The Power of Networking… at Any Speed

by Elizabeth Willse

Join the networking fun at SLA NY’s Power Networking Event on Thursday May 7, 2015.

I am a big fan of networking events. I like rooms full of people and conversation, generally. I love the potential energy of walking into a room of strangers, acquaintances, and friends. I love getting the chance to say hi, rekindle past conversations, and start learning about new people.  And networking events are especially fun because they’re built on the principle of connecting people with other people, opportunities, and information.

One of the reasons I find networking events such fun could be because of one of the things that drew me to librarianship in the first place: curiosity and a love of learning new stories. I like asking people questions, and learning their stories. I like catching up with acquaintances and having the chance to reconnect and learn more. (Not going to lie: part of the reason I like networking events is because I can be kind of an extrovert. I think rooms full of new people are great fun, in general. )

And when that room full of new people is a room full of information professionals, that’s even more fun, I think. Because the conversations in the room can spin out across topics like digital access, new tech, the details of our workflows, job searches, cool things we’ve found in archives or search strategies. I especially love the conversations that range from information to job and career things to pop culture and recipes and podcast recommendations, then wind their way back to information. Because, after all, even the most dedicated librarian isn’t all business!

No matter how the conversation starts, I can have faith that it’s going to lead somewhere interesting. Also, I’ve found that librarians are really, amazingly welcoming and great people. Eager to help one another out, to share knowledge, and to use their own networks to put me in touch with others who will do the same. It’s this great, big, wonderful chain of “Hey, have you read….?” “Do you know him?” “Have you met her?” “Here, I’ll introduce you!” The information professionals I know are generous.

Speed-networking distills those conversations into short, powerful connections. The time element means you can’t possibly see all the places one conversation can go, or how the conversation could extend further. And the structure of everyone being there with the willingness to connect, and help, makes those conversations inspiring, both individually and as a whole. It’s a great place to start to see, and build connections and new ideas.

I’ve benefitted from the generosity of information professionals since before I started library school. I’ve found wonderful mentors at school, as well as through SLA and other library organizations. I have found mentors at conferences, both at structured and unstructured networking events. I’ve found my way into internships through networking: from commisserating about jet lag and sore feet at the SLA Annual in San Diego, to making a connection about social media and archives at a speed networking event, to having a conversation about pop culture that led to a writing opportunity. Knowing that professionals who are further along in their careers have been ready to help guide me and give me a boost is an amazing, awe-inspiring feeling.  And I know that generosity extends throughout the field.

All it takes is beginning the conversation, and being willing to see where it goes.