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Personal Branding for New Librarians: Standing Out and Stepping Up

Tomorrow, I will be giving a webcast for ACRL 2011 Virtual Conference with Kiyomi Deards and Erin Dorney. The webcast is open to all attendees of either ACRL 2011 Conference or ACRL 2011 Virtual Conference. I have moderated a panel discussion program at ALA 2011 Midwinter on the same topic. But in tomorrow’s webcast, we will discuss more in depth about the right fit between one’s own personality / preferences and personal branding tools and practical tips to develop and  manage one’s own personal brand.  We will also have a lot of time dedicated for questions from the webcast attendees.

One thing that I have written before and want to re-emphasize is that personal branding is not an end itself.  It is more of a by-product of the successful pursuit of one’s own interest, contribution, and networking in librarianship. Many doubts and suspicions about personal branding stem from this misconception that personal branding is all about promoting oneself as if it could be an end itself. And it is not.

What the message of personal branding boils down to is: Be engaged in the profession, share your thoughts and ideas with peers, and contribute to the ongoing dialogue of librarianship. The new twist is that now with the rise of many social media tools, this can be done much faster and more effectively than before and even on the cheap (without even attending a conference physically).

Here are the slides for the webcast.  If you are attending ACRL 2011 conference, join us. Otherwise, share your thoughts!



No-brainer Usability: the new Twitter iPhone app

I am presenting about usability issues in library websites in Computers in Librareis 2011 in a few weeks. So needless to say, I have been thinking a lot recently about usability. Today, having updated all apps on my iPhone, I noticed that the Twitter iPhone app finally made some changes in its new message user interface (UI) which makes it more usable.

However, the new UI fails in some respects, and the new app introduces a different usability problem, which is often the case with website redesign. So let’s pretend the new Twitter app is a re-designed library website and see what its pluses and minuses are in terms of usability.

Old Twitter App

When the arrow is pressed down

This is how the old Twitter iPhone app’s new message screen looked like. (Screenshots thanks to @bmljenny.)  It is very basic until you press the “140 ▼” button on the top right corner over the keyboard.

Once you press that button, however, the whole new world of functionalities unfolds. Taking a photo, inserting an already-taken photo, geo-tagging, adding Twitter user by his/her Twitter username, adding a hashtag, and shrinking a URL is all just one touch away.

Unfortunately, not many people noticed this button; many users weren’t able to take advantage of these useful functionalities.

I must say, the design of hiding these functionalities behind the “140 ▼” button is both clever and stupid. Clever in the sense that it made the new message UI clean and simple. But quite stupid in the sense that the button that holds these functionalities don’t stand out at all that it resulted in those functionalites being often completely unknown and undiscovered to users.

One of the great usability principle is, in my opinion, is this :
Stop being clever and make things super-obvious.

New Tweet screen in the Twitter iPhone app

The new Twitter iPhone app followed this principle and corrected the issue by removing the “140 ▼” button. Instead it added a gray bar with four icons that stand for usernames, hashtags, camera, and geotag. I would say this is an improvement since users can now clearly see the icons when they are in the new tweet screen.

However, these icons are not the same as the previous icons used in the old Twitter app. Geotag icon has changed the appearance and the camera icon now functions for two previous features of taking a photo and adding a photo from the photo library.

One of the pitfalls of re-design is that even when improvements are made, often the web team (designers in particular) are not satisfied with just fixing the existing issue. They are tempted to make changes ‘for uniqueness’, which tends to raise rather than solves a usability problem.

So now Twitter seems to have gotten rid of perfectly useful two icons — photo library and shrink URLs.

If I were to redo the screen, I would keep the same icons in the previous app.  After all, some users have discovered and used these hidden functionalities. Why now force them to change their pattern of use?

My version of New Twitter screen

While I was evaluating the new Tweet screen, I realized that the new Twitter app has also introduced a new usability issue to it. The new trending hashtag notification. It appears on top of the tweet timeline.

As quite likely to be intended, since it appears on top and written on a black bar, it stands out.  The problem is that it actually stands out more than what users need. It is downright annoying.

This can be easily corrected if the bar appears at the bottom rather than the top. It would be still noticeable enough for those who take interests in the trending hashtag but would not annoy the majority of users who want to quickly scan the timeline from the top to the bottom.

 

New Twitter Timeline

My version of Timeline

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Because of this this new and  un-user-friendly trending notification, the overall reaction to the new Twitter app would be more negative than positive.

Furthermore, what was really interesting to me is that even after the re-design, the new Tweet screen of the new Twitter app does still slightly fall short of the new Tweet screen of the Tweetdeck app. Compare my revised version of the new Twitter app above with the following Tweetdeck’s new tweet screen below. Pretty much what I have done ended up making the Twitter app look almost the same as the Tweetdeck’s existing new tweet screen.

Sometimes, a good design comes from benchmarking a competitor’s product and from following conventions that users are already familiar with.

Can you think of an example of a library website that failed to be user-friendly while trying to be clever and/or from poorly benchmarking another library website?  If you work with a library website, this is a good thing to think about.

Tweetdeck

Surprise – a Personal Brand is a By-product!

At the 2011 ALA Midwinter Meeting at San Diego, I moderated a panel discussion about personal branding sponsored by ACRL New Members Discussion Group. The program aimed at providing new and budding librarians with an opportunity to think about personal branding and have a lively information discussion with an excellent group of panelists who shared their experience and thoughts on the topic of personal branding.

I won’t summarize the discussion here as I wasn’t able to make very detailed notes. So the following is more of my own take-aways, what I have personally learned from and got to think further after the discussion. (If you are already interested in personal branding, see Further Resources at the end of this post.)

What personal branding is all about

Although a large number of new and budding librarians engage in personal branding in one or another way and some succeed brilliantly at it, many others also struggle or fail. Whether we call it a personal brand or online presence, we recognize those who are successful at having one. While personal branding may seem easy and effortless when seen from the outside, it is certainly a time-consuming endeavor that cannot be taken lightly. As a result, new librarians are often unsure about how to begin, how to keep up, and how to manage one’s own personal brand.

Unfortunately, the term “personal branding” has a negative connotation and gives the impression that personal branding is about having huge egos and/or simply moving up on the career ladder at the expense of others. But this is not what personal branding is about. Personal branding is about acknowledging the fact that, whether we like it or not, information about us online – regardless of its inaccuracy and incompleteness – will inevitably represent us and consciously deciding to take charge of that mass of information about us.

After all, a personal brand is no more than others’ perception of you based upon available information gleaned (nowadays more and more from the internet). In today’s world in which people google others for all sorts of purposes ranging from dating to a job interview, almost everyone has a brand whether they are aware of it or not.

The matter is whether one will consciously manage that brand and build a positive online presence for oneself or will be simply affected by it.

A personal brand is a by-product, not an end itself.

It’s a mistake to think of personal branding as an end itself. A successful personal brand is a by-product of the successful pursuit of one’s own interest, contribution, and networking in librarianship.

The best way to build a successful personal brand is therefore to pursue one’s own interest. The more practical and exciting one’s pursuit is to oneself, the more active, engaging, and passionate one would be.

Looking to connect with other budding librarians and exchange tips about the stressful job-seeking process? In need of advice from more experienced colleagues because you just got your first professional librarian position and you found yourself to be a solo-librarian? Seeking to network with other colleagues in your narrow field of specialization? Just starting to build virtual reference service at your library and would love to find out what the best practices are?

All these interests are completely practical. None of these interests seems to have anything to do with personal branding. If anything, they seem to be completely selfish in the sense that they directly come out of one’s own tangible needs.

However, if one pursues these interests with passion, successfully learning from and sharing/communicating with others and truthfully and accurately representing oneself in the process, it will be only a matter of time for the person to be known and recognized among others with similar interests.

Personal branding doesn’t mean giving up privacy.

Whatever one’s brand is – whether online or off-line, the brand is never the same as an actual person. While one should be true to oneself in interacting with others online, it is a mistake to think that our online persona can represent us one hundred percent or to think that having a personal brand implies giving up privacy entirely.

The fact that the social media allows one to share immediately almost everything with others in an instant does not mean that you must share everything with everyone nor that everything you can share is worthy of sharing with everyone.

Rather, the social media gives you the power of sharing and communicating only the things that you decide to share and communicate. One can still have a strong online presence /personal brand while remaining a private person.

A brand is what represents you, often, as X. What would be that X? A cat lover, a web services librarian, a metadata expert, a PHP maven? a interlibrary-loan specialist? Pick your own X and keep your privacy in all matters other than X.

Personal branding is what you make of it.

In the ACRL New Members Discussion Group panel discussion I moderated, I asked each panelists the following five questions.

  1. What comes to mind when you hear the term, “personal branding”?
  2. What is wrong with not being engaged in personal branding at all?
  3. How and why did you start your own personal branding? What did you do and what did you learn?
  4. How and why did you pick the personal branding channel of your choice (e.g. Twitter, Blog, Facebook, etc.) and what do you think are the pros and cons of those channels?
  5. What are the values/benefits of personal branding to you?

If the tense of 3. and 4. are changed from the past to the future, these can be easily used for those who are interested in becoming more active online in the librarian community to pursue “specific” interests. Do you see the values/benefits in investing time and energy in pursuing your interests in certain social media platforms? If the answer is yes, try to answer the five above questions clearly and make your plan accordingly, keeping in mind that your personal brand is not an end itself but a by-product.

I tried to dispel some of the misconceptions about personal branding such as it is all about marketing oneself shamelessly without really deserving it or about giving up one’s own privacy. But eventually personal branding is something different for each and every individual. It is what one makes of it.

Further resources

If you are interested in the details of what was discussed in the actual panel discussion, see this live tweet archive: http://twapperkeeper.com/hashtag/nmdg.

At the end of this post, if you are ready to embark on your personal branding, feel free to check out this handout from the ACRL New Members Discussion Group and follow up on the further discussion with other new librarians here at ALA Connect – New Members Discussion Group.

Also check out a great write-up and thoughtful comment by Steven Bell about the panel discussion “The WHY of Your Brand” in the Library Journal.

The way we communicate, Facebook, libraries, and life

Monday this week, Facebook announced its new messaging system. The new messaging system is Facebook’s attempt to unify SMS, email, instant messaging, and Facebook’s existing messaging service in the already powerful and vast social network platform with five hundred million users. I highly recommend actually watching the video included in this announcement because it explains well as what Facebook regards its new messaging system.

The main idea is to create a Social Inbox that unifies all different modes of communication based upon one’s social network, thereby giving the context and the priority often needed for us to move through different emails and messages. It is a smart move by Facebook.  And it’s a reason for one to worry even more about our putting too much of our (not even just social) lives into one private company’s hands whose business plan is yet to be known. What will Facebook take from us once it decides to make money out of what they own, i.e, data of our lives?

According to Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO of Facebook, the inspiration for this system came from a number of high school students who use mostly SMS or Facebook and rarely e-mails because e-mails are too formal and slow. So what does the Facebook messaging system offer to satisfy the teenagers’ needs for faster and more informal communication? Messages with no subject line, no cc, no bcc, one thread, and no need for paragraphs. Messages are sent as instant messages on Facebook, or either as an email or an SMS message depending on what the recipient “friend” prefers.

This sounds somewhat similar to what Google has attempted early this year with Google Wave but actually more ambitious. Also while the purpose of Wave was never quite clearly defined and focused too much on the real-time aspect of the communication, Facebook’s advertising for its new messaging system is simple and and to the point. It focuses on the convenience you will enjoy if you adopt the Facebook messaging system as the main platform for  your communication needs. That’s a much better sales pitch than real-time communication.

Facebook

Facebook by sitonmonkeysupreme in Flickr

Although Facebook explicitly specifies that its new messaging system does not intend to replace emails, the arrival of the new Facebook messaging system makes me worry about whether I will be soon living in the world inundated with the briefest messages like SMS and Twitter regardless of what setting I am in – work, family, friends, business, entertainment, culture, sports, etc.

I have recently realized that more and more people adopted the trend of forgoing the traditional greetings and sign-offs in their emails. No “Dear/Hi/Hello”, no “Best/Thanks/Cheers/Regards”, and often with not even the sender’s name in the email body. This SMS-like terse email trend is catching on thanks to the prevalence of smart phones.

Granted that typing itself is pain on the phone sometimes. It is only reasonable that the communication device we use determines the mode of our communication. However, this kind of e-mail style written on the phone is now becoming popular in normal e-mails that people compose in front of computers. Why bother with greetings and sign-offs if others do without them? So now everyone is sending emails like SMS messages. I confess that I initially felt quite far apart from those teenagers who complain that e-mails are too informal and too slow. But then I myself am not free from typing away on the phone terse and even cryptic emails trying to send out responses promptly on the go. And it is in an utterly informal fashion that I chat, vent, and joke with people on Twitter.

So the changes in the way we communicate are not just happening among teenagers. The informalization of everyday communication is happening to all of us. And one day, the mental reflex that interprets the terseness and informality of a message as rudeness may be regarded as a mere relic from the pre-digital age.

WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO LIBRARIES? Many libraries are already in Facebook and Twitter sending out and exchanging informal and brief messages. Some of the libraries also offer SMS as an option for users with research or reference questions. So are libraries going to be communicating with users in this increasingly more informal and faster manner?

Text a Librarian from http://www.textalibrarian.com

This would probably true for most library services. However I doubt if this would very much change the nature of research assistance that libraries offer. At least until we find a way to “think faster” rather than merely to communicate faster what we have thought.

Actually “communicate faster” may be an entirely wrong mantra for research as it may deprive you of the opportunity to critically reflect on the thoughts you have formed through research. Perhaps you made wrong assumption. Perhaps you missed an argument somewhere building up to your big proof.

How do librarians help users to do research better when the common mode of communication and information consumption becomes ever faster, immediate, and hectic? How do libraries show and persuade users that there are different gears they will need to use when they are in the middle of research while still engaging them and be responsive to the faster and more immediate communication channels that users make use of everyday? Certain services libraries provoke are simply not suited for the faster and immediate mode of communication and that’s due to the nature of research , not any fault of libraries.

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ps. On a personal note, I am intrigued by this passage in the Facebook announcement: I’m intensely jealous of the next generation who will have something like Facebook for their whole lives. They will have the conversational history with the people in their lives all the way back to the beginning: From “hey nice to meet you” to “do you want to get coffee sometime” to “our kids have soccer practice at 6 pm tonight.” That’s a really cool idea.”

I am inclined to think that if somebody asserts that having the entire conversation history of his or her life in Facebook is a great idea, then that somebody may as well not know much about life, which is filled with more things that we would rather forget than remember and with more break-ups and fall-aparts than happily-ever-afters.  Is it really sufficient to place the people we know into two categories, friends and non-friends?  Are those going to be the categories that we apply to the people we meet throughout our lives?  Of course, Facebook doesn’t have the evil plan to make our human relationships flat and shallow.  But now that friend-ing, poking, status-updating, liking, and brief messaging seem to be just  good enough, are we willing to go beyond that?  I believe we all have the need for hiding ourselves from time to time behind “the arbitrary ten digit numbers and bizarre sequences of characters.”  But Facebook thinks that’s anachronistic.

A lay librarian’s thought on “Nothing is Future”

Wayne Bivens-Tatum, a Princeton librarian and the blogger of Academic Librarian, wrote a post “Nothing is the Future” a few days ago, which resulted in many comments including the very excellent one from Tim Spalding at LibraryThing.  In his comment in Thingology, Tim Spalding warns about a potential misreading of Bivens-Tatum’s post suggesting that people should use his essay as a way to “kick it up a notch” intellectually, get past the small stuff and confront the very real changes ahead.” Bivens-Tatum also posted a response, “Preaching and Persuading,” making it clear that that his target of criticism is not the adoption of any new technology in libraries per se but the manner in which new technologies have been adopted so far in libraries.

Here are some of the thoughts that came to my mind while reading these blog posts, which have gotten surprisingly long.

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In his article, “Academic Digital Libraries of the Future: An Environmental Scan,” Derek Law writes:

“We have reached a point where entrenched and traditional organizational settings give rise to organizational clashes, as new issues and content emerge which do not fit historical patterns. The bundling of functions has imperceptibly changed, but we have become so busy and adept at keeping the library efficient and well manage  that we have lacked the space to step back and observe it from a higher level. …… Libraries have fallen into the trap of substituting means for ends and have not considered what is in the interest of their parent universities. It is, then, the purpose of this paper to review and scan the landscape facing university libraries and to attempt to identify the key competencies or core areas of work that the profession needs to grasp as its key to the future.”

His statement is targeted for academic librareis, but the diagnosis may well resonate with any rank and file librarian at differnet types of libraries. The problem seems to be that overall our library world appears lost on what a library should be in the future.

I realize that it is hard to articulate this impression of mine, particularly when there is so much conversation about new technologies and trends that libraries have to consider and adapt thier services for. What I am trying to get at is that most of the conversation is about what’s new and how to catch up. The numerous things get swiftly classified under the “Have To” category from this conversation. But they don’t always seem to have a clear relevance to “Why” and “For what” let alone “How To.”

Today’s library world, which resembles almost the Warring States period of China a long long time ago, unnerves me sometimes because everything seems to be geared towards catching up with the latest trends. Yesterday wiki and blog, today Facebook and Twitter, tomorrow mobile websites, content, and devices. Libraries and librarians have been working hard and frantically.

But, now that we have done so, are we significantly better off? Have our efforts significantly changed the way our users and our parent institutions perceive us? Why this nagging suspicion that we all seem to share and worry about, i.e. libraries are still ill-prepared for whatever the future will bring about? Why doesn’t this doubt cease that we are running in parallel with our users and parent institutions rather than running together as a team?

Staying up-to-date for the future is of course great. But what are we staying up-to-date for? There is no shortage of what libraries may become in the future: a digital repository, a learning commons, a place for innovative user experience, an information hub, what have you. But how do we get there where these visions are from here and now? Where are our blueprints, not another list of to-dos seemingly dislocated from the vision?

This brings back a question I often think about.  What kind of an agent a library is in its parent organization as a whole? Is it a dynamic, creative, competent, and energetic enough agent that can lead a change it desires through its parent organization?  If libraries are not currently such agents, how do we begin to become so?  Changes at these two different levels -internal and external- seem to be intertwined.  If we can at least begin to form some answers about these issues, maybe we will finally be able to spend more time on working towards making actual changes to the future of libraries rather than talking about it. Just a thought of a lay librarian.

How Personal Should a Library Be in Social Media?

How many social media accounts does your library maintain? How do you keep them lively and up-to-date? OK, keeping up-to-date part is relatively easy. You just need to post updates on your library’s Facebook page, to add new posts to your library’s blog, and to keep twittering in your library’s Twitter.

However, keeping it lively is much more difficult. How do you draw attention of library users to library’s social media accounts? How can a library provide the feeling that the library is there for you, its users? What it takes might be just the right amount of personal touch.

Jeff Swain recently wrote this blog post, Thoughts on the CIC Tech Forum” which reflcts on this issue.  He says:

“So the question becomes, why should our audience care to follow us? And how do we stay connected with them through these medium? Do we make informal chit-chat or do we simply post official announcements? It’s not a simple question to answer.

I know I struggle with representing myself and my unit in these areas. When I joined Twitter and Facebook I joined as myself (Twitter: jeffswain; Facebook: Jeff Swain). Quickly I encountered the problem of separating my personal stuff from my work stuff. It all bleeds together in the either where everyone can connect. Now I also am the persona for our symposium and e-portfolio initiative. Well, how do I represent them? Is it strictly business or is it personal?”

I struggle with the same question as a librarian who maintains and updates various social media accounts.  How do you engage your audience? The whole point of having a library’s presence in social media is to interact with library users.  But most libraries use their social media tools as an one-way announcement mechanism. While it may work fine for library staff as an easy broadcasting mechanism, how do you ensure that those messages will capture the scarce attention of library users?

social media

Image from https://blogs.psu.edu/mt4/mt-tb.cgi/94153

The problem is that people are much more interested in other people than in organizations, and in everyday miscellaneous stuff than in research and other library-related stuff. No matter how interesting library events are and how exciting new library databases can be, it just may not be interesting enough for library users to initiate a conversation with their library. Of course, there is an easy solution to this problem. Librarians can run library’s social media accounts as themselves with a little bit of personal voice added to them. But then, it seems that that is not quite a right thing to do because one individual cannot represent an organization properly.

While I am quite happy to babble about my daily activities in my personal Twitter account, I am often unsure about what to twitter for my library’s Twitter account. I don’t want to keep twittering about library events and research tools because I wonder that may simply bore my library users. But then what else can I twitter about that may be interesting to them without my personal interests mixed in? How should a library’s social media policy reflect address dilemma? What would users want from a library’s social media channels?

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