Social Media Feast and Fast: Disconnecting for a Day

July 20, 2012

I was feeling wired in the best and worst of all possible ways after feasting on nonstop, extremely intense face-to-face and online contact with colleagues at American Society for Training & Development (ASTD) and American Library Association (ALA) conferences recently.

The cumulative effect was wonderfully alarming—or alarmingly wonderful, depending on your own attitudes toward social media tools. The positive result was that engaging with colleagues face to face and via Twitter backchannels created a remarkably rewarding level of engagement. The worrisome part was that the nonstop engagement created a social media/digital equivalent of delirium tremens in the days immediately following each conference.

Some of the contradictory responses should not, in retrospect, have been difficult to anticipate. I did, after all, move without any sort of conscious transition into dawn-to-dark social media immersion from a routine habit of spending an hour or less each day engaged with others through Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, and Facebook; the exception to my usual habits generally comes in the form of a weekly or biweekly engagement in a formal online discussion session, e.g., a tweet chat, or through the act of live-tweeting an event for colleagues who cannot be present.

The conference interactions turned those patterns completely on their virtual heads. Conference days generally began with a quick skim, on the screen of my laptop, of the conference backchannel feeds via TweetDeck; this helped me spot last-minute announcements regarding events I didn’t want to miss, or summaries of presentations and discussions I wasn’t able to attend. Then I would skim a (print) copy of a newspaper before switching over to a mobile device (in this case, a Samsung Galaxy tablet)  to keep up with the various feeds throughout the day. I would turn back to my laptop when I was live-tweeting events I was attending or writing blog postings late each evening.

As I’ve written elsewhere, the level of engagement was spectacular; the combined online and face-to-face contacts produced connections I otherwise would have never made. But the predictable crash was quick to come in the days immediately following each conference. I found myself compulsively continuing to follow the backchannel post-conference feeds via my tablet. Craving and missing the obvious social media buzz that comes from that level of stimulation. And feeling as if the transition from conference routines back to normal day-to-day routines was not happening as naturally as it had in the past.

When I found myself feeling that way after returning from the second conference, I began thinking about University of San Francisco associate professor of media studies and environmental studies David Silver’s recent summary of a digital fast experiment. Silver’s engaging presentation at the San Francisco Public Library under the auspices of BayNet (the Bay Area Library & Information Network) in May 2012 made many of us think about our own online practices as he described how he had encouraged a group of 80 digital natives to go without any electronic or digital media as long as they could—in essence, to “remain logged off until it becomes dangerous, impossible, or unbearable.”

The student who maintained the fast for the shortest period of time gave up after only a few hours. The person who lasted longest went all of three and a half days. Some of the participants’ observations were funny—one wanted to know how to take a bus without an iPhone and then what to do while on the bus with no digital distractions. Another concluded that it was impossible to work out at a gym without music. A third participant reported staring at a pizza for lack of anything else to do over a meal. Some participants’ observations were poignant—their friends who continued texting acted as if they had stepped out of the room by not being equally engaged in online conversations, and one reported that it was “weird to be stuck in my mind…I didn’t like it.”

Armed with memories of those observations and recognizing that I needed my own digital fast, I set aside a Saturday recently when no one was expecting me to work. I could actually feel my body and my thoughts relaxing as I opened the pages of a book that morning and slowly relished the joy of slowly absorbing thoughts from printed sources rather than feeling as if I had to race from tweet to tweet. Brunch with my wife was a relaxing and invigorating combination of conversation and time spent skimming that day’s edition of The New York Times—in its printed format. A walk through parts of San Francisco that afternoon gave us time to talk as well as simply take things in, and dinner in the relative silence of our home—no television, CD player, or radio providing distractions—led to a quiet evening without interruptions.

Beginning the fast with the intention of letting it run from midnight to midnight, I actually was in no rush to check for messages the following (Sunday) morning, so the fast actually continued well into the afternoon. By the time I wandered back to briefly check for phone messages—nothing pressing there—and online contacts, I realized I had accomplished what I set out to do. Set the virtual world aside for an all-too brief retreat. Slowed myself down significantly. And managed to break the compulsive need to monitor those post-conference backchannels and other online enticements. So I’m back to normal patterns of online interactions. And apparently none the worse for wear.


Antisocial Networking: Dreading Social Media

May 15, 2012

Facebook helps three out of four libraries recently surveyed announce upcoming programs and new acquisitions, Research and Markets’ newly released report focusing on 62 public, academic, special, and government libraries suggests. And more than half of the libraries surveyed maintain active Twitter accounts. Which still leaves a lot of libraries—and library staff members–not yet seeing the need to use social media tools to meet library users where they are meeting.

If you’re among the several billion people who haven’t yet felt the need to start a Facebook or other social media account, you don’t need to let others push you into the social media pool; you’ll dive into those waters when you’re ready—and not a moment sooner. And if the very thought of using Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, Twitter, or other social media services fills you with dread, please understand that you’re not alone. We’ve all been there. And some of us have overcome the dread and discovered that there are ways to use these services with the help of trusted colleagues. The moment of transition arrives when we realize we can dive into social media without it completing drowning us.

We’re constantly bombarded with admonitions and expressions of disbelief if we tell someone immersed in social media that we just don’t feel the need to join them in those venues. It’s as if, by refusing to join them on Facebook and those other sites, we have placed ourselves into an aberrational class of anti-social networking malcontents who somehow have decided to gleefully rip holes in the fabric of the social media universe. Yet nothing could be further from the truth. For some, it just takes more time to reach the moment of need—that moment when we see more value in being part of the online social networking universe than we see in remaining aloof from what initially appears to be a frivolous, unproductive use of our time.

What the social media mavens often ignore is that many people simply haven’t recognized how involvement in social media networks can actually strengthen rather than detract from the sense that we are part of vibrant, creative, and inspiring social communities that increasingly combine, in a seamless way, our onsite and online professional and personal activities. They haven’t seen the value of joining thoughtfully inspiring online conversations they don’t even know are taking place.

Those of us who gone from dread to enthusiasm now barely notice the tools; we focus on a newfound and effective method of communication and the cultivation of resources that enrich every facet of our lives. We realize that whether we are on Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, or Twitter is far less important than how we incorporate those tools into our lives—and how we work to keep them in the role of tools rather than turning them into driving forces that keep us from accomplishing other, more important things. We quickly learn to sift through the online ephemera and go for the gold—those updates providing links to a valuable and much-appreciated resource that we would not have found by ourselves. And when that happens, we’re in the game. Completely. With full enjoyment. And with gratitude that we didn’t have to waste time seeking out that resource on our own.

All of which provides a great reminder to those of us who have made the personal and professional journey from dread and anti-social networking to developing a great appreciation for how those tools have drawn us into valuable and highly valued communities. We are not going to entice others into that world by telling them they have to join. Furthermore, there’s no reason that we should do so. What we should be doing is using these tools ourselves. Letting others know what has worked for us (and, most importantly, why). And being there to help others take the baby steps they need to take to join us in the shallow or the deep end of the social media pool.

N.B.: Paul is teaching the ALA Editions four-week online “Social Media Basics: Engaging Your Library Users” course from May 21 – June 17, 2012 (http://www.alastore.ala.org/detail.aspx?ID=3812) for those who literally want to start at the beginning by opening Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, and Twitter accounts, and then seeing how those accounts can serve their professional and personal needs.

An edited version of this article was written for the ALA Editions blog.


Texas Library Association Conference 2012: Creating an Onsite-Online Presence for Your Organization

April 20, 2012

Organizations looking to create a seamless and successful onsite-online presence need to remain true to their vision and values, play to their customers’ needs and desires, and foster a spirit of collaboration, attendees at the 2012 Texas Library Association conference were reminded during a session here in Houston yesterday.

Offering guidance that could easily be applied far beyond their library audience, Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library Chief Executive Officer Gina Millsap and Digital Branch & Services Manager David Lee King talked about how designing a digital branch library is “everyone’s job”—an assertion that makes sense in any endeavor involving the creation of an online service that is consistent with an existing physical presence.

Using their own library as a case study, Millsap and King noted that their efforts began with an obvious community need: they have a service area with a population of 177,000 and, by design, a single library building, so creating something that could more effectively reach larger numbers of people within that service area was an enticing challenge. Meeting that challenge in a way that remained true to the library’s mission and to the values of the community being served provided an additional foundation: “Ultimately, it’s about building relationships with people,” Millsap observed, so the digital library is designed to foster those relationships.

Before hiring King to help with development of the digital library—which, among its offerings, includes access to ebooks, downloadable music, original content including blog postings created by staff, and integration of social media tools to engage key members of the community—the library established clear and measurable goals, including a commitment to offering services onsite and online, creating unique content on the web, and acknowledging that the digital library would, for some users, be their only branch library. That virtual organization, furthermore, was designed to provide exceptional customer service, be consistent with the library’s strategic plan, and deliver a key element of what the library offers by promoting librarians as information consultants.

It also remains highly personal and engaging by avoiding library jargon and acknowledging that “customers and patrons” think of themselves as “library members” rather than “patrons.”

What those members find when they use the digital library is a focus on staff and important services; a strong commitment to reaching members where they are, i.e., on Facebook and on Twitter as well as on YouTube; and a team-based approach that makes the digital library with its social media sites work in engaging and interactive ways, King said.

And they arrived at that success through “lots of talking with my peers, with administration” as well as plenty of brainstorming, followed by planning, King noted.

Commitment by all staff members remains critically important, Millsap and King said. No one can opt out of involvement in the digital branch; the approach remains heavily team-based; participation is part of staff members’ formal job descriptions; and the organization deliberately hires people with a commitment to supporting the digital library.

The result has been that the library wants and continues to build trust with its community partners: “We’re sharing good stuff, making friends, interacting daily,” King explained. “We’re turning strangers into friends; that’s a goal for us.”

And if all of that sounds like a perfectly good roadmap for any organization wishing to better serve its constituents through a consistent blending of onsite and online operations, so much the better.


Libraries, Training, and Continuing Education

March 19, 2012

Those who still equate libraries with nothing more than printed books—and experience tells me there are plenty of training-teaching-learning colleagues who fall into that category—need to step outside their caves and see what is happening within their onsite-online libraries.

Laura Townsend Kane’s Working in the Virtual Stacks: The New Library & Information Science is just the place to start. Written primarily for those considering a career in libraries and those considering a mid-career change, this book by the assistant director for information services at the University of South Carolina’s School of Medicine Library in Columbia, South Carolina features interviews with more than 30 library insiders’ views of where their industry is going, and it should be of interest to a much wider audience. Whether you are among those who are increasingly using library services and are curious how they work, are already a library insider, or are considering a career in libraries, Kane has something for you.

Working in the Virtual Stacks introduces us to librarians as subject specialists; technology gurus and social networkers; teachers and community liaisons; entrepreneurs; and administrators in the five sections of her book. Even better for those of us involved with libraries as well as with training-teaching-learning within and outside of library land, we find numerous examples of library staff members as lifelong learners and facilitators of learning within the communities they serve—a confirmation of the key teaching-training role Lori Reed and I documented for members of library staff in our own book, Library Learning & Leadership.

We can’t go more than a few pages in this insiders’ view without coming across references to library staff members’ dedication to learning —their own as well as that of the library users they serve onsite and online. There are also numerous examples of library staff members promoting the use of online social media tools not only to complete the work they do but also to reach those in need of their services—just as many of us do in workplace learning and performance (staff training) endeavors outside of libraries. We’ll find library staff members using Facebook, LinkedIn, Skype, Twitter, YouTube, and a variety of other tools that have become every bit as important to library services as the books we’ve come to expect from our libraries in the various formats we seek—including eBooks.

There are library colleagues telling us that we “must also keep up with the field of futurism and trend watching,” as Steven J. Bell, associate university librarian for research and instructional services at Temple University does in the final interview in the book. Or reminding us that blogs, wikis, and instant message services all have roles to play in our training-teaching-learning endeavors, as Meredith Farkas, head of instructional services at the Portland State University Library in Oregon, does. Or how important it is to take every tech-based class available and stay active in social networking, as San Rafael Public Library Acting Director Sarah Houghton says. And how “if we become trend-spotters, we have a good chance of creating the ‘next big thing’” (p. 95), as San Jose State University assistant professor Michael Stephens maintains.

Most importantly of all, there is Kane herself confirming that “the days of sitting for hours at the reference desk, waiting for patrons to approach with questions, are long gone….librarians are expected to keep up with changing technologies” (p. 3)—just like the rest of us. And the best of them are there to help us through the transition in which we are still so deeply immersed in our careers as trainer-teacher-learners.


Hidden Garden Steps: When Social Networking Supports an Onsite-Online Community

March 20, 2011

Creating a community-based, volunteer-managed, neighborhood beautification project while strengthening the sense of community in San Francisco’s Inner Sunset District took an interesting turn a few days ago: one of our volunteer supporters for the Hidden Garden Steps project went online with a charming—and obviously effective—fundraising effort to help move the $300,000 project forward.

The initiative by the volunteer—Sherry Boschert, who lives with her partner near the Steps—is not only engagingly straightforward. It is also very much in the spirit of the Hidden Garden Steps effort, which relies on a loosely structured organizing committee coordinating a San Francisco Parks Trust project to bring existing neighborhood individuals, groups, and business owners together in a collaborative effort to complete the project on 16th Avenue, between Kirkham and Lawton streets.

Boschert did her research by talking with the project artists (Aileen Barr and Colette Crutcher) at a recent fundraising and marketing event hosted by Crepevine owner Majed Fakouri. She also, at the same event, met with organizing committee member Licia Wells for a quick brainstorming session about various aspects of her idea to bring members of the Inner Sunset GLBT community together to raise $5,000 to support the creation and installation of the Diablo Fairly Lantern tile element of the Steps project. Then Boschert, a writer and activist who has lived in the neighborhood for two decades, used the Kickstarter online fundraising platform to post the video she created.

Within 24 hours, the posting had already attracted three donors who contributed more than 10 percent of the $5,000 goal for that one piece of the overall Hidden Garden Steps effort. And she has already offered to show others how to engage in similar efforts on behalf of the Steps.

There is plenty to admire and to learn from here, and it reminds us of the importance of combining face-to-face and online efforts seamlessly. Boschert became interested in the Hidden Garden Steps project as a result of organizing committee members’ efforts to collected collect signatures on petitions in early 2010. She remained interested as organizing committee members held monthly meetings to create an effective project infrastructure throughout 2010; created local interest through flyers posted throughout the neighborhood and through rudimentary Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter accounts; began formal fundraising efforts in early 2011; and began scheduling public events in volunteers’ homes, at Crepevine, and other settings.

The result of the organizing committee’s efforts, so far, has been a flow of more than $20,000 in donations not only from San Franciscans but also from San Franciscans’ friends, relatives, and colleagues in other parts of the United States.

Boschert, on her Kickstarter page and in the video, creates the sense of warmth, engagement, and fun that is at the heart of the entire project: “This Kickstarter project is raising funds specifically to sponsor one element in the design—the Diablo Fairy Lantern flower—and to recognize the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) residents of the Sunset District who live near both sets of steps.

“Why GLBTs? The Sunset has a reputation for being one of the city’s most conservative, straight districts, but GLBT people have always lived here too. We want to give back to the community by supporting this gorgeous project, and we will place one tile near the Diablo Fairy Lantern with the name of our social group, Out in the Fog.

“Why the Fairy Lantern? (I don’t really have to explain that, do I?) Because it’s beautiful. Here’s what the Fairy Lantern looks like in the design, and here’s what it looks like in real life. Like I said — gorgeous.”

And as we move forward with our efforts to bring the entire project to fruition, it’s worth the time it takes to acknowledge something else equally gorgeous: the spirit of community that inspires people like Boschert to carve time out of their very busy schedules to engage in positive actions. And make us smile.

N.B.: This is the second in an ongoing series to document the Hidden Garden Steps project in San Francisco. Next: Local Libraries’ Involvement in the Hidden Garden Steps Project.


Reports from the Field: “Getting Started With e-Learning 2.0”

February 6, 2011

To move beyond the common practice of seeing e-learning as little more than a way to save money in workplace learning and performance (training) programs, we need go no further than Patti Shank’s “Getting Started with e-Learning 2.0,” a first-rate report published by the eLearning Guild in late 2010.

Drawing from survey responses submitted by more than 850 Guild members—professionals working in e-learning—the report provides an intriguing snapshot of how social media tools are—or aren’t—being used in online learning and, more importantly, provides information about the “top five strategies that respondents feel they need for success with e-Learning 2.0 approaches”: “good content, upper management endorsement, user assistance, piloting, and testimonials” (p. 4).

We know from the beginning of this Guild publication that we’re among colleagues interested in learning. In talking about the increasing tendency to incorporate social networking tools including wikis, blogs, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, social bookmarking sites such as Delicious and Diigo, and others into online learning opportunities, the writer asks and answers a basic question—“Are these good learning opportunities? You betcha!” (p. 6)—and then delivers a cohesive and easy-to-follow summary of the eLearning Guild survey documentation supporting her conclusion.

The good news for trainers, teachers, and learners is that “social media has become a very big deal” and that its use is continuing to increase rapidly (p. 8). The not-so-good news is that most respondents “don’t feel a great deal of pressure to implement these approaches” (p. 14) and “more than 25% of respondents are making only limited use of e-Learning 2.0 approaches or researching how other organizations are using it” (p. 4).

This is hardly breaking news to those of us who enjoy and are involved in onsite and online education: there are still so many poorly organized and poorly presented workplace learning and performance offerings that it’s not surprising to find skeptical rather than enthusiastic presenters and learners. It also remains true that those trying their first webinar or online course are unlikely to give the medium a second chance if what they face is poorly designed PowerPoint presentations and sessions that lack the levels of engagement that lead to effective learning and the positive change that should follow.

Shank provides concise descriptions and suggested applications for blogs, wikis, social bookmarking, and other aspects of social networking that are becoming part of our online learning toolkit. She also offers useful sections on learning benefits (the fact that learning is socially grounded, so social networking tools are a natural match for the learning process—p. 26), challenges (managers and supervisors who see social networking tools as detracting from rather than adding to the value of their training programs and overall ability to conduct business—pp. 26-30), and results (sharing ideas across departments, improving team collaboration, increasing creativity and problem-solving—p. 31).

Three pages of online references and a two-page glossary round out this useful and learning-centric report, leaving us not only with encouragement about the positive impact e-learning is having, but also with sobering thoughts about how much more there is to accomplish before we have reached our—and its—full potential.

Next: ASTD’s Most Recent “State of the Industry” Report


Building Buzz: Microblogging, Learning, and Atlantic Monthly (Part 1 of 2)

February 13, 2010

Being the pseudo-troglodyte that I am, I have not joined Facebook, Twitter, or any number of social networking services that friends and colleagues enjoy on a daily basis. On the other hand, I’ve found LinkedIn, Ning, and a few other tools to be tremendously effective for what I value: using online tools as tools rather than letting them demand minutes and hours I simply cannot spare.

Google, this week, shifted my thinking a bit by pushing a new free and easy-to-use add-on into my Gmail account: Google Buzz. It turns out to be an interesting variation on the theme of microblogging a la Twitter and LinkedIn updates by allowing participants to connect to each other very easily through the posting of short messages back and forth over a shared network.

What really drew me to experiment with Buzz over the first few days of its existence was the realization that I could view—or not view—Buzz entries as time and desire allowed. Friends who use Twitter tell me that if I don’t want to check for updates frequently and respond rapidly, there’s really no point in using Twitter; Buzz, on the other hand, approaches me as I love being approached: it’s available, but not demanding.

Twitter, on its own website, bills itself as “a real-time information network powered by people all over the world that lets you share and discover what’s happening now…[w]hether it’s breaking news, a local traffic jam, a deal at your favorite shop or a funny pick-me-up from a friend.” The result is that users post an overwhelming amount of personal information which can quickly drown readers in minutiae.

Facebook clearly provides a playfully social gathering place for people looking for the online equivalent of the “third place” away from home and work that Ray Oldenburg described so well in The Great Good Place: Cafés, Coffee Shops, Bookstores, Bars, Hair Salons and Other Hangouts at the Heart of a Community more than 20 years ago. With the online Facebook community comes an expectation that responses from community members will be swift and plentiful.

LinkedIn offers a relatively unobtrusive business- and career-oriented variation on the theme, serving as a way to “find, be introduced to, and collaborate with qualified professionals that you need to work with to accomplish your goals.” Controlling the flow of incoming information is easy to manage, which is one of its most attractive features for me.

And now we reach Buzz, which attempts to provide a way to “start conversations about the things you find interesting,” according to the introductory video posted by Google. It’s already clear that much of the information overload seen through other microblogging tools is possible, and it’s equally clear that its success as a valuable information source depends on how we all use it.

While it’s far too soon to know how it will play out, I have to admit that I’ve already been delighted with a few of the results. While several people are posting exactly the sort of personal ephemeral updates which keep me away from Twitter and Facebook, a few are exploring the possibilities of sharing useful resources along the lines of meeting notices and professional print and online resources we might otherwise overlook.

UC Berkeley E-Learning Librarian Char Booth, for example, posted a link providing information on her forthcoming book, Reflective Teaching, Effective Learning: Instructional Literacy for Library Educators right at a time when I had been exploring and writing about the need for more reflection in learning. Writer-instructor-librarian Meredith Farkas initiated an exchange soliciting recommendations for “a really good book (or books) with concrete suggestions for engaging library instruction activities.” And ALA Learning colleague and co-writer Lori Reed posted a link to “How a New Jobless Era Will Transform America” in the March 2010 issue of The Atlantic, a fascinating article with interesting repercussions for all of us involved in training-teaching-learning.

So I’ve been Buzzed. And I’ve already absorbed that wonderful article from The Atlantic. And am now ready to Buzz others with thoughts about what that article suggests to the trainer-teacher-learners among us.

Next: What the Atlantic Article Suggests for Trainer-Teacher-Learners


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