A few years ago, the professional development group at my school strongly encouraged us to develop our personal learning networks. I loved the idea. Sitting by myself all day, I crave new ideas and input from others. I found blogs and librarians on Twitter and started following and subscribed to journals. But when time got tight, which was often, they were the first things I let go. Luckily, I found PREP, a consortium of area independent school libraries, and was able to create an analog PLN.
Back in the days of print subscriptions and the new-fangled fax machines, a few independent school librarians in my area got together to talk about how they could share resources. And thus PREP, or the Private School Resource Exchange Program, was founded. Originally, the group formed so the schools could share articles through an ILL style procedure, using those fancy new fax machines. Over the years though, as databases and Internet searching have lessened the demand for print articles, PREP has changed with the times and evolved into something more robust.
Today, twenty-seven libraries belong to PREP. We meet four to five times a year at our various libraries for lunch and to talk shop with like-minded people. Our schools are diverse in size, budgets, and student profile. However, we share many of the same issues. Many of us work alone, are stretched thin, and deal with colleagues and students who believe libraries are anachronistic since you can find everything you need on the internet*.
Herein lies the beauty of PREP meetings. Each one is like a mini-conference. We all bring our particular interests to the table and share what we’ve been doing. One librarian in our group is particularly well versed in maker spaces and hosted a meeting where we all got to play with small circuits and Makey Makeys. Librarians investigating new databases have invited reps to our meetings to do a demonstration for the group. Another librarian was very interested in ebooks, platforms, and issues surrounding DRM and led a meeting where she shared her research. Some meetings we just come in with a topic and share our own thoughts, research, and experience.
The opportunity to visit other schools is invaluable. Our schools and libraries are different ages, so our facilities differ greatly. My library (with 4000 items) is in the remodeled master bedroom of an old Main Line mansion. Another PREP library was featured in Library Journal a few years ago as one of the best-designed school libraries in the country. Aside from seeing how others use their stacks, computers, and study spaces, it’s also a chance to see classrooms and campuses and bring those ideas back to my colleagues.
Outside of our meeting times we stay connected through a Google list (we have in the past also used a blog, a ning, and another online forum, but found the good old email list to be most useful). We share ideas on library orientation exercises, databases, and state resources. We make plans for travel to and eating at conferences. Some of those who went to AASL last month posted summaries and resources from the sessions they attended so that those of us who were left behind could benefit from their experience.
PREP has allowed me to operate as a solo librarian** with twenty-odd colleagues who understand the specific nature of my work. Questions that may have led me down a research rabbit hole and taken most of my day can now be fired off in an email and answered within a few minutes. I have found our discussions invaluable in making sure that neither my library nor I get stuck in a rut.
If you’re in an independent school, do you have a similar professional group? Do public schools have something similar? How do you build your real life personal learning network?
*I am lucky that none of my colleagues thinks this way. A few students may challenge me on it, but I can usually bring them around to my way of thinking.
**Full disclosure: as of two weeks ago, I am no longer a solo librarian and have a fantastic new Assistant Librarian sharing my corner of the mansion.