Networking. It’s a word that’s thrown around a lot and is an inevitable part of professional life. Some previous HLS writers have given their thoughts on the topic. One wrote about networking as an introvert, another gave great tips for networking as a student, and another wrote about networking within the Latinx community.
The biggest problem I’ve had with the beast that is networking is the “what now?” question. Sure, I’m at this conference, I’m working with a professor who’s research interests me – what does networking actually look like? I think the main problem is that it can mean so many different things depending on the context. Maybe this step is obvious for some, but I often find it awkward and forced.
So, here are some of the lessons and tips I’ve learned as in my brief time playing the networking game in libraries.
- Networking is weird. Let’s just accept this. We are presenting the professional version of ourselves for judgement to strangers. In all likelihood they are kind and want to meet you as much as you want to meet them, so gracefully accept – and maybe even embrace – the strangeness of the situation.
- Be prepared. Do your research before you go to know what kinds of questions to ask. Bring business cards (if they’re appropriate). Have an elevator pitch prepared ahead of time of who you are and why you’re there.
- Don’t have too specific of expectations. While preparedness on your part is important, it’s also helpful to be flexible with who you hope to meet and what you hope to accomplish. I recently attended an event with the public library section of the Quebec Library Association about promoting the library. I didn’t know what to expect from the event, but I had an amazing time hearing about Montreal public libraries from a small group of professionals and other students. We talked about the best #bookfaceFridays on Instagram and different ways to incorporate dogs in social media posts. Did I expect this? No. But I connected with the others there in a surprisingly wonderful way.
- Talk to at least one new person. I know I have fallen into the trap of attending an event with a friend or two, and then sticking by their side the entire time. This entirely defeats the purpose. If nothing else, say hello and ask just one question to one new person. It’s okay to start small.
- Be genuine. You can tell the difference between someone who is there more to get an in for a job and someone who is genuinely interested in meeting people and hearing their experiences. While the former is often where networking often leads, I’ve found librarians (myself included) love it when you genuinely want to hear from them.
- Don’t burn out. There are a plethora of opportunities out there, and you’ll burn yourself out if you try to go to everything. Especially if you’re an introvert (like myself) and human interaction can wipe you out. The week of my public library event, I had previously gone to a session on cataloging with Indigenous Knowledges. I was planning on attending a “Cocoa and Copyright” session a few days later, and as much as I wanted to go, I needed some time to step back and recharge.
- Follow up. Got a card from someone at a conference? Send them an email about how much you enjoyed meeting them! Recognize someone from a previous event? Say hello! Networking isn’t a one-off, it’s about making and sustaining connections.
- Value informal networking. Everyone in your program is a potential colleague. As great as it is to meet current professionals, don’t forget that everyone you are studying with will also one day be a professional, and you they may work somewhere that interests you. So get to know your classmates, grab a coffee with the person with a cool tattoo, chat before class with your desk-mate. It may sound silly, since I am essentially suggesting you make friends, but your friends in library school will one day become your colleagues. They may have a great tip to help with your research, or know someone who knows someone at your dream library.
If all else fails, follow the adage of impostor syndrome sufferers everywhere: fake it til you make.
Featured Image: Pexels, CC0.
Carrie Hanson is a MISt Candidate at McGill University’s School of Information Studies in Montreal. She currently works as a student librarian in a public library and is involved in numerous student associations. Connect with her on Twitter @icarriebooks