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Thing 7: Face-to-face networking and professional organisations

This post is part of 23 Things for Professional Development.

This week’s Thing is actually two linked Things, and I consider both particularly important to my own professional development. I’m a member of several different professional associations, and find all of them valuable in different ways. One of the main things they do is give me opportunities to make connections and network with others face-to-face. I’ve mentioned before how valuable I find online networking, and I stick by that, but I don’t believe online networking can ever replace good old-fashioned face-to-face, only complement it.

Like most introverts, I find face-to-face networking incredibly difficult. I’m getting better at it though, and have had people tell me how surprised they were to hear I found it difficult as they’d thought of me as being confident and outgoing, which is very reassuring! It’s also a reminder that a) “fake it ’til you make it” really works, and b) nearly everybody else finds it just as difficult. I’m pretty sure that librarianship as a profession has more than its fair share of introverts, so if you walk into a crowded room full of librarians you don’t know and are fighting the urge to walk straight back out again rather than have to make conversation with strangers, just remember that you are far from the only person feeling like that. And it does get easier with practice, I promise!

The approach that I took was just to throw myself in at the deep end. When I started out as a librarian, the people I worked with weren’t really active in any of the professional networks, so I had to push myself out there on my own. I forced myself to go along to events where I knew I wouldn’t know anyone present. And yes, it was scary and awkward at first, but soon enough I got a bit more comfortable attending these events. It helps that if you go along to local events particularly, you tend to see the same faces – so events where you don’t know anyone at all get fewer and further between. I’ve made some good friends in the profession just purely because we tended to turn up at the same events.

Reading other CPD23-ers blog on this Thing, I’ve noticed a few people speculating as to the “purpose” of networking. The Extraordinary Law Librarian puts it quite nicely, so I hope s/he won’t mind my quoting:

One thing I do find difficult to understand, however, is what defines successful networking?? Is it simply making conversation with a new person at such an event, or is it only defined as ‘successful’ if you come away with a business card/email address etc for that other person?

Just to add my two penn’orth: I guess I would go with having spoken to a new person as “successful”, but to be honest I’m uncomfortable with the idea of needing to have a measure of success at all. To me, networking is about getting to know other people, and maintaining relationships with people you already know, and that is an end in itself. I don’t like the idea of networking purely to gain some advantage from the people you’ve talked to, whether that be a job recommendation or help with a project – those benefits may indeed come with time, but I do think that the relationship comes first. So I do carry business cards, but I rarely give them out unless asked, and I also rarely ask for someone else’s business card. That’s just me though – I certainly wouldn’t be offended by being asked for a business card, or asked to help with something that we’d been talking about – but that’s not what I set out to do when networking. A few people have said that they are uncomfortable with calling it networking at all, as that makes it sound rather mercenary, and I’d agree – I just don’t have a better word for it really!

So, that’s enough about networking! As for professional organisations… As mentioned, I’m involved with several, although a few less than I used to be when I lived in London. There are fewer opportunities for networking in the North, sadly, although I am trying to change that! I’ve organised a couple of LISNPN meetups in Leeds, and helped arrange an SLA Europe evening seminar in Manchester. I’d love to do more of that sort of thing, but I do struggle a bit finding the time to do it myself! If anyone reading would be interested in more professional events around Leeds/Manchester, please do get in touch by the way – even if it’s just to suggest the kind of events you’d like to attend.

Regardless of the relative shortage of networking opportunities, I do still get a lot of value out of my professional body memberships. I am currently a member of CILIP, BIALL and SLA Europe, and am also a board member of SLA Europe. I was previously on one of BIALL’s committees, but I stepped down from that a few months ago as I didn’t think I had the time to commit to both that and my SLA Europe duties. In London, I was also a member of LIKE and CLIG, both of which were great for networking and I do rather miss – there isn’t really anything comparable in my area now (I think – please correct me if I’m wrong!).

I’ve written a bit about my opinions on my various professional body memberships previously – that post was written almost two years ago, but most of it still stands. The only thing I’d add now would be about CILIP: I said in my previous post that if I were to drop any of my memberships, it would probably be CILIP, as I felt it provided me the least for my memberships fees compared to the other organisations. I’m not quite sure that’s true any more. I still think CILIP membership is overpriced compared to other professional bodies, and if my employer didn’t pay my fees for me I’m genuinely not sure I’d be able to remain a member, but I feel more positive about CILIP now than I did two years ago. CILIP membership is still not considered hugely necessary within my sector, and I still believe they have more relevance to the public, school and academic sectors than anything else, but I like being connected to the rest of the information world. I appreciate the efforts CILIP are making around advocacy and promoting the profession, and I do get the impression that they’re working to become a bit more aware of the issues in other sectors too. For those reasons, I’m happy to remain a member – and as others have mentioned, being part of an organisation allows you to have some influence over its direction.

My involvement with professional organisations, and my networking generally, both online and offline, really all come down to the same goal – to feel part of the wider profession. Getting to know my peers outside of my employment has given me some fantastic opportunities, and allowed me to make some great friends.

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7 comments on “Thing 7: Face-to-face networking and professional organisations

  1. I totally agree with your comments on networking, I think anyone who goes into a room “purely to gain some advantage from the people you’ve talked to, whether that be a job recommendation or help with a project…” is unlikely to be very successful! People, unsurprisingly, don’t like the idea they’re just being used.

    I find that networking tends to be more successful if you approach it as a chance to get to know people, to share what you know, or say what you think about the talk you’ve all just heard. If you think first about what you can do for others you’ve met networking, then any benefits from having a network (eg having people around, who at least recognise your name, to call on to answer a thorny question) come naturally later on.

  2. It’s good advice to say that most people are likely to be feeling just as insecure as you at events. I will try to remember that next time I’m at one and feeling nervous!

    • Honestly, just realising that fact made networking about a million times easier for me. My advice: go in there, if necessary think of a few “opening gambits” beforehand (“what did you think of the speaker?” is always a good opener, if it’s that kind of event!), smile at everyone, and try to make eye contact with anyone who looks a bit nervous. It takes a bit of practice if you’re naturally shy like me, but doing those things (especially the smiling and eye contact) will help you project an image of “friendly, approachable person who would like to talk to you”.

  3. I’d really like to help organise some events in Leeds. It seems there’s quite a heavy concentration of things going on in London (especially CILIP events) so it would be good to have more going on up here. Plus I feel like it’s easier to talk to people when you have a role in the event!

    New graduate trainees around Yorkshire should be starting soon so perhaps a kind of welcome event would be nice?

    • Thanks for getting in touch Michelle – and great to hear you’d be interested! I like the graduate trainee idea… I’ll probably drop you an email about this, if that’s ok?

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