Editorâ€™s Note: In this third in a series of posts about the upcoming ALA Conference in New Orleans, Elizabeth Berman, Science & Engineering Librarian at the University of Vermont, and Breanne Kirsch, Evening Public Services Librarian at the University of South Carolina Upstate, provide seven useful strategies for improving your conference networking. Weâ€™ll be hearing more about the ALA Conference from our new team of ALA Emerging Leaders over the next few weeks leading up to the big event.
Attending the ALA Annual Conference can cost a chunk of change when you include registration, travel and lodging (not to mention shipping home all the swag you score at the Exhibit Hall). With library budgets tighter than ever, we are all being forced to question whether attending physical conferences is still relevant in todayâ€™s economy.
Short answer: yes! One of the greatest benefits to attending the ALA Annual Conference goes beyond the boundaries of the information thatâ€™s delivered; it is about connections you make with colleagues through the act of networking.
Networking is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as â€œthe action or process of making use of a network of people for the exchange of information, etc., or for professional or other advantage.â€ In other words, itâ€™s like Facebook, but in person. Networking is an advantageous skill to develop, opening you up to new information and knowledge, creating contacts and a professional support system, and improving your reputation. Here are our seven tips to help you become a networking ninja:
1. Have a plan. Are you job-hunting? Are there vendors that you would like to connect a face to? Are you looking to get more engaged with librarians in your particular field or area of specialization? Identifying who you want to engage with (be it a person or an organization) is key to making effective and meaningful connections during the short duration of a conference, especially if you are networking with a purpose. Remember to bring your business cards to hand out to others and collect their business cards as well.
2. Get social. ALA conferences are ripe with social activities, from committee breakfasts and soirees to interest group happy hours to vendor-sponsored parties. These are some of the best places to make connections because the atmosphere is more relaxed â€“ youâ€™re not going to interrupt a speaker.
3. Use the â€œpower of helloâ€. While it may seem obvious, talk to the people around you. Say hello. Introduce yourself. Ask them questions and engage them in conversation: Where do you work? Are you involved in any committees? What interesting sessions have you attended at this conference? Not only will this help break the ice (who doesnâ€™t like talking about themselves?), but it will also make it more comfortable to chat with them if you see them again later at that conference, or at future conferences.
4.Break out of your comfort zone. It can be easy as a new librarian to default into a passive role and wait for others to introduce themselves â€“ they are the veterans, right? Conferences are a fantastic place for old friends and colleagues to catch-up and often times â€“ unintentionally â€“ librarians group together in what feels like closed circles. But by channeling your â€œinner social butterfly,â€ you will open doors that from a distance looked closed.
Elizabethâ€™s story: Since 2007, I have attended the Science & Technology Sectionâ€™s (STS) Soiree, a casual drinks-and-appetizers affair held at a local eatery. I will be the first to admit that for the first several years, I showed up, talked to one or two people I knew from committee work, and retreated early to the safe confines of my hotel room. My tendencies are more wallflower-y, and walking into a situation where it felt like everyone already knew each other was daunting. It felt awkward inserting myself into a group situation where I knew nobody, where I felt I was interrupting conversations.
This past Midwinter in San Diego, high on the wisdom imparted at the Emerging Leaders program, I decided to change tactics â€“ and my mindset. I realized that I wasnâ€™t doing myself any favors sitting on the sidelines, and this pattern would only get more awkward the longer I was an STS member (can you imagine being the 10-year veteran of an organization where no one knows you?) Going against my personal level of comfort, I worked the room. I walked up to every table, every group, and introduced myself. Most of the time, people glanced at my nametag and noticed something we could talk about: I was an Emerging Leader, I was from Vermont, I worked with both the sciences and engineering. Conversation came easy. Was it difficult putting myself out there? Absolutely. But guess what? No one shunned me or laughed at me or told me to go away. In fact, I made some excellent connections that I hope to build on over the years.
5. Just connect. You will likely have distinct networks that you are familiar with at the conference â€“ librarians you went to school with, librarians you work with, librarians you serve on committees with. Donâ€™t be afraid to introduce others and serve as a connector. If you are talking with a co-worker and an acquaintance from one of your committees walks up, introduce them. Not only does it relieve a potentially awkward situation (no one is left staring at the ceiling or floor as you finish your conversation), but who knows what kind of connections you just helped form. And with 60,000 librarians attending these conference, small actions like this help make the community feel smaller.
6.Follow through. It is one thing to connect with people at a conference, but the more important piece is to follow up with them. A great idea, collaboration, or friendship canâ€™t exist unless itâ€™s acted upon. So follow up with the people you really connected with, send an email telling them you (sincerely!) enjoyed talking to them about X, Y, and Z. It makes a difference, it really does! And who knows what sort of opportunities can follow.
Breanneâ€™s Story: At the South Carolina Library Association Conference, I had a wonderful networking experience at the exhibitors opening reception. My husband, Jonathan and I found ourselves talking with a few other librarians about current projects we were working on at our respective libraries. One of the librarians mentioned that she was coordinating a steampunk conference and encouraged Jonathan and I to submit a proposal. Our proposal was accepted and we gave a presentation on Steampunk Aesthetics and Themes in Film: A Literature-Based Approach. The conference proceedings are in the process of being published in a manuscript. This example might be a little unusual, but there are many opportunities that come about from networking at library conferences. You may meet someone that is an expert on a new technology your library is thinking of implementing or a librarian that will be your future employer.
7. Have fun. Networking shouldnâ€™t feel (or look) like a chore. Some of the most successful networkers work the room with an ease that betrays the fact that they are working the room. So relax, be yourself, and above all, have fun with it. Whatâ€™s the worst that can happen?
So as you gear up to attend ALA Annual in New Orleans this summer, think about using these seven tips. Odds are, youâ€™ll enhance your conference experience and expand your network.