Networking. If you’re anything like me, the idea doesn’t exactly thrill you. I’m a friendly, chatty person (pity the people in my office, they cannot escape), and I genuinely love to meet other librarians and informational professionals. I am also an introvert, and my off switch is pretty easy to trip sometimes, so hours of professional chat at a conference with people I’ve just met and would like to impress? Difficult. That’s where we introverts have to get crafty.
As a new professional I’m still developing the tools I can use to ensure that I’m engaged and aware while still making sure I have time alone to recharge and get ready for the next round. Luckily I’m based in the UK, so haven’t had to attempt something as enormous as, for example, SLA’s annual conference – the largest conference I’ve been to had maybe 80 attendees!
Conferences in the UK tend to be on the smaller side, for obvious reasons (with a few exceptions). The great thing about this is that once you’ve found your special interest area and start attending events, you often run into the same people over and over, as Courtney wrote about recently, so you really get a chance to get to know everyone. The downside of this (for me, anyway), is that I faced my first professional conference feeling a tad anxious about making a good first impression – so I turned to Twitter.
Twitter is the very best tool for networking at your own pace. I try to get the official conference hashtag as a saved search on my Twitter app a few weeks before the start of the conference, so I can get a feel for the most avid tweeters and hopefully can say hi. Many other people have mentioned the joys of conference hashtags, (librarians love a hashtag, and we’re not the only ones) so I won’t go on too long here (I can be slightly over enthusiastic about them) but I will say even if you don’t feel comfortable tweeting during sessions try to sum up your favourite bits afterwards – useful for those who can’t attend, and especially useful if you’re planning on writing things up. Check the hashtag before, during and after the conference. For me, the greatest benefit to this was even if I needed a moment to myself and vanished off to my room or a quiet spot, I could still keep track of what was going on.
If you’re preparing for your first professional conference, I can’t recommend this blog post highly enough for those attending UK conferences or the smaller US ones. If you’re already a conference pro try the Conference Bingo – extra points for getting a full house at your first session. And of course Sam here at Hack Library School has written an excellent post on the mega conferences you see so very often on the US side of the pond.
Outside of conferences, Twitter is obviously also an amazing tool, not just for day to day chat, but also for wider discussion. In the UK we have #uklibchat, and more are popping up all over the place. Personally I can’t always keep up with the pace but sitting in front of my laptop (probably in my PJs) with a mug of tea and slowly wading through is still an excellent way to learn from so many different people without having to worry about running out of energy or having to keep up with many different face to face conversations.
There is life outside of Twitter though, as much as I would love to stay there forever. The obvious networking tool is LinkedIn, with its plentiful notifications and the opportunity to make a connection beyond swapping a business card (though do be sure it’s appropriate!). I’ve gotten a lot out of my short time on LinkedIn – what’s been particularly useful is the ability to see someone’s experience laid out simply without the need to bombard them with questions, which can often waste the time I have to get useful networking in before I need to crash.
Then there’s the introvert’s ultimate dream, the blog. With a blog I can carefully consider my words before I release them out into the world, which is such a blessing and a massive weight off my mind. I can respond to events in a measured way in a space I control and if I get any responses I have time to reflect on them before I reply. Heaven.
After all this though, there sometimes can be no substitution for networking in person. You all know your own minds and limitations best, so if you can push your boundaries a little and stay at an event or an evening a while longer, or eat lunch with people you’ve met instead of alone, then do it, especially if you’re at a shorter conference. Make sure you’ve scheduled some recharging time everyday to give yourself space, and be aware if you’re flagging too much – but really try to spend as much time as you can around your peers while you have the chance. For major conferences or extended networking periods, if you have the chance (days off and money permitting), spending an extra day in whatever city you’re in after the conference lets you sightsee (so you don’t have to try to cram it in as well as going to the actual conference) as well as spend a day with yourself before you go back to your usual whirl of library school and work and family.
As I said, I’m still developing the tools I use to network with my peers – so do any of you have suggestions? Tried and true techniques? Stories about the time you zoned out during a conversation and ended up agreeing to chair a committee? Share the wealth!