2 Nov 2015

The Social Librarian - how to get involved and stay involved in your library community. Report

Guest post by Suzanne Lynch, who has done LIS work experience in RTE Archives and Trinity College Library among other places. Next step, strongly being considered is to undertake a MLIS.

On Saturday 17th October I got the opportunity to volunteer with New Professionals Day Ireland for their event The Social Librarian - how to get involved and stay involved in your library community. The event took place upstairs in the beautiful Rathmines library. For those of you who couldn’t attend, Shona Thoma has made a Storify of the event and slides of the talks are available

There was a great buzz in the room, a relaxed and friendly atmosphere. After everyone had registered and taken a supply of Shona’s emergency chocolate, Caroline Rowan welcomed everyone to the event. The points she raised would be emphasised again and again throughout the day: librarianship is a particularly social career - we’re always communicating with someone!, twitter is essential for networking, and events and committees are great for making connections and meeting people you wouldn’t otherwise get the chance to meet. She also encouraged us to get involved in library groups by reminding us that if we’re involved we can make sure the events on offer are what we want and need.

Ann O’Sullivan: Networking: linking, learning and laughing with your library colleagues

The first speaker was Ann O’Sullivan with her excellent talk ‘Networking: linking, learning and laughing with your library colleagues’. Ann started by saying that networking should be part and parcel of what we do as librarians. Information is our business after all, and networking is all about exchanging information. Her presentation addressed the questions why we should network, how we can network, and where we can network.

Picture by Marie Therese Carmody
Why we should network
We should network in order to build connections (you could be sitting beside your next boss or chatting to someone on your interview panel!), to share knowledge (communicating and sharing knowledge between different sectors is essential to push librarianship forward), and to gain visibility in Ireland’s library community (some 1,800 people). Networking is important at all stages of our career, but especially when we’re starting out for the first time, when we’re changing roles or when we’re moving between sectors. It allows us to question and learn from librarians and info pros already working in those roles and sectors.

How we can network
We can network virtually, using social media, or in person (face-to-face) at conferences and events. Twitter was emphasised as the most important networking site for information professionals. It makes it possible to follow conferences you are unable to attend, and to get involved in Twitter chats and discussions. Ann recommends using the lists tool to keep your Twitter feed organised. She also reassured us that networking at conferences need not be as scary as it seems - everyone at these events already has something in common, meaning there’s a common theme to talk about to get the conversation flowing. She also mentioned how many library groups (such as Academic & Special Libraries Section of the LAI) run informal networking events with a more relaxed atmosphere than traditional conferences.

Where we can network
Ann provided some examples of library groups that organise events and conferences:
• New Professionals Day Ireland (NPDI)
• The Career Development Group (LAI CDG)
• Health Sciences Library Group (HSLG)
• Library Camp (I attended this year’s Library Camp and I can confirm that it is a fantastic event!)
• Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP)

Martin O’Connor: ‘Why should I be a Social Librarian? What’s actually in it for me? - A personal narrative’

Next up was Martin O’Connor with his inspiring personal story of being a social librarian. Martin began by giving a piece of advice to us that he gives to all work experience students and new professionals: ‘Get on Twitter’!! Networking is necessary for librarians and info pros, but luckily social media makes networking much easier. Twitter was once again highlighted as the ‘ultimate information resource’, allowing librarians to easily share and learn with each other (‘Twitter and librarians were made for each other!’). There are things you learn from Twitter articles that aren’t covered in library school.

Picture by Marie Therese Carmody
Martin discussed the benefits and opportunities being a social librarian can lead to. He emphasised reflection as an important aspect of social networking - social networking encourages you to reflect on and really think about your work, which in turn leads to you being a better librarian. Martin regularly writes for libfocus, as doing so helps him reflect and look at things in a different way. Social networking sites like Twitter & the libfocus blog also provide exciting opportunities to collaborate with people in different libraries, outside the library sector, and in different parts of the world. Martin discussed how social media helped him find material for the Sir Henry's exhibition he worked on for UCC Library. The call for material was answered by thousands. As well as helping him curate an extremely successful exhibition, Martin’s involvement with social media has led to him being invited to join Libfocus and to speak at events like this.

Martin also discussed branding and self promotion. While we may not like promoting ourselves, it's still recommended that we do it. We can promote ourselves by writing blog posts, by commenting on them, by getting involved in conversations. He explained that your brand is what you're known for (his is 'the guy who did the Sir Henry’s exhibition'; he also mentioned Helen Fallon as ‘the person who encourages us to write’, and Jane Burns as ‘a that supportive librarian in the Irish library community’, and many others excellent librarians). On Twitter you can use your avatar and your bio to help create your brand. He ended by reminding us to enjoy social networking - it's invigorating and can help keep you excited about your work.

Maria O’Sullivan: ‘Beyond the Library Walls; let’s BEE social!’

Next Maria O'Sullivan discussed the fantastic work she's been doing with the Summer Reading Buzz Initiative (an initiative to keep children reading over the long summer holidays), and how social networking has contributed to its success. I was particularly interested in this talk as I had helped out with the Summer Reading Adventure during my work experience in my local library, and I was excited to hear how other libraries approached similar reading programmes.

Picture by Marie Therese Carmody
Maria began by explaining that public libraries need advocates and that public librarians can use social media as a way of extending themselves and their communities beyond the library walls. Maria discussed the importance of reaching children in particular, as children are the future of the library, and the difficulties involved in doing so. While adults are easy to reach via social networking sites like Twitter, children are much more difficult to reach as they don't have accounts. Maria emphasised that we need to reach the adults responsible for the children - their parents and teachers. She discussed how she used the Buzz the Bee Twitter account to engage with adults in a childlike manner, and the great success this approach had. As well as engaging with parents and teachers, it also allowed her to engage with politicians in a way not otherwise possible. She was able to use Twitter to be political with the hashtag #keepthekidsreading.

Maria discussed communicating and collaborating with teachers at Teachmeets and how many teachers have Twitter accounts for their classes. Many schools and education courses recommend their teachers follow Buzz. Thus it was possible to use the Buzz account to connect with classroom accounts and engage with children. She could offer book suggestions and the children could share what they were reading. It was great seeing some of the tweets between Buzz and the kids, and how excited the kids were to be reading and sharing with Buzz!

Two important points about social media and libraries were also raised - first, that the use of Twitter needs to be legitimised in libraries, and second, that librarians need to keep up to date with the next social media trends in order to reach younger audiences.

Niamh O’Donovan: ‘Follow Your Own Path - making social media work for you’

Finally, Niamh O'Donovan discussed how we can make social networking work for us and use it to carve our own path. We can use social networking to find and create opportunities we might not get in our day to day jobs, and build new skills. She commented that we’re lucky we’re in a profession where we can to some extent ‘create our own jobs’ or volunteer for new roles. If there’s a project or idea you really want to try, the internet is your oyster.

Picture by Marie Therese Carmody
Niamh saw the potential for the use of social media in libraries and took the 23 things course, which she described as being taken by the hand and walked through the world of social media and online tools. She discussed her personal experience of running the Rudai 23 course (the Irish equivalent of 23 things), and how it broke her out of her comfort zone and taught her things about her own management and communication style. She found social media useful in running the course, as she could draw on a range of skills and expertise from different people. Rudai 23 has been a great success, with over 180 participants, and has received a very positive response. Niamh calls it her ‘dragon slaying story’ (a term coined by Liz Ryan), and she encourages everyone to find their own dragon slaying story - it will impress people and give you something to talk about in interviews. Niamh warned we should be prepared to work hard and be prepared to fail (and to learn from that failure), and outlined three steps we can take to find our own story: first, join Twitter and exploit it; second, join a committee; third, identify a need and set about filling it!

Niamh discussed the benefits of joining committees (she herself is on WRSLAI committee), and how it can level the playing field between colleagues - on committees everyone is on the same level. Committees are also great for making connections (you never know, another member might just be interviewing you in the future) and you’ll be able to talk about the group’s projects and activities in interviews. She ended by urging us to ‘never stop learning, even if it’s only through Twitter’!
Niamh’s talk was the last of the day, and afterwards everyone gathered in nearby pub Toast for some well deserved drinks and a chat.

As someone new to the library world (and relatively inexperienced with networking), I found the day extremely useful. Networking is an important skill to have (not just for someone at the start of their journey, like me, but also for finding opportunities later on in your career) and it’s always good to be aware of the resources out there and pick up new tips. It was inspiring to hear the personal stories and the fantastic opportunities and successes being a social librarian had led to for the speakers and their libraries - and how much they had enjoyed the process! Thank you to NPDI for organising a fantastic event and thank you to Libfocus for the opportunity to write this post.


  1. I have to agree with Caroline, it is a great report Suzanne. You captured the event very well... Well done..