Using Social Networks to Create Powerful Learning Communities

By Lenox, Marianne; Coleman, Maurice | Computers in Libraries, September 2010 | Go to article overview

Using Social Networks to Create Powerful Learning Communities


Lenox, Marianne, Coleman, Maurice, Computers in Libraries


TODAY'S ELECTRONIC SOCIAL MEDIA TOOLS ALLOW FOR FAR GREATER AND SOFTER ACCESS TO PEOPLE AND RESOURCES THAN WAS PREVIOUSLY POSSIBLE.

Regular readers of Computers in Libraries are aware that social networks are forming increasingly important linkages to professional and personal development in all libraries. Live and virtual social networks have become the new learning playground for librarians and library staff. Social networks have the ability to connect those who are passionate about sharing what they know and helping library professionals remain relevant in both the physical and digital worlds.

Public library trainers Marianne Lenox - staff training and volunteer coordinator at the Huntsville-Madison County Public Library (Ala.) - and Maurice Coleman - technical trainer for the Harford County Public Library (Md.) - share professional material, articles, and techniques benefiting their own libraries and institutions with each new class, tutorial, or handout they deliver. They each use their own techniques and resources to create and nurture social networks as both formal and informal learning tools. Though their methods differ, they achieve the similar result of increasing information intake and resource redistribution.

Marianne's Story: A Personal Learning Journey

It never fails. I meet someone new, and, as I tell them my occupation, I'm asked a variation on the same question:

"Are you worried about your job? Aren't libraries becoming irrelevant because of Google?"

It's a question asked more recently in the mainstream media because library budget cuts are causing closures and staff layoffs. I imagine most librarians and library professionals probably answer differently from me, but what I say is this: "I find myself in a unique position, and as the staff training coordinator for my library, I feel a personal responsibility toward that issue." I then explain that yes, it is possible for modern libraries to go the way of the rotary phone. Students can most likely do their research papers by using what's freely available on the internet, and Google has made that possible. But it's the librarians who can be architects of the internet. We're the ones trained to categorize and organize information. As long as we lead the digital revolution, we won't become redundant. We can find out how to do that on social networks.

Many of us don't have budgets that allow us to bring in subject-matter experts or to attend major conferences. State or regional conferences may be less expensive (and closer) to attend, but they might lack the quality learning experiences we require. So we've been relying on ourselves for much of the information required to run the libraries and to do our jobs.

Finding community. As social beings, those of us who are interested in the same things will often find ourselves in the same place at the same time. Those who are more passionate about these subjects may become thought leaders in the field and, hopefully, will be willing to share new information.

I had no idea how to do the actual day-to-day work required of me as the staff training coordinator for my library when I first began 5 years ago. During my short tenure as a stay-at-home mom, I'd taught myself computer skills by searching for free online tutorials in the early days of the internet. So I thought it might not be too hard to learn how to be an effective staff trainer as long as I could find - and learn from - others who did it well.

One of the first online communities I found was WebJunction (http://webjunction.org), which, in its original inception, housed the Gates Training Center documentation. When I worked in the library's internet and technology services department, I'd relied heavily on many of the resources found at the site. After a redesign, I created a couple of PowerPoint presentations to explain to staff how to use the site, and I shared them with others in the staff training section of the site. …

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