Establishing Your Professional Learning Network (PLN)

nOne reason I became a librarian is that I’ve always loved learning anything and everything and I realized I really wanted to learn new things every day for the rest of my life. I figured the best way to maximize my time would be to make sure I worked in a field committed to continued learning. I’ve never been happier with my choice and I’ve never had so much to learn! Every time I talk to a new grad from any field, my number one piece of advice is to establish that Professional Learning Network (PLN). You never know where it will take you!

But how does one establish their PLN? Where do they start? A PLN is the web of people and connections surrounding you that assist you in building your personal and professional knowledge. At least that’s the way I think of it. Wikipedia has a great jumping off point on PLNs. The possibilities for personal and professional learning are as endless and varied as there are individuals.

Below I’ve listed 5 online tools that help me build my PLN and inspire me on a daily basis. I hope you will add some more ideas or share your experiences building your PLN in the comments.

Twitter

Even if you’re not sure how to use it yet or you don’t know how often you would post something, set up a Twitter account. Follow library colleagues, libraries, and non-profit organizations. Follow anyone who shares things that inspire you and follow people you disagree with too. Follow people who make you laugh. A great way to find people to follow is to start following a few you know IRL and then see who they follow. You don’t need to keep your smart phone perma-connected to your hand to get a lot out of Twitter interactions. If all you have time for is a quick check in or participation in a chat here and there, I’d bet you will still find something useful each time. The learning I find on Twitter is in the form of topical chats like #alscchat, #libchat, and others; articles of interest to me professionally; and a network of other librarians and other fine folks. There are a number of tools to help keep your Twitter-usage organized and fruitful so that it can be an effective tool. Tweetdeck and Tweetchat are my favorites.

Pinterest

Ah Pinterest. Is there any tool mentioned more in youth services librarian circles? I don’t think so but it’s only because it’s insanely useful. I am a visual person by nature and I remember things better if I can see them. So Pinterest has become an invaluable tool for me in planning programs and storytime activities. When I stumble across something, I save it on Pinterest. Then viewing the images, helps to trigger my memory of what I wanted to do for that program I’m planning. I also regularly search Pinterest with keywords to see what other ideas have been pinned related to any theme I’m working with. And finally, I follow other libraries, librarians, and early childhood educators to see what amazing ideas everyone else is coming up with!

Webinars/Slideshare/Prezi/etc.

I don’t know about you but I love professional development. Seriously, I want to go to a conference every day. I never get tired of the collaboration, the camaraderie, and the inspiration. But there just isn’t the time to go to every brilliant conference or meeting. I am deeply indebted to the many librarians and educators who have made their excellent presentations available for viewing and who have therefore provided me with inspiration. I regularly search for presentations by librarians I respect and in this way have learned a lot from people I may never meet in person. Keep your eyes peeled for free and low cost webinar opportunities. There are some fantastic webinars offered through ALSC and other ALA  divisions. Infopeople and Webjunction and state library associations are great places to find this type of content as well.

YouTube

You can learn a lot of things on YouTube. For. Real. Sometimes people laugh when I say this but there are a lot of great videos out there on nearly any subject. Like all social media you have to exercise your junk-filter on so as not to waste your time. But just because someone is not famous, doesn’t mean they can’t teach me how to fix something, try a new art medium, set up a new tech tool at my library, or even how to sing a storytime rhyme.

Blogs

Blogs are probably my favorite way to learn from other professionals near and far. I follow a wide range of blogs on topics from libraries to marketing to leadership to organization to working moms. I read blogs through an app on my phone and in this way when I have a few minutes here and there, I get some professional reading in.

So those are the online tools that have helped me build my professional (and personal) learning networks. It’s not an exhaustive list. The digital age is a beautiful time to be a person who loves to learn. There’s no limit to the people we can connect with, be inspired by and stretch our professional wings with.

I’d love to hear what tools you are using to build your professional learning networks in the comments. 

Andrea Vernola is a member of the ALSC Children and Technology Committee and a Children’s Programming Librarian in Kalamazoo, Michigan. You can find her on twitter at @librarianandi.

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