Don’t Go It Alone: The Role of Networking in Continuing Education

I am not a natural networker. When people say networking, I get this cold sweat that it means they want me to introduce myself to strangers and force them into small talk so that they can benefit me somewhere down the road. And maybe in some industries that’s how it is, but it has not been my experience in library world.

Kind of exactly like this but not.

Instead, networking in the library world has tended to work more like the way I made friends in college: I figured out the kind of people I wanted to meet, and then I put myself in situations where I would meet them. So I found the creative, the innovative, the knowledgeable, the witty, and the tenacious, and have molded them into an ever-expanding professional sphere that provides me so much support. And the reason that they are so important is because there is so much I don’t know.

Over time, I have been taught about board structure, local politics, budgeting, personnel matters, HVAC maintenance, the best place to shop for carts, the best way to hold a raffle, and so much more from the people that I know professionally rather than books. I like books, but having an actual person who can game out a situation is so much more useful.

Where do you find these people?

Well, many of us already know all sorts of people. Now the important part is to not be shy and just ask for help. Most people are more than willing to expend their time and energy helping someone else in the profession. And if your first pick doesn’t work out, there are dozens more who will step up in their stead. Here’s some of the places that I look first when I need help:

  • People I’ve served with: I am a volunteerism nerd. It’s one of my favorite things to do in my spare time, and I have hard time saying no because I love saying yes. So it plays to my strengths to say volunteer for a committee. Whether it’s with a professional organization like GLA, SELA, or ALA or a state project or something else, getting involved will increase the number of people whose names you recognize and who recognize your name. That way, you have a connection and you have a broader base of people you can reach out to when you have a question.
  • Professional listservs: We all get too much e-mail. But a listserv can provide a lot of valuable information and a link to people going through many of the same issues you are. You can sign up for the GPLS listservs (15 of them), PINES listservs (9 of them), and Evergreen listservs (12 of them). And if you have a different consortium or ILS, I guarantee you there are listservs available for that topic. I now this is old-hat to many people who have worked in libraries for a long time, but I am continually surprised by the number of new colleagues I have that don’t know that these resources are available!
  • A friend of a friend: I’ve been working in libraries for four years next month, so I’m still a librarian toddler. So even if you don’t know someone who might have the answer to the questions you’re looking for, ask someone who is well connected if they might know someone. Having a mutual contact put you in touch can help expand your professional associations and lead to a lasting contact.
  • Traditional, in-person networking: On top of these methods, sometimes introducing yourself at a conference, meeting, or meetup is simply the best way of getting to know people. So just take a deep breath, and get out there!

Continuing Education and Networking

Librarians are great at a lot of things, but there are often times we find ourselves out of our depth whether in traditional library services or some new area we are trying to break into. By expanding our circle of assistance, we can avoid pitfalls while expanding our interconnectedness. Too often, it can feel like it’s the staff in our building against the world. But the profession is so much larger, and there are so many talented, skilled, phenomenal people out there, that not putting it to use is a shame.

So what do you think? Does networking play a role in your ongoing education? What kind of people are most helpful to you? Tell us in the comments below!

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Author:Mack Freeman

John Mack Freeman is the Marketing and Programming Coordinator for the West Georgia Regional Library system headquartered in Carrollton, GA. He is also the editor of GLBT News, a weekly news blog produced by the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Round Table of the American Library Association. Originally from Tifton, GA, Mack has a passion for library outreach, marketing, and service to underserved populations.

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