Digital Identity Workbook - This is Me

THIS IS DRAFT 1 - Still open to improvements!

Learning materials about Digital Identity for Librarians

Why should we care about digital identity in the context of peer learning? Because today a lot of peer learning happens online, using commercial and non-commercial online sites and tools. These tools ask us to "register" and "make profiles," as well as to connect with or "friend" others. These digital artifacts can remain online long after our peer learning has finished.

Digital identity also can impact our professional reputation. So beyond learning, this is an issue for almost all of us and more and more often.

Originally produced by the This Is Me project Originating project funded by Eduserv. Modified by Nancy White for use in the NGO Sector and the CGIAR Social Media Workshop/KS Toolkit. Re-Modified by Shirley Williams, Sarah Fleming and Pat Parslow for use by health professionals and trainees October 2009. Modified by Nancy White, Shirley Williams, Pat Parslow for use by librarians in February 2010.


Digital Identity

'Digital Identity' (DI) is the term we use to describe the facets of your identity others see about you across all the digital spaces in which you are represented. This is made up from the material you post, the conversations you take part in online, and also material other people post that is about you, or about your material. It can also include implicit information, for instance, how quickly you respond to other people's posts, which, although complex, can be an indication of your eagerness to help, your engagement with the community, or of your commitments to other things in the off-line world.

As we use more and more online services which allow user content and discussion, such as Facebook ( , LinkedIn (, Delicious (, Twitter (, Google , blogs and others, we leave a ‘digital footprint’. This ‘footprint’ makes up our Digital Identity (DI) – all those things which can be found out about us from the content we post, the profiles we create, the conversations we have with others and the things other people post about us.

Much of this material remains accessible for an indefinite period. Unlike a conversation in a coffee shop which has no record and is quickly forgotten, what is put on the Web tends to stay on the Web. With the increasing processing power of computers, it will become easier over time to aggregate this information to build a profile of someone -- a profile that may or may not reflect what we wish it to. Various Web sites are already starting to do this, with varying degrees of accuracy. Examples include and - search for yourself on these sites, and think about how reliable they are, but also about whether other people might assume that they reflect an accurate representation of you.

Consider these questions:

Where are the boundaries that you would like to set? That you CAN set?

Learning materials

This workbook is designed to help you explore the ideas and issues surrounding the concept of Digital Identity, particularly in your context as a librarian.

Experience shows that a person’s view of Digital Identity changes as they become familiar with different online services, and when issues are reported in the media. It can be useful to go back and revisit how you answered the worksheets every now and then, to see how events change your view.

Where possible, people seem to gain more from the worksheets when they have the opportunity to discuss the issues they raise in pairs or small groups. Some people may need to be told not to share any issues which they feel sensitive about, unless with a trusted friend.

Exploring your Digital Identity

Frances is a librarian in a small town library with active research interests. She was educated in the ‘pre-Internet’ era but over the past five years has understands that working online is a valuable part of her work. She knows some of her library patrons are very web savvy, and now their entire catalog is online. So the staff works online as part of their job. That is the reality.

Frances belongs to a variety of professional associations and occasionally attends national conferences. She participates in a couple of library email lists, posting infrequently.

Frances has three grown up children and two young grandchildren. She loves it when her daughter sends a link to pictures of the grandchildren and has a chuckle to see her picture as well.

One day, one of her patrons said "hey, cute grandchildren on Flickr," and Frances said "what?". Her patron said she was searching for a picture of Frances to describe her to a fellow library patron and found her on Flickr, the photo sharing website. Frances was aghast. She had no idea she was ‘online’!

What do people see when they search for your name on the Web? Will they find you easily, or is your Digital Identity buried beneath many other search results. Is information about you online? Is it accurate? Are you comfortable with what is there?

The first thing is to explore your own Digital Identity.

Activity 1 - Search Exercise

This can be a bit of a strange activity. You may find it easier to do it with a trusted friend or colleague, taking on the roles and sharing the results in a spirit of friendship.

Imagine you are someone else who is looking to know a bit more about you. Take on one of the roles of the "other person" listed below. Brainstorm and write down the types of internet searches that you imagine that they would do, and then try doing them on yourself and making a note of the results. Role you are taking on to search on the "real" you.

Write down the search terms you think each one of them might use, then search using those terms. Write down what you find. Write down how you feel about what you've found!

Search Hint

If you have a common name or a name shared with a celebrity, you may not find much about you with a search just on your name. You may be able to find more by adding other information such as your location or a key word relating to you. This is also a good exercise to test your search skills.

For example, if I was searching for John Smith, who I know to be a librarian in Madeupsville, I might search for

John Smith librarian Madeupsville

It would be better to search for "John Smith" with the quotation marks, and to include any keywords relating to specialisms John may have, but it is worth considering simple searches first. After you complete your searches, think about what you would or wouldn't want people to find when they search for you. It is hard to remove things you don't want, but it can help you decide what you DO want to share.

Activity 2 - Google Profile & LinkedIn

Some people find that creating a base profile on a common web service is a good starting point to establishing a digital identity. Two options to consider are Google Profile (, a generic profile page offered by web giant Google, or LinkedIn ([ |, a professional networking site.

These services offer a place to consolidate the things you do want people to easily find about you. This will improve their ability to find you when searching (for Google profiles, this is especially true for Google search). And it gives you a chance to feature what YOU want to feature when people first search on your name.

Keep in mind these are sites owned and hosted by commercial companies. Some people say the most important thing is to get your own URL (web site address) and establish your identity on your own site. This is probably too much for many of us, but is something to consider.

Locking down your Digital Identity?

From School to Work

Abi just finished training and has begun her career as librarian at a prestigious national archive. While at college, she built up a Facebook account with literally hundreds of photographs of her tagged at parties, holidays with friends – the usual! Abi studied hard getting good marks and multiple degrees.

As a teenager, Abi used chat rooms. Before going to university, she found out a lot about it from people on various social networks, like Facebook, who were happy to talk about it online.

Abi considers herself pretty web savvy. She has always been careful to avoid heated arguments online. She is also aware that her cultural views have shifted since going to university. She does not necessarily see everything she said in the past as being entirely representative of her today.

When she applied for her job with the archive, she knew her credentials were well received. The interviewers were impressed with her ability to express herself and communicate with the interview panel without any nervousness, probably because of her dynamic and lively approach, which is reflected in her online persona. They, however, were not users of online media, so they did not ask her about her online experiences.

Abi had not thought much about her online persona in her professional life, especially since many of her peers aren't using online tools. But last week a colleague made a remark about a party picture and now Abi is not sure whether to ‘clean up’ her Facebook profile, to make it look more professional, or whether to acknowledge that she enjoys a party as much as the next person, and that this shows she has a character as well as those all important skills she has learned at university.

Activity 3 – What will they find?

Imagine you are just starting your career as a librarian at a medium sized town library. You have been using the Internet socially since you were a teenager. You have secured your first job in a tight-knit, fairly conservative community, where who you are is almost as important as what you do. Appearances matter. You hear your head librarian is going to begin looking up everyone online to see if there are any image problems that may be found by the media.

Quick Digital Identity?

Mike is a librarian working in a research institute, and is involved in local volunteering initiatives such as mentoring local school children. He also volunteers at a local homeless shelter. Mike has never had time to get involved with social networks on the Internet, preferring the immediacy and dynamic nature of face-to-face conversations. He uses email and, occasionally, gets distracted by his instant messenger program with queries from colleagues, but apart from that, the Internet is chiefly an information resource.

Times are changing. Mike's research institute is being reorganised. Everyone will have to reapply for jobs and it is expected that some people will have to look elsewhere for positions. So it is time to get some other options ready. One of the organizations Mike would like to work for, though, has a strong presence online, and does a lot of outreach and search assistance using online social networks. They have been contacting people though this medium about their plans for a major new research initiative. Mike is not sure whether he wants to get involved in this. On the one hand, he could sit down and write a profile to provide an online presence, but on the other hand, he has plenty to do, with the current work and volunteering.

What is worse is that he cannot work out whether a plain and straightforward profile would actually help him in this case. It may be that it would look just a bit too ‘engineered’ and put a potential employer off. Some people expect to see a ‘back story’ behind an online persona, with evidence of online participation over time. It may just be too late to create one now.

Activity 4 – Job Hunting for the Experienced

You are looking for the opportunity to work in a completely different library setting for a year. You have avoided being drawn in to social networking sites, preferring to spend time with your friends. You have three organizations that offer interesting 1-year contract opportunities. You discover from one of your friends that two of the libraries have been getting in touch with potential applicants through LinkedIn, a business social networking site. While you were chatting with friends over coffee, you heard that there are many people applying for each position, so it is going to be quite competitive.


In the ‘old days’ people used email lists, forums and bulletin boards to have conversations among communities online. Social networking sites then offered ways of having many-to-many communication via people’s ‘walls’ (in Facebook) and through use of groups. Then came microblogging, (like Twitter), which popularized the idea of sharing out to the world, via the Internet, what you are doing or thinking. People who use it (‘Tweeple’) were quick to come up with ways of holding semi-private conversations (addressing a remark @someone) which anyone can see. They even had a means of sending ‘Direct’ (or private) messages to others.

Jill works in works in a school library and started using Twitter to communicate with some of her friends while she was isolated at school. It helped her feel connected with her friends and family while working hard in a busy and challenging job. It was great because she could use even her mobile phone to connect with Twitter when there was no Internet access.

Because she liked to Tweet about books, she gained a few other ‘followers’ – people who were interested in her status updates. Although Jill still feels that it is a little odd that people from around the world are interested in what she has to say, she continues to update the ‘Twitterverse’ with comments on books she has read, interspersed with occasional conversations with friends, total strangers, and the odd Tweet about her day-to-day life and the place she is staying in.

Jill was a little surprised when one of the teachers at school signed up to Twitter. This person was very sensitive about how their work is communicated out to the world. Jill spent a little time wondering whether she should protect her updates. Protecting them means that people can’t read what she writes unless she gives them permission. She would never accidentally connect with others.

In the end, she decided that although she had made some comments about the school conditions that she would have phrased differently if she had intended the teachers at her school to read them, she decided it would be OK. But she resolved to keep her Tweets to things she is totally sure are OK to say publicly, which means she sometimes doesn't say what she'd like to say!

Activity 5 - Tweeting from the field

You are county librarian and you started using Twitter over a summer holiday when you went on a trip. Everyone enjoyed sharing their updates with friends back home. Now, back at work, you find that a number of others are also using it. It is time to think about who you want to "follow" on twitter (subscribe to their updates) and understand who is following you.

Thinking about these people...

1. What would be your reaction if any of the above started following you? Can you tell if they seem to have similar interests? How do you feel if they also Tweet about completely different things?

2. Would you follow them back?

3. Would you expect the above to follow you if you followed them? 4.Knowing more about who is following you, would you Tweet about your work life? Social life? Everything?

Security - Banking on honesty

Lynn decided to delete her Facebook profile after realizing that all of her banking security question answers were either directly visible on it, or easily found by following links. This was because many banks ask for a person's mother’s maiden name as a security question. It was only somewhat later, when telling the tale of how hard she had found it to delete the information, that a friend asked why she had given honest answers to the bank in the first place. As the friend pointed out - it isn’t as though the bank checks the answers are true, you just have to remember what you told them.

We struggle to remember all the different passwords we have, so sometimes reuse them or use easy to remember, but easy to ‘hack’ passwords. There are tools to help manage passwords we can consider. Some organizations require a reset of critical intranet passwords on a regular basis to avoid these ‘easy password’ problems. It is worth thinking about your password practices as you begin to use more social media tools.

Activity 6 - What are your password practices?

Think of four Internet accounts you have.

1. Are the passwords all the same, or different? If the same, what would be the consequences of someone guessing/hacking into any of those accounts?

2. Are your passwords real words, or do you use a combination of letters, words and characters. The latter are harder to crack. If you have a very valuable account, are you giving it a valuable password?

What’s in a Name?

Greg is a recent library sciences graduate, enjoying a good job in an inner city library, thanks to a good degree and dazzling Web profile, painstakingly crafted to sell his talents. In addition to the usual bright lights big city stuff of touring bars and cafes, Greg spends quite a bit of his down time gaming on the Internet, playing a wide range of browser games and hanging out in Second Life, a virtual world ( In other words, he is a web savvy guy.

At the library, Greg notices that there is a stead stream of senior citizens who come in to use the computer terminals. Being close to a senior housing building, these folks are "regulars" and Greg has enjoyed getting to know many of them. There is one man, Howard, who seems particularly keen to learn more about online communities. His grandson plays the popular "World of Warcraft" game and he has heard his daughter talk about meetings in this "Second Life Place!"

In a rush of good-hearted enthusiasm, Greg offers to set Howard up with a Second Life avatar and some other online accounts. Howard has some misgivings, but allows Greg to "go ahead and do it as long as we don't use my real name." Howard is interest, but wary.

Activity 7 – Do unto others

What happens when we create a Digital Identity on behalf of someone else – in this case a person with little experience, and some concerns about his own digital identity, even if not well formed. It could be a library patron about whom we know very little. It could be a minor. It could be someone who is vulnerable.

Greg is a technologically literate individual. He spends time playing online games, and has used the Web to manage his own reputation both as a student and as an employee. He understands the implications of having a Web presence, and how presence is viewed and interpreted by others.

Greg has taken on the responsibility for creating a Web presence for Howard, whose o has already expressed both interest and concern about being more active on the Internet. How he helps Sam register and choose an online name could have consequences not only for Sam as an individual, but for his organizational relationships as well. Thinking about this scenario:

1. What issues should you think about when helping someone else to create a facet of their Digital Identity? Should Greg even consider doing this? Is he implicating his library? Is he putting a patron at risk?

2. Does the creation of an avatar in a space like Second Life form a link to the user in his offline life? If yes, who can ‘join the dots’ and do enough web-based research to discover the person behind the avatar?

3. Thinking back to any accounts you may have had when you were younger, does anyone still know you in terms of the identity you projected then?

4. Recent research has shown that the pattern of people you connect to, and the ways you connect, are as unique as a fingerprint. If looking at the connections Howard’s Second Life avatar makes can identify him when related to, say, the friends he has or may have on other online sites, does that change any of your previous answers?

Clearance or Convenience?

When John was a child, he had a Brownie camera and he could take eight photos on each film; he now has a digital camera and can take thousands of pictures. As a child he stuck his photos in an album and showed them to family and friends. Now he can post his pictures on the Internet and share them with the whole world. The photographs in which he appear that are posted on the Internet certainly contribute to his Digital Identity. On holiday with family and friends, large numbers of photos are taken throughout the trip, from the drowsy morning shots of pyjama-clad individuals grasping a cup of tea, through sightseeing and lounging by the pool, to boozy evenings. He can control which of these he posts, but he has less control over the ones others select to post. At recent conferences he attended he was asked to fill in a form that giving his permission for pictures to be taken and used. There were professional photographers who, it seemed, were almost everywhere capturing not only the presentations but also the coffee breaks and lunch.

Activity 8 – Time to review policies?

Select someone who is your Facebook friend or who is on Flickr ( and look at photos in which they are tagged. Tagged in this case means someone has associated a name with the person in the picture. Next, imagine what comments the following types of people might add to these photos when they looked at them. Remember, try to put yourselves in their shoes.

Example Story: "A friend of mine (a university student, in this case) recently had someone associate her name with a photograph of her sitting on the toilet (the photograph was not revealing as such, but nevertheless). One can imagine their Dad sending a message/phoning to ask if it was wise to have such a photo online (although the friend has no direct control over the fact this photo is there), rather than drawing attention to it by posting a comment on the photo itself. One can also imagine some fathers doing the opposite, and posting a comment along the lines of "caught with your pants down again?". What might other people add to a photograph, and how might their comments alter the perspective someone else gets from viewing the photo and the comments?"

Having tried this with someone else, ask how it might feel for you. If you have or can find photos of you online, try this test on your own pictures. Are you comfortable with how others might respond to pictures of you?

Closed communities – private community/public impact

David, a library sciences student, belongs to a secret society. Well, he plays a game in which he is a ‘spy’ and the game organisers have forums and social networks set up which can only be accessed by paying players. David enjoys the game, even if some of his friends think he is a bit geeky. Around 30 of his friends in the local area also play it on a regular basis.

Many of the players are also on other publicly available social networking sites. The game rules forbid them to mention anything about the game in public (after all, they are spies!), and generally people abide by the rules. After one of his friends was treated a bit harshly by one of the referees, there was an incident on the game’s forums. The friend was angry and let the referees know about their shortcomings using some colorful language.

Whilst David sympathized with his friend because the judgment had been unjust, the outburst made (game-related) life tricky for a while. Some people decided they couldn’t trust David anymore because of his friendship, and because he had defended the guy in the forum. David remained calm and polite throughout, but was now in a position where his friend’s reaction had had a negative impact on his own reputation. In a ‘real life’ situation, this would probably have blown over, as memories started to fade, and people gradually left the game and were replaced with new blood. However, the persistent nature of the incident, recorded in the archives, meant that it never quite seemed to go away.

Activity 9 – What changes?

Imagine you are a member of a national society, which has an online presence for its members in the form of email lists. Only members of the society are allowed to join the lists, read emails coming from the list, and send emails to it. You know the following people who received the email:

You read your mail one afternoon, and one of the emails is an angry diatribe, targeting those currently in charge of the society. For each of the above people in turn, assume they were the person who sent the email.

1. How does sending the email change the Digital Identity (DI) of the sender? How does it change the DI of the target?

2. How does it change the DI of the society internally?

3. What impact does it have on relationships outside of the society?

4. How do you respond to it? What can be done to mitigate the effects?

Mike Roch on managing your DI

With 25 years in technology behind him Mike Roch, Director of IT Services at Reading University, has a great deal of insight into Digital Identity – both in terms of what it means to him, and the way it is approached by others.

With social networking, particularly Facebook, being very much the topic du jour, Mike observes that his own experience shows you can never be too careful about how you present yourself online, because that information will be around for a long time! “So much of the discussion focuses on the here and now,” he says, “but, sorry to be the old fart, to me it’s not that new.”

“It’s a new medium, but we were doing this sort of thing 25 years ago – and the evidence still exists that we were doing it 25 years ago. The persistence of this activity is something we are only coming to recognise now – there are Web sites out there whose mission it is to record all of the Internet for posterity, and actually, it’s much more accessible than just some juddering archive!”

With this in mind, he says, people should perhaps take lessons from real life when considering how to form their digital one. “A lot of people don’t think about what the audience for their postings is going to be. Yet our actual experience of life is not speak as you would be spoken to, but to speak as the audience expects or requires you to. Very few people have the luxury in life of being themselves, and having the world like it or lump it.” Mike adds that people’s belief in the anonymity of the Internet is part of their innocence about how it really works, and can make them throw caution to the wind by telling the world and his dog about their life and exploits from the comfort of a laptop. “I do think there’s a lot of, not naivety – because that’s a loaded term – but trust and innocence about the way people use social networking, young people in particular,” he says.

“Their openness in social networking is not reflected in openness in their real lives. For example, it’s not usual when walking down the street to see what someone’s name is – even their name is private, never mind what’s going on in their relationships, or their political views.”

In fact, says Mike, the analogy of a street applies rather well to the Internet. “There are all sorts out there,” he comments, “and if you’re going to use a street safely and securely, then you tend not to make a lot of eye contact, you tend to avoid dark corners, and cross over when there are no street lights. The Internet’s got dark corners as well – and there is a level of risk, especially when there is a link between the virtual and the real.”

Setting boundaries and making yourself fully aware of these risks, concludes Mike, are key to staying in control of your Digital Identity, enabling it to work for you and hopefully not against you.

Erica and the aggregator

Erica maintains a simple but effective online profile, which shows her professional achievements. She updates as often as is appropriate, and makes sure it links properly to other information about her on the Web.

When checking recently to see if there were any new mentions of her work which she should create links to, she was surprised to find a site which claimed to be about her. It had her email address, employer, and most of the content from her profile, but it also had links that related to somebody quite different. Moreover, as Erica had never worked as a masseuse, she was rather surprised to see a Web page that appeared to claim she had!

The problem was that the site in question trawled through countless pages, trying to find everything it could about a person, and the rules it used for deciding whether information was about her were not quite right. The company that ran the site said the easiest option was to sign up with them and edit her profile. Although this would get rid of the errors, Erica could not see any reason why she should effectively be blackmailed into joining someone’s online service (even though there was no cost).

Nowadays we are often offered the opportunity to tag resources. In Facebook we can tag the people in a photo, on our blogs we can tag a post, and on we can tag pages we have bookmarked.

There are a number of reasons why we choose to tag:

Sarah, a librarian at a city library enjoys reading. She is such a book fan, she has set up a profile on two of the booksharing sites where people can catalog their personal book collections, share reviews and recommend books. Much of what she chooses to read is recommended by friends, and so it is quite varied in style and settings.

In the thriller category, Sarah has enjoyed seeing how technology has crept into the genre. She finds it interesting to consider the mechanism of how the protagonist is seeks information on another character. Those written before the turn of the millenium tend to have the protagonist travelling to distant destinations and interviewing a wide variety of people. More recent books describe how computers have come in to play and reduced the travelling times for protagonists.

Activity 10 - Twist in the Plot

How do you imagine where all this "digital identity" stuff is going? Look to fiction! Assume that you are a novelist (or advising one) and you want to have an interesting twist in a plot, how might you introduce these areas of Digital Identity:

* a character has an extremely common name; * a character appears to have no mention on the internet; * a character appears to have no digital presence for the last 5 years; * a character is following all the other characters on Twitter; * there is a Flickr picture of a character at a location he denies visiting; * a character discovers a LinkedIn entry about him, that he did not write; * there are message written in code on the characters Facebook wall; * a character finds many people in the tale have strange misconceptions about them, because they have assumed a computer generated profile, aggregating many people's details into one 'whole' is accurate.



Original Work: OdinLab thanks Eduserv for funding the project, and all the staff and students at the University of Reading for their contributions and willingness to talk about Digital Identity issues. We would also like to thank the eLearning community for their critical feedback on both materials and theory. We are grateful to the project’s steering group, Julia Horn, Mike Roch, David Gillham, Maria Papaefthimiou, to our colleagues in the Centre for Career Management Skills, David Stanbury, and Finbar Mulholland, and to Sarah Morey, for their invaluable input and guidance.


This Is Me Activities by This Is Me ( is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 UK: England & Wales License (

You are free to copy, modify, and share them. Let us know of any modifications you make - and of your experiences of using them. We are especially happy if you choose to translate them to other languages, and would appreciate it if you would license them under the same license so that the community can benefit. Please share a copy of any translated versions too!

Contributors: Pat Parslow, Shirley Williams, Sarah Fleming, Richard Hussey, Rob Finch and Nancy White

Image Credits: Note, I took the images out of the file and will put back in later. If you want to see the originals, go to the THISISME site. All photos are from with a Creative Common’s license unless otherwise indicated. · Identity LOLCat by Darren Barefoot · Mirror by g.originals · Digital Identity Map by Fred Cavazza · Lock b y ph0t0 {loves you too} · Job hunting by Newton Free Library · Twitter Bird Image by Johnny_automatic in public domain from · Passwords are like Pants by Richard Parmiter · Many Faces photo by Marga Perez of a drawing by Martin Jones · Camera by Sylvia Tanaka · Private Area by Splorp · Street by Bgm8383 · Torn Identity by Chrstin G · Tags by Adulau Other Resources we might want to look at: *