Professional development: capability, sophistication and productivity

    It’s the beginning of December, the traditional time for the ubiquitous and alliterative review article (“Top Ten Tech Trends of 2012!!!”) that always seem to be slightly too enthusiastic for the pale, twitching, shadow of our former selves that we have become by the end of another crazy year. But even Scrooge (topical seasonal joke high five!) would agree that there is some merit in reflecting, especially when it comes to thinking about learning. So, drawing on the idea of contemplating the old to welcome in the new, I thought I’d try and kickstart 2013 by reflecting on this year’s columns; a meta-column if you will (yep, I haven’t got out much recently…)

    So the last column of 2012 will be on professional development. Now wait. I’m envisaging half of you rolling your eyes because you now have 6,387 unread items in your Google Reader, and the other half of you laughing wryly about how you couldn’t even come to the SALALM conference last year. For those of you in the first group, I’m going to be pretty blunt. I know that life is crazy, that the instruction requests keep piling in, there is another weeding project and you’ve been appointed to a new taskforce. BUT this is the single most important thing that we can do as librarians. Just 10 minutes a day of reading or sharing, or heck, even skimming headlines or your RSS reader. That’s all it takes, I promise. For the second group, most of the ideas here are going to be free or low-cost, they just involve a bit of DIY savvy. Whichever group you’re in, it’s vital that we take time for our own lifelong learning. As John Naughton said, disruption is a feature, not a bug. That stable state of yesterday is never coming back, and lifelong learning is a way that we can enhance and adapt our personal and professional lives to meet whatever challenges are thrown at us.
In October I wrote about MOOCs and the role of librarians. The good news is that if there are hundreds of courses that you too can take for free. Some start on a specific date, others are more self-directed, but all offer traditional introductions to a broad range of topics. Looking to brush up on your Spanish? Try Spanish MOOC, starting in January. Carnegie Mellon offers French, MIT offers foreign language courses and there may be a Portuguese course too.  What about literature and culture? Coursera offers Fiction of Relationship (featuring Borges!) and Listening to World Music, (featuring the Buena Vista Social Club!) among others. There are thousands of technology based courses, from Udacity’s Intro to Statistics, to Udemy’s classes on Facebook, Photoshop or Excel.  Don’t forget the education classes too- try E-learning and digital cultures or Fundamentals of Online Education. More Spanish universities are getting involved too, watch out for offerings from Alicante to La Rioja. There are also several courses out there if you want a more library focused professional development. CPD23 is a UK based initiative that aims to introduce librarians to web 2.0 tools. While the course has finished for 2012, you can still complete the modules at your own pace.

    In June, I tried to reassure you about information overload, highlighting the need to rely more on friends and colleagues as recommender systems. This is known as your personal learning network (PLN), because we learn through forging connections and building networks between people and ideas. I won’t mention my number 1 tool for doing this, because you all laugh at my obsession with my blue avian friend whose name begins with T, but it’s a great way of meeting new people and encountering new ideas. Another option is Google communities, which brings us back to February’s column on Google Plus. Yes, Google + still lags behind Facebook, but Team Google is stealthily making it even easier to follow interests, experts and more, all of which are super valuable for maintaining your PLN. Other tips? Take your time, use the tools that work for you, don’t just follow people because everyone does, use the same username across different tools, share, comment and engage as well as lurking- and don’t forget to challenge yourself to think outside your field, which can resemble an echo chamber at times.

    Lastly, while I believe people are a key part of learning, productivity tools that help you keep track of literature and more keep getting easier to use. August’s column on productivity tools may help you decide which tools to use, as does the CPD23 programme mentioned above. (so much hyperlinked win in this column!) Other tools I really like are Journal TOCS; (they’ve actually gathered hundreds of new journal issue feeds in one place!) and several new mobile apps such as SoundNote (it records audio as well as your notetaking or drawings!) and Zite or Flipboard (create magazines out of your RSS feeds!).

So, professional development. In 2013 it’s all about the people, the free online courses, and the magic 10 minutes a day. I did fail to work April’s column about Impact Factors in. And there were quite a few exclamation marks. Nonetheless, I didn’t try and make some random and arbitrary predictions for 2013, another feature of end of year articles, so count yourself lucky 🙂 Happy Holidays!

 Alison Hicks
University of Colorado, Boulder
alison.hicks @

Producing the goods: winning your gold medal

Go Team, Go Team! Maybe it’s the Olympic spirit that’s getting to me (which also explains the delayed column, sorry!) but I’m increasingly thinking of myself as a coach, or mentor in the research process. Finding, citing, storing and organizing information is such a messy, cyclical, convoluted business nowadays that it’s hard to confine librarian activities to just one of those areas. And I think it’s high time we stopped trying to remove ourselves from the broader social context anyway as we have a lot to offer in the information age. So this column will attempt to highlight some productivity tools that will be useful for trying to tame the research process- as well as maybe helping those of you who are still feeling paralysed by information overload. (I told you that you need to try meditation…)
Are you having trouble organizing documents and emails or finding that great article that you read last month? If so then maybe Evernote is the program for you. This has been around since 2008, and is a multi-purpose note taking and archiving program. Organized around a system of notebooks, it provides a really easy way to organize and take notes, which can be text, voice memos, photos, file attachments and more. And, if you download the web clipper you can “clip” copies of online articles and webpages for reading later on. You can tag and annotate all notes, as well as sharing them with other people. Consisting of a web, desktop and mobile version, you can sync content across all three accounts, meaning you can catch up wherever you are. Free for a basic version with a generous monthly usage limit. Similar to: Diigo, which allows you to bookmark and annotate webpages.
Do you want an easy way to keep track of tasks and deadlines in group projects?  Trello is a new program that is fabulous for project management. Established in 2011, it’s got a really cool visual drag and drop interface that allows you to create to do lists and tasks for any project that you are working on. It’s easy to share with other people, as well as setting deadlines, checklists, and sharing content. It would also work well as a personal tool. Like Evernote it can be synced with a smartphone too, giving you even more control.  Free. Similar to: Basecamp.
I just need a simple to do list program… Sounds like you need Remember the Milk, an easy to use time management program. It was set up in 2004 by a couple of Australians (don’t let that put you off 🙂 ), so it’s pretty well established and very easy to use. It’s kind of hard to explain- you make to do lists, and that’s about it… You can set it to send you SMS, text or IM reminders, and it will tell you off if you postpone a task too many times… It syncs easily with Google and Outlook calendars, as well as with a smartphone, but you can also work offline too. Free for a basic version but you need to pay if you want to sync across multiple devices. Similar to: Toodledo.
I want a place to record my lightbulb moments: Try Mindomo, a mindmapping tool. Available since 2007 the free version of this program will allow you up to three maps that you can share or make public. Very easy to create a visual brainstorm, or a to-do list or just a presentation of various ideas. Similar to: Mindmeister or
Alison Hicks
University of Colorado, Boulder
Alison.Hicks @