Who Are You? Your Public, Private, and Professional Life

When it comes to the Internet, how many lives do you lead? Yesterday I read Ellyssa Kroski’s article in School Library Journal, about libraries creating policies for staff social media use. Some of the recommendations include showing respect for your colleagues, not spilling organizational secrets, and adhering to your library manual’s code of conduct. Wow, I thought, we could really use something like this. But then I thought about it some more, and I wonder: to what extent can we enforce such a policy? It’s reasonable to monitor library accounts, but what about personal accounts? Here’s where it gets fuzzy.

So, how many lives do you lead? Do you have a personal Twitter account and a professional one? What about Facebook? I’ve been struggling with the split-personality thing for a long time. I’ve chosen to have one account for both work and play. It’s just too hard to separate the two. We spend at least 40 hours a week at work, and a lot more than that thinking about work–it’s natural we want to talk about it with our peers. And, I feel like I’ve made solid connections with colleagues I might not have made if it weren’t for Twitter or Facebook. There’s nothing better than bonding over Glee or getting a photographic glimpse into the rich lives of your YALSA committee members.’  But there’s always a trade off. Had a bad day at work? Need to let off steam? Maybe it feels right to vent in your Facebook status or make jokes about it on Twitter, but you never know who will see it. Even private profiles have a way of making it to very person you’d hoped would never see it.

But isn’t that the point of a social media policy–to discourage staff from such faux pas? I’m all for that, but don’t we deserve to have a private Web life (i.e. access by approved friends only) that also includes friends from work? And how would a social media policy fit into that? I like the idea of guidelines, and I hope that everyone would behave professionally. But one person’s idea of good judgment would make another person gasp in horror.

What to do?

About Connie Urquhart

I'm the Teen Services Coordinator at Fresno County Public Library in Fresno, California. With YALSA, I've worked on the Web Advisory Committee and am current chair of the TV Task Force. I <3 Twitter.
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5 Comments

  1. I may be alone in this, but…

    I think we spend too much time worrying about writing policies rather than relying on the intelligence of employees to be reasonable, responsible, and accountable for their own behavior. “Policy” is taking over not only the work time, but also non-work time. So yes, we spend more time thinking about work than 40 hours a week, but we’re also not at work all the time.

  2. my last tweet and current facebook status is about raccoon urine. I kinda can hear the gasps but oh well.

  3. I think about this a lot. I started Sagittarian Librarian because I wanted to have a “professional” blog to hang my hat on, but I think a lot of my more interesting writing is “unprofessional.”

    As far as social networking and work are concerned, our district blocks Facebook, MySpace, Twitter… you name it, we block it. So our social media policy is “we don’t do that.” …Except (and here’s where risky business comes in) I do.

    A student showed me how easy it is to get on Facebook from work (though I deactivated my account for personal reasons). I use a third-party client to tweet during work. I have a library blog for our website, but blogs can’t be hosted on district server space.

    But I definitely struggle with how public to be in any of these places, and I don’t think I would knowingly let a current student into any of my social networks.

  4. I have some of my teen patrons as friends on my facebook. I just limit what they can see on my page. Facebook has great privacy settings…and you can even use them to adjust what you want your “friends” to see.

  5. I think about this all the time and decided to mix my professional and personal lives in my social networks. That means that I have library school students, teens, colleagues, clients, and friends on my social networks all intermingling. What makes that work from my perspective is that it requires I think about what I put out there for others to read. I am always critically analyzing my writing, the audience, and the purpose. If you knew the number of times I start a Twitter post and then delete it once I think about it a bit and realize it’s just not right for some members of “my audience.”

    I was at a meeting a few weeks ago and there was an interesting discussion among librarians, who were being asked to blog at their library, and some management staff. The librarians were concerned that they might blog something they weren’t supposed to and the response from management was, “We trust you at the reference desk to know how to interact with customers and we trust you in the blogosphere in the same way. It’s not a different behavior it’s just a different environment.” That put the whole thing in perspective.

    One other thing that I’ve been thinking about in this context is how careful we have to be about participating in friendships in open social networks. If we include a wide-array of people in our social groups online, then some people might be offended (maybe not correctly) by this. This is one of the reasons I love direct messages in Twitter, I can send a message to just one colleague or friend within the Twitter format and not interfere with the other parts of my social networking life.

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