ALA is the largest library conference in the nation. It brings together different librarians from across the country, all in one place. It gives everyone the opportunity to meet new people and network. This is pretty fantastic if you think about it, but for a newbie student or librarian who has never been before, this can be an overwhelming experience. It brings to mind a number of questions about what to do and how to use this experience to network. Luckily, we have paired up a conference n00b, Annie, with conference veteran Lauren, with a question and answer session for some guidance on how to network.
Annie: What can I do before the conference to help me prepare?
Lauren: First, update all of your social networks, especially Twitter and LinkedIn. If you can create an online portfolio, blog, website, or digital business card, do so. Then, create business cards that have a URL of something of yours, even if it’s just your LinkedIn page (see our tips for business cards at the end of the post). If you don’t already, start connecting with librarians before the conference. Make a list of people you’d like to talk to in person if you have the chance. If you notice people hosting Tweet-ups and other meet-ups, put them on your schedule.
Annie: What is the best way to network if you are shy?
Lauren: I can be very shy, and I am still working on overcoming it for networking purposes, so I am no expert. The best advice I can give you is to just start. If you’re using Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn to talk to other librarians and library professionals, you’re already doing well. If you can equate @ replying someone on Twitter with walking up to a stranger and saying hello, it might be less nervewracking. Most every other person at the conference is there to meet new people, too, and they will almost definitely welcome your introduction or question. The worst thing someone can do is be mean/rude, and clearly they are not worth knowing. So just take a breath, walk up to someone, say hello and introduce yourself. One icebreaker is that you’re both already wearing a name tag, so one intro line might be (after the “nice to meet yous”) “I noticed you’re from Mitch Hedberg University in Portland, OR. I’m very interested in academic libraries. What’s your job title? How do you like working there/living in Portland?” You get the gist.
Annie: What if you don’t have a smart phone to utilize social networking? Will there be wifi? Is it OK to have laptops?
Lauren: There will be free wifi, at least in the convention center (I assume the hotels for conference purposes will as well). If you don’t have a smartphone, it is perfectly acceptable to use an iPad, laptop, netbook, iPod Touch, etc. However, some sessions will be more crowded than others, or simply less spacious, so using a laptop in a session just depends on the room you’re in and how comfortable you will be. Also, try to be respectful to the speaker – I know we’re sort of expected to tweet, but I still look up and make eye contact, nod, etc.
Annie: Should I stick with other students or explore on my own?
Lauren: You’re (and I direct this at all the first-timers, not just Annie) a first timer at a HUGE conference, so of course you’re going to want to spend time with fellow students. You may even be tempted to copy your friend’s conference schedule the first day and go to every session/lunch together because you’re so overwhelmed. However, I would HIGHLY encourage you to step out of your comfort zone in every way possible, and that means attending the sessions you’re most interested in, going to lunches with complete strangers – you name it. Try to confront what you’re most nervous about being alone – is it being nervous about networking? Not knowing where to go? Keep in mind that you’re going to be at a conference with 20,000 of the most helpful people you’re ever going to meet – do not be afraid of them, and don’t be afraid to ask questions! (especially if you’re lost – that’s a great networking opportunity ;) )
Annie: What should I bring to network at the convention center? Phone? Cards?
Lauren: Definitely bring your phone and any other gadgets that you can utilize social networking with (emphasis on Twitter and Foursquare). Bring your gadget chargers so that you can recharge if they die. Also don’t forget your business cards, and if you’re so inclined, buy a holder for them to store both yours and the ones you will collect from others. Have a pen on you to write on the back of others’ business cards (details to remember them by). You can also bring print resumes if you’re job hunting.
Annie: How many events/ sessions should I aim for in a day?
Lauren: Listen to your body. If you start at 8 am, then attend a session every hour until 5, you’ll be too exhausted to hang out and do fun stuff after (including tweets up and dance parties). Not to mention – the “after” stuff is usually where the most networking happens! If you can, alternate days where you sleep in. Skip a session or two during the day to take a nap or explore the exhibits. But back to networking – alternate between sessions that are purely presentations, and partly or purely social. You have to create your own opportunities to network at ALA, since hypothetically you could go to 8 back-to-back lecture type sessions each day, go out to dinner with your friends, and go back to the hotel, never speaking to a stranger. Just do everything in moderation.
Annie: As a poor graduate student, am I totally missing out if I don’t go to any of the sessions or events that cost extra money?
Lauren: I can honestly say I don’t know, since I’ve always been a poor graduate student and have never paid for a single extra session. I have wondered if the networking opportunities are better at these sessions. Can anyone who has attended paid sessions answer this for Annie?
Annie: In the sea of people, how can I make sure someone will remember they met me? Also, I met a cool librarian, what should I do to follow up?
Lauren: Well, you can’t guarantee anything (unless you’re the lady in the lobster hat I met at SLA – you can always try a schtick!), but you can certainly do your part by following up during or after the conference. I would suggest gathering all of your collected business cards and creating a Google doc spreadsheet with all of their info (that way, you can ditch the cards if needed, since they’re harder to keep up with). There are various levels of follow-up – if you just met some cool people you want to keep up with, follow them on Twitter, add on LinkedIn, visit their blog and comment, etc. If you want to do heavier networking, like following up on a possible job lead or asking someone to become your mentor, you might send a more formal email, letting them know how much you enjoyed meeting them, asking them a couple of questions, and thanking them for their time. Really, just do what feels comfortable to you in how you met that person.
Other networking tips:
- We’ve mentioned Twitter quite a bit. Follow the hashtag #ala11 to read what others are doing, and join in the conversation. You may even see someone asking, “Does anyone want to have lunch with me?” That brings me to my second tip.
- Use meal times for networking! You’ve got to eat. So does everyone else. If you’re at one of the free vendor lunches I mentioned in my ALA ’11 Tips and Tricks post, start up a conversation with your fellow tablemates before the demonstration starts. If you’re interested in a certain round table, find out if they’re hosting any socials. You can search ALA connect and Facebook for these events. Last year I attended the ANSS social and Bites with LIRT. And if you see someone on Twitter asking for a lunch date, go for it!
And finally, for business card advice:
See Erin Dorney’s excellent blog post. Here are pictures of my business card from last year and Annie’s business card. I went to Vistaprint.com to order mine, and Annie used Moo.com. I also have friends who created their own using templates in MS Word and a printer.
Are you a first-timer with a question for us? We’ll try to answer it! And ALA veterans, we’d love to hear your networking tips in the comments!