A couple of things in the last week or so gave me pause to reflect on how I’ve had to build a new professional network as a consequence of moving from public to academic libraries. The first one was going through the process to add new people into Google+ in the past few weeks (a colleague’s thoughts on Google+ can be found here). I’ve consciously avoided Facebook in the past, having decided that it was more a personal tool rather than professional. But Google+ seems to be an amalgam of Facebook and Twitter so I’m giving it a try and will no doubt blog about it when I’ve spent a bit more time using it. But as I went through the process of adding people into Google+ it did make me think about who I knew and how as I went through reconstructing that network.
The second thing was starting to read through Martin Weller’s new book ‘The Digital Scholar’ and particularly his reflections about the difference in his approach to writing his new book compared to his last book about six years ago. He comments “The comparison of writing these two books is instructive, I feel, because it gets to the heart of what we might term ‘digital scholarship’: it is both a profound change and a continuation of traditional practice.” It struck me that there was a similar thing going on with in how I’ve been able to approach building a new professional network compared with how I’d gone about it in my previous public library career.
Building a new professional network: then and now
One of the things I certainly didn’t really think about when changing from public to academic libraries was quite how little overlap there was going to be between my professional networks. There’s probably only one person common to both networks. So it meant building a completely new set of contacts. Over more than twenty years in public libraries I’d built up a fair few contacts in other libraries, in IT companies and suppliers and elsewhere. Thinking about how I’d get to know those people, then I suppose they were mainly through meeting people at user group-type meetings, at workshops/seminars and at a few conferences, on visits to other libraries and vice versa, and through introductions and personal contacts.
So faced with having to build a new professional network from scratch in the last couple of years, there’s been a few differences in the way I’ve been able to go about it. Although the traditional face-to-face methods are still present, they are joined by something quite different, social networking, particularly twitter and to a lesser extent LinkedIn, and also to certain extent by this blog And there are a few differences that I’ve noticed.
It seems to me that it is much quicker to build up a network now using these digital tools. You can reach and connect to a much wider circle of professional contacts. Whereas in the past the face-to-face methods were the main means of building up contacts (because that was pretty much all there was), now I find that they tend to supplement the digital networking. Often you meet people digitally before you meet them face-to-face. There’s also much more recommendation going on, such as who to follow on twitter etc that plays a much bigger role than before. Could I have built up a range of professional contacts as quickly in the past without these tools? no I don’t think so. What took a dozen or more years in the past can be surpassed in a few months with the tools that are around now.