Ok, Thing 12 is looking at “the role of social media in building up networks and a sense of community.” Now, I’ve got to say, I do love me a good social network. I’ve been a user of MySpace (back when it was actually cool), then moved on to Bebo, and finally, in the last two or three years, I’ve settled in to Facebook, and Twitter (with the obligatory LinkedIn presence, but I don’t count that as part of my part of my active social network), with a steady background of blogs.
The main benefit that I’ve gained from social media is using it to help me get to know so many professionals outside my own sphere. Scots law librarians are a small group, and our concerns are specific to the materials and data we have to work with. They can overlap when we work with UK issues, but otherwise, we’re focussed on what we need to do to deal with our own needs. Making contact with non-Scots law professionals, and regularly interacting with them has led to me making some great friendships with people who I’d never otherwise have met (and in some cases, I’ve still to actually get to meet in person). When I’ve sent out a cry for help for information on some specialist resource, or unusual materials, these contacts have been able to help me out. Without the funding to go to legal information professional events, I couldn’t have made those contacts in my sector. And I don’t see how, at any other point, I’d have been able to get to know academic or school librarians – our worlds just don’t overlap at all in any other way. It’s led to me regularly working virtually with Bethan Ruddock on our co-mentoring wiki, and I’ve only managed to meet her in real life once so far!
I’ve also benefited from online legal professional friends posting links to materials useful for my work – I often click on legal news links posted by others. They act as a sort of filter: picking up information, assessing it, and passing on the good stuff. In this way, I’ve found new news sources for my work, and kept myself abreast of the hot topics in various legal sectors – which is helpful, as I never know what I’m going to be asked to investigate next, and having a good general awareness of legal issues puts me one step ahead when I’m asked to research things.
I do try and be careful with my use of social media though – I have certain rules for certain sites. For example, on Facebook, I only allow ex-staff to add me – it’s my personal space, and that doesn’t overlap with work. I don’t share any real identifying data (birthplace, birth date, Uni, workplace, location etc) or any particularly personal things in status updates or comments – it’s for light entertainment only. On Twitter, I don’t allow workmates to follow me (nor do I follow them), I don’t use my real name or the name of the place I work, and if I share any information about what I’m doing (such as an interesting/unusual/frustrating research enquiry) I don’t name the person asking, or usually, even their gender. To the outside world, I may well appear to work in an odd place that’s staffed entirely by hermaphrodites. This may or may not be an accurate assumption.
I also don’t like any particular company to have too much access to my personal data – this is why I won’t open a Google+ account (as it would force me to use my real name) and why I immediately deleted Google Wave/Buzz/WhateverItWas when it launched, as it made me use my real name too. I can’t forget that Google’s an advertising company, and whatever it’s giving me for free (an email account, a blog, access to its new toy), I pay for by forfeiting some of my data privacy.
But in general… yeah, social media: I loves it, I does!