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Building and Engaging with my Personal Learning Network (PLN)

Over on The Book of Faces, I noticed that Edublogs is hosting a PLN challenge – 30 days to build and/or grow your personal learning network.  Fresh out of school, still with a bit of enthusiasm, and not yet busied by the responsibilities of a professional position, I think now is the perfect time for me to join in.

The Question Everyone (Including Myself) Asks: What does PLN really mean?

I’ve been building my PLN since fall of 2008, though I’ve torn it down and rebuilt it a couple of times now.  Essentially, PLN is a blanket way of referring to all the different methods we have of learning new things by interacting with other people.  For me, blogs have always been a big part of that.  In 2008 I added Twitter.  I’ve tried Nings but that format is not very intuitive to me, so I just dip my toes in and out.

That said, I’ve never really been able to wrap my brain around PLN as a concept.  So in my head it looks like this: People I Follow On Twitter + Authors of Blogs I Follow + Colleagues from School + My Husband + My Dad + Any Other Resource I Happen Upon = My PLN.  (In case you’re wondering why my mom isn’t on there, it’s because she’s not in libraries/education/academia.)  It’s big and messy and organic, and The Internet tells me that’s okay.  My librarian-brain disagrees but I’m working with her to move through this.

So, how did I decide who to follow on Twitter and blogs? (Because how I obtained my dad and school colleagues is pretty obvious, and how I got my husband is personal info not suited to a professional blog…)

First, over at TwiTip, Darren Rowse shared a list of the Top 10 Educators to follow on Twitter.  Then, of course, I followed the old advice of looking at who those people follow and who followed them.

Next, as part of my School Library program, I was required to follow the blogs of luminaries like Joyce Valenza, Buffy Hamilton, Doug Johnson, Will Richardson, and David Warlick (most of these folks are on Twitter, too).  These blogs post links to other resources which expand my network even further.  I don’t remember how I found 8-Bit Library, but I’m so glad I did, because JP and Justin are my heroes.

But here’s what I think is the coolest way I found people to add to my PLN…

And it’s something I haven’t seen/heard anybody else talk about yet.  At conferences, I’m in danger of being a wallflower.  Sitting in the back of the room for presentations, eating by myself, this sort of thing.  The bigger the conference, the more likely this is to happen.  So when I went to ALA’s Annual Conference in Washington, D.C. last year, this was a big risk.  Especially when my husband and my friend Katy weren’t around.

BUT! Because of my PLN, this never happened.  I was wandering between sessions, all by my lonesome, when folks like JP Porcaro and Justin Hoenke (both of 8 Bit Library) would recognize me and we’d exchange greetings.  Then I’d do things like follow JP to the exhibit hall where we’d sit and chat about video games in libraries, followed by some wandering around until he introduced me to people he knew, like Ed Garcia and Jenn Wann Walker.  Or I’d meet up with him in the Networking Uncommons and happen to find him talking to people like Evelyn Bussell, who is actually local to me and had just returned from lunch with my advisor.

Because of my PLN in virtual space, I felt more comfortable in the physical space at ALA, and met new people who I then added to my PLN.  It was amazing.  Especially the part where Buffy Hamilton and I compared shoes.

What’s next?

This year I won’t be attending the ALA Annual Conference.  But you can bet I’ll be keeping an eye on #ala11 on Twitter and soaking up everything I can from my PLN.  I trust them to let me know what new connections are worth making.

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  1. Hi Kimberly,

    Thank you so much for this post! I too am new to the concept of a PLN. I also identify with “the bigger the conference, the more likely I’ll sit by myself.” So, reaching out and finding people to connect with is not something I’m naturally comfortable with, but having a PLN makes it easy because the people I am connecting with are passionate about the same things I am… which makes conversations genuine and easy.

    I look forward to learning with you. It seems we have a lot in common.

    Kind regards,
    Tracy Watanabe

  2. Hey Kimberly,

    Thanks for the recommendation on LinkedIn, the exploring of which led me to here! Great post- I think your point about developing a personal connection to your virtual PLN is essential. That’s why I enjoy when people share bits about their personal life as little supplements to their professional sharing.

    Also, while I wouldn’t dream of going back to school right now (perhaps in the FAR distant future) I really enjoyed reading your post, and it made me miss the fun we all had at SILS. Luckily, since you are in my PLN, we can keep it going.

    See you this summer in person and probably later tonight on Twitter/FB etcetera. : o)

    • Thanks for stopping by, Katy! It’s my goal to get around to recommending on LinkedIn everybody who was kind enough to recommend me. Slow going, though. Writing recommendations is something I want to do so right that I get a bit hung up. Let’s definitely keep the SILS aspect of our PLNs lively!

  3. I, too, am shy when it comes to hanging out with a crowd, so your method of gathering around those familiar PLNs is a good one. I really like the fact that the people I do have in my PLN are, for the most part, willing to answer any questions or point me in the right direction. And I also provide ideas when asked or when I see a question to which I can add info. Thanks for sharing. Looking forward to learning with you.

    • Hi Sheri! Sharing and answering questions are key elements of networking, I think. I definitely recommend finding people from your PLN next time you are at some face-to-face professional development.

  4. Add me to the list of wallflowers. I am very shy. I have learnt how to pretend that I am not, but I can’t control my shyness at parties and conferences (wherever there are a lot of people I don’t know). Someone has said that the bloggosphere is full of shy people and it seems to be true.
    Thank you for all the wonderful resources you have shared here.

    • Thanks for coming by, Natasa! I hope building your PLN will give you the opportunity to feel more comfortable at conferences like it has done for me.