Tag Archives: social media

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly of Social Media

23 May

goodbaduglyThe following first appeared as an article for the Social Media column (edited by Lara Killian, AHIP) in MLA News, the monthly membership magazine of the Medical Library Association. Originally, I planned to simply repost it here without any additional thoughts or comments, but in the past 24 hours, a couple of things have occurred that make me wish to add just a quick note. First, I read the New York Times article, The Internet is Broken: @ev Is Trying to Salvage It. It’s an interesting piece about Evan Williams, a co-creator of Blogger, one of the founders of Twitter, and the founder of Medium. Much of the article focuses on the the struggles of the latter as a successful business model, but the underlying theme is about the Internet and what social media has fostered, negatively, in our society.

The second thing that happened was last night, someone who I’ve never encountered in my entire life but who clearly disagreed with something that I posted on Twitter, called me a paid troll, an idiot, and a waste of oxygen. I’m grateful that they stayed away from any comments about my body and my dead mother, but … I blocked the individual before he could think of that. I’ve used Twitter for years. I know that it has an earned reputation as a platform for bullying, for hateful comments, and for even inciting violence, but until last night, I’d been immune from any of that. Twitter is a way for me to aggregate news sources, share interesting and helpful information with friends and colleagues, see pictures of puppies, and even form a few new friendships. I’ll not shy away from it due to this incident, but I imagine that I’m not alone when I observe the horrid behavior of too many people today, virtual and otherwise, and shout, “STOP IT!” 

But enough with the commentary. Here’s the piece that I wrote about why I’m a blogger. It’s been one of the best professional and personal decisions that I’ve made. It’s the Good, to the Bad and the Ugly.

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Way back in September of 2012, I started writing a blog, “A Librarian by Any Other Name.” I chose this name because my official job title had recently changed from “research and scholarly communications librarian” to “informationist.” I didn’t particularly care for the latter term, but it came with an administrative supplement grant from the National Library of Medicine, which was my impetus for starting to blog in the first place. I also chose what I thought was a fun name for my uniform resource locator (URL)—librarianhats.net—to capture the fact that librarians have many job titles, in part because we wear so many different “hats.”

I began my blog to track my experience and progress for the grant. I’m not very good with note taking in any traditional sense, but I do like to write a narrative and I enjoy the world of social media, so blogging seemed a good choice. It became a way for me to share not only with other members of my research team, but also with other librarians and/or interested readers. When the project ended, I realized that I’d developed an audience and that I really enjoyed writing for my followers, so I continued.

Since that first post, I’ve written 192 more and had 62,224 visitors from 156 different countries. Reviewing these statistics makes me feel both proud and humbled. I’ve received many kind words of appreciation, engaged in interesting discussions about blog post topics, and discovered lots of colleagues with similar ideas and in similar situations. As a direct result of contacts made through my blog, I’ve accepted at least 1 invitation each year to speak at librarian conferences, allowing me to travel to fun places and meet many wonderful people. All of this happened because I started writing about what I do and what I think about as a librarian, an informationist, and, most recently, an evaluator for the UMass Center for Clinical & Translational Science. I believe it’s one of the best professional decisions I ever made.

Want to start your own blog? Here are some lessons I’ve learned:

Be yourself

My blog is a mix of the professional and personal me. I found early on that it was difficult for me to write completely objectively, as I might do for a professional publication. Besides, this wasn’t the point of Librarian by Any Other Name. I wanted to share my personal experiences and thoughts, but in a professional manner. As such, I adopted a style that allows me to be myself: fairly informal, folksy, and hopefully funny at times, but also on point in regard to sharing content that my audience will find interesting and relevant. Finding your voice may come easily or not, but with time and practice, it develops.

Be consistent

In her piece, “Making Time to Stay Social,” Lara Killian, AHIP, notes the importance of making a schedule and sticking to it. This is important both for the writer and the audience. People follow a blog when it stays current. In the same way, they stop visiting when a site sits dormant for long periods of time. When I first started A Librarian by Any Other Name, I wrote and posted a new piece each week. When I finished the initial project and especially when I changed jobs a couple of years ago, I found it harder to maintain this schedule due to both time and material. Once or twice a month is now my norm. The key is to maintain engagement.

Be brave (if you want to)

Early on, I made the decision to announce every new entry to A Librarian by Any Other Name on multiple platforms. I wanted people to find it. I wanted to develop an audience. My primary audience—in other words, medical librarians—prefers receiving information via different means. Some subscribe; some follow on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, or Google; and still others click from the link that I send in an email to several email discussion lists. Some may feel this is overkill, but the reality of social media platforms and information flow is that if you want an audience, you need to utilize multiple channels. You may have naysayers who think self-promotion is simply ego, but it isn’t. If you’ve taken the time and effort to write something that you want others to read, you need to tell them it’s there. After all, it’s social media, not a diary.

Final thoughts

Too often, we struggle in our profession to be visible. We feel that we are overlooked and undervalued, and that what we do is misunderstood. The easiest remedy for this is communication. Blogging is one means of accomplishing this goal—and a whole lot more.

Two and Two and Two: Making Connections

24 Oct

Two meetings with two principal investigators about two grant proposals over two days lead me to two observations and thoughts about the state of our profession and the work that we do:

1. Is the library a silo, too?

We speak a good bit in the profession about how often those that we serve, our patrons, live and work in silos. Scientists do research in specific areas. Departments treat diseases within a specialized field. Administrators make decisions within the context of the the top level that they know best. It’s very common. And it makes us quite frustrated because the reality of the world is that we rarely function in a world that doesn’t (or couldn’t) benefit from other areas, if only we knew about them. However, “Nobody knows what I do!” is a common cry not just from librarians, but across the board. Is this perhaps a glimpse that we, like our patrons, are living in a silo that we’ve created for ourselves? 

Yesterday, I sat down with a researcher to do some work on the proposal that we’re submitting for the next round of informationist grants from the National Library of Medicine. It is an absolutely fantastic project and each time that I come away from talking with Dr. Kennedy, I can’t help but think how refreshing it is to speak with a researcher who knows as much, no, more than I do, around the issues related to data sharing. Turns out that he’s internationally known as a proponent of data sharing in his field (neuroimaging), leading projects and initiatives and working groups and all sorts of attempts at advocating among his peers for the necessity of this practice. It is by chance – pure chance – that our paths crossed and that this crossing led us to work on the grant proposal together. You see, he knew of the RFP for the informationist supplement grants because of his connections to colleagues at the National Library of Medicine. I happened to give a talk at one of his lab’s meetings awhile back on an unrelated topic and he noted that the title on my signature line includes “informationist.” Thus, he asked me what this meant, what I did, what I was doing related to the supplement awards, and if I’d be interested in helping him on a project idea that he had. This is how we came to yesterday.

What I want to point out, however, is that Dr. Kennedy came across this information with no connection to the library. He learned of it from a colleague at the National Library of Medicine, yet that colleague, evidently, didn’t think to point him to his library as a place to find an informationist. 

Are you following me?

There’s a chat happening on the MEDLIB-l listserv today (and other days and in other circles of our profession, too, of course) regarding our name, i.e. should we incorporate “knowledge” into our job titles, use it in some form instead of “library” to describe our workplace, etc. I’m not going to get into that discussion here, but I bring it up because a consistent thread in these discussions is that if our patrons don’t know the value of the library, then we are evidently doing something wrong in our work.

To this I say, “Yes and no.” 

Yes, sometimes we haven’t done the best job at getting out and letting people know how we can build partnerships, collaborate on research projects, embed ourselves in curriculum, teach classes on a variety of relevant subjects, and much more. Our history is as a passive profession. For years and years and years we were able to meet our patrons here, in the library. They had to come to us to use our resources. Once here, they made the association that librarians were important because libraries had resources. But those days have been gone for decades now and we haven’t always been the best at getting out and helping people associate us less with the library and more with our skills. WE are the resource that we really need to save now, not the library or the journal collections or the subscription to UpToDate. We cost the administration more than those other resources, thus we best be able to prove that we are the resource worth keeping the next time the forced budget cuts come along.

But I also say no to the belief that if people don’t know our value, we’re doing something wrong. I’ve done a ton of right things over the past year and a half as an embedded informationist that have led me to all sorts of fantastic new opportunities, yet still it’s only by chance that I discover someone right here on my very campus who has been working on and advocating for many of the same things we’ve been talking about here in the Library. We work in different worlds, all of us, and despite the forward strides and promise of networked science, it remains so darned impossible to be able to make all of the connections that we could make that would ultimately lead to better work, e.g. science, medicine, information management. Work that would prove our value.

To me, that realization really hit home when yesterday when I thought about how someone who works for the National Library of Medicine, the funding agency behind these informationist grants (the National LIBRARY of Medicine) didn’t associate the library with those awards. I don’t say that out of any place of judgment, either. Well… maybe a little, but the truth is that there’s no point in judging and/or blaming and/or pointing fingers. It is simply our reality. We all live and work in some degree of a silo, but if we want to be associated with value, we need to be valuable. Visible and valuable. Both.

2. “You have a unique skill that only a handful of people on this campus have.”

I was told this today by another principal investigator as we discussed the rewriting of another grant proposal. The skill she refers to is my knowledge of how to use and leverage social media for all sorts of positive things. Her point was that when you have something that few others have, you’ve got to use it. Social media is trendy in medical research today, but few medical researchers actually use social media. They want the money to do the research, yet don’t have the expertise in the products to know how to use them effectively. Thus, when you do have the expertise, you have value. Research teams need you on their team. This is terrific!

Yet I felt myself hesitating at the thought that as a librarian, the skill I would bring to a research team lies in social media. Is that a librarian skill? As we talked though, the researcher described to me how knowing the social media tools and the social media landscape affords you the skill of knowing better how to collect and manage the data that’s generated from the use of these tools. Novices don’t have that. And data management… now THAT is a skill that the library is clamoring to get into. But even for me and my “out of the library box” thinking, making this connection took a few minutes. Even for me! 

It surprised me, but I wonder if as we break out of our silos and work closely with others, perhaps one of the things that gets blurry is the answer to the question, “Who knows what?” What are librarians supposed to know? What are researchers supposed to know? What do doctors know? And who does what? I think that it’s this vagueness that makes us argue over (or more politely, discuss) what we call ourselves, what services we provide, and what our value really is. Silos and walls keep us separated, but they also keep us neat and orderly. We say that they need to go. Are we ready for the flood of uncertainty that all the mixing-up to come will bring? 

National Preparedness Month was last month, but you can still celebrate it today.

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