disadvantage. Building a powerful online network increases your 'brand power' and influence, but managing yourself as a 'brand' is a skill that now needs to be acquired as part of new set of workplace literacies. Getting it wrong could have a negative impact on the way you are viewed in the next job interview.
Has CPD23 helped you to make contact with others that you would not have had contact with normally?
- Absolutely. A combination of attending an event for Thing 7, a cautious presence on Twitter and a good old nose around the cpd23 tags on Delicious has meant that I've come across - shock, horror - other specialist librarians. I've also discovered voices for library activism that have encouraged me to think about my own participation in defending public library services, as well voices from other libraries within my own geographical region.
- I use 'Community of Practice' tools within my own workplace to raise my profile, the library profile and engage with my customers. Social bookmarking tools to share resources as part of my campaign to increase information literacy within my workplace. Online communities like LinkedIn to keep up to date. I joined Twitter with an 'if I bloody have to' attitude, but have been somewhat converted. I've yet to make up my mind about the blog. I think it's yet to prove it's value. At the moment, the blog is purely selfish. It's about meeting the goals of CPD23, and providing potential evidence for Aclilip. I'm not sure how much value it has to others reading it...