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Finding Your People

Starting in a new role can be hard, especially if you’re the only one doing what you do in your building or your system. About two years ago, I switched positions from Youth Services Manager to Collection Development Leader and it’s been a big change. I’m now selecting and managing all our materials (youth and adult), cataloging, and working with vendors in a much more involved way than before. And one big challenge for me has been building my personal learning network (PLN) in this new-to-me area of library service. It has made me really appreciate the youth services PLN that I had built over the years and I want to make sure you have one, too. 

Membership Dinner with ALSC Friends!

What’s a PLN? A Personal Learning Network is a network of relationships that results in learning opportunities for continued growth. It may be a group of people you can reach out to and ask questions, it may be people that you follow on social media to get ideas.

Why build a PLN? Because you don’t have to do this alone. It may feel that way, particularly if you’re the only youth services person, but it doesn’t have to. Reaching out to other librarians can help you brainstorm new ideas, troubleshoot things that are going on at your library, learn about programs and services going on in other libraries, and release stress by commiserating over common struggles. Having a group of talented, enthusiastic youth librarians that I could turn to has not only made me a better librarian, but it’s made being a librarian more enjoyable.

So, how do you build a PLN? Let me count the ways! 

Do you prefer face-to-face contact? Attend a regional or national conference or meeting and bring business cards to exchange (may I recommend the ALSC Institute, happening in October this year?). Strike up conversations with those sitting or standing near you – at a library conference we all have something in common. If all else fails, ask them what book they’re reading or what they hope will win the Newbery Medal and go from there. Exchange emails and don’t be afraid to reach out and make a connection. In my experience, librarians are eager to help; it’s in the nature of our job! 

Do you prefer virtual contact? There are tons of ways to build to build a PLN virtually. I am a huge fan of Twitter – it’s great for crowdsourcing questions and finding new ideas. Search the hashtag #librarylife to find thousands of librarians who are regular Tweeters. Pick some to start following, respond to their tweets, strike up a conversation. Once you’ve found some folks that you click with, tag them with your questions or send direct messages. 

Twitter not your thing? Consider librarian Facebook groups such as Storytime Underground or Teen Services Underground. These groups have tons of content with program ideas, book suggestions, and interesting discussions. Even if you don’t find every post helpful, watching the group for awhile can help you identify like-minded people to reach out to when you have questions or need some inspiration. 

The ASLC Blog and other youth librarian blogs can be a great tool for networking – comment on posts of interest and get a conversation started. If you hit it off with someone, ask to exchange emails for easier communication. 

Taking advantage of the chat functions in webinars can be a great way to get even more bang for your buck when you sign up for training. When I attended one of NoveList’s genre reading webinars, the chat was just as valuable at the official presenters with people sharing titles and ideas. When you see that happening, jump in! 

However you decide to dip in and get started, I hope you’ll find your Personal Learning Network as valuable as I have found mine. Youth librarians are an amazing bunch!

More fun at the Midwinter Membership Dinner!

Abby Johnson is the Collection Development Leader at the Floyd County Library and she served on the 2015 Newbery Medal Committee. You can find her on the web at

This post addresses the following ASLC Core Competencies: VII. Professionalism and Professional Development

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