Career Strategies for Librarians
The Introvert’s Guide to Networking
by Megan Hodge
Adapted from a presentation given at the NMRT President’s Program at ALA Annual 2012
If you’re like many people, you may think that networking is something that only ambitious politicians or
social-climbing investment bankers do or have time for. “Networking” should not be considered a bad
word, however. While the recession is technically over, library jobs are still hard to come by, and many of
the jobs that are posted are filled by people who have connections with that employer. Even if you’re not
currently looking for a job, the library world is a small one, and having a reputation for being a go-getter
or an innovative thinker will improve your odds of being selected for special projects or committees,
regardless of whether or not you applied for them.
If you’re an introvert, though, the idea of standing in a room full of people you don’t know and making
small talk with them can be enough to make you want to lie down in a darkened room, even if you do
understand the importance of networking. What’s a person to do?
Networking at Conferences – Social Events
I’m going to pass on to you some excellent advice that Peter Bromberg gave the 2011 class of Emerging
Leaders: be scared every day and have a drink in your hand.
What he meant was that if you’re not doing something that challenges you, you’re not growing as a
professional. What’s more challenging for a shy person than talking to strangers? You can overcome
this shyness by carrying a drink in your hand. It doesn’t have to be an alcoholic drink, though alcohol is a
social lubricant (calms those jitters). The main point is that carrying something in one hand prevents you
from crossing your arms, which makes you look more approachable.
This technique can be used when attending after-hours social events, which are usually informal and
involve lots of casual mingling. Remember also at these events that they’re usually sponsored by a
special interest group—e.g., the Instruction Librarian section or New Members Round Table—and if this
is your area of interest, you have a built-in topic of conversation to use with the other attendees.
Introverts often don’t say much in new or different social situations because they’re worried about what
other people will think about them: the last thing they want to do is be the party bore who goes on and on
about his kids. Come prepared with a few open-ended questions you can ask people (e.g., “So, how’s
your conference been so far?”); the more you get other people to talk, the less you will have to. An
additional benefit is that people will often feel flattered that you’re showing such an interest. Ideally,
though, you will learn about these people’s passions, and have a genuine interest in learning more.
Other Ways to Easily Network at Conferences
You should consider volunteering at conferences; you could, for example, man a Membership Pavilion
booth in the Exhibit Hall. It gives you a role to settle into and an automatic introduction to anyone who
passes by. I interned for the ALA conference journal Cognotes two years ago, and having that “Press”
badge around my neck gave me the courage to go up and ask questions of presenters I’d never have
dreamed of talking to otherwise. Cognotes is always looking for more reporters; contact its editor-in-
chief if you’re interested in volunteering at a future ALA conference.
You can also show your librarian pride by wearing badge ribbons and other badge swag like pins and
beads. Many divisions and round tables—and often, their internal sections as well—will have these.
Vendors often give out fun ones, and at ALA, the Placement Center has ones that say “Librarian for Hire.”
They’re an automatic conversation starter (for example, "I see this is your first time at ALA! How are you
liking it?"). Check out this picture of world-class badge collectors Kate Kosturski and Aaron Dobbs to
see how this can be a conversation-starter: http://farm7.static.flickr.com/6122/5923160000_21926df77d.
Another great way to meet people at conferences is to sign up for the vendor-sponsored breakfasts and
lunches. People often go to these alone, so most will be in the same position as you: not knowing
anyone at the table. Additionally, because these are always catered meals where you’re seated around a
table, there’s no cocktail party mingling aspect to worry about. After a certain point, the vendor
sponsoring the meal will have representatives give a presentation, which omits the need for
conversation entirely. These meals are the perfect opportunity to get to know other librarians in an
extremely low-pressure setting, with the added perks of getting a free meal and learning something
useful about a library product or service at the same time.
The most important thing to remember is that making these face-to-face conversations happen will
seem very awkward and stressful at first, but it gets easier the more you force yourself to do it, I promise.
When you’re at a conference, it can be tempting to slip back to your hotel room after dinner and go to
sleep, but resist! Remember that librarians are really nice people, and are often either shy themselves
or, like you, have been in the position of not knowing anyone at the conference.
How to Follow Up
If you feel you’ve made a real connection with somebody or have something you’d like to follow up on
with them, exchange business cards. Don’t do this indiscriminately; there is no prize for the person who
collects or distributes the most business cards in the shortest amount of time. Make your own if your
employer doesn’t provide them; people don’t want to wait for you to write down your contact information
at the end of a program when they’re in a hurry to make their next meeting. Make sure you include your
social media handles, even if this means writing them on the back of your employer-issued cards.
When you get a card, immediately—or at the end of the day, before you forget—write down on the back of
the other person’s card where you met them and what was interesting about them to help you remember
the person in the future. This is also the place to write action items, like “email presentation slides”.
Make sure you hang onto the cards you get; I’ve got a binder at home with all of mine.
After you get back from a conference or event and the dust has settled, send an e-mail along the lines of
an interview thank-you note: personalize it, saying where you met the person (since they may not have
written down those details like you did!), what you talked about, and how nice it was to meet them. If you
need to follow up on anything, like asking a question you thought of after you got home, or forwarding
those slides like you’d promised—now’s the time. And just like interview thank-you notes, the sooner
you send these, the better. Sending an e-mail solidifies that connection you originally made in person.
Twitter and Tumblr are the perfect medium for shy people who are worried about saying something
dumb—who subscribe to Abraham Lincoln’s philosophy that it’s better to be silent and thought a fool
than to speak and remove all doubt. Online, you can weigh your words before you say anything. Even
better, you choose when to respond. That’s not generally an option when you’re having a face-to-face
conversation. Unlike Facebook, following someone on Twitter or Tumblr does not have the same
implications of a strong relationship. No one will think your following them an imposition (unless they
keep their Twitter feed private).
These online exchanges are built-in discussion topics—no small talk required!—when you actually meet
these people. At my first ALA, I went up to Lisa Carlucci Thomas--someone I consider a library rock star--
after her presentation and introduced myself. I was wearing one of those Twitter badge ribbons and she
looked at it and said she knew exactly who I was. That was really cool.
You can also use Twitter to follow-up with people you’ve met in person. This is a less intrusive way of
following up if you didn’t make a strong enough connection to actually e-mail the person, or can be used
in conjunction with an e-mail, and is one of the reasons why you should always include your social
media information on your business cards. Using Twitter is a very low-pressure way to keep in touch
with someone you’ve met; all you need to do is occasionally respond to one of their tweets. This has
none of the stress or pressure that comes from maintaining a conversation in person or even a
longstanding e-mail exchange.
It’s important to remember that by creating a network, you’re establishing your character and work ethic
every time you interact with someone. Even if you’re not currently looking for a job, be on your best
behavior. By doing this, you’re making yourself a more attractive candidate for committees, jobs, and
other opportunities because you will no longer be an unknown entity.
Because of the reputation I’ve established with my work on my state New Members Round Table, I’ve
been asked to chair the 2013 state conference and been given several publishing opportunities. I cannot
overstate the importance my network has had in providing professional opportunities, or how grateful I
am to know all these wonderful librarians because of the effort I’ve made to overcome my own shyness
and actively network. You can do this, too!
- “9 Tips for Navigating Your First Networking Event,” thedailymuse.com
- “A Conference Survival Guide for the Shy and Terrified,” gearsandshifts.com
- “Networking Tips for the Reluctant Networker,” inalj.com
- New Networking with Dave Delaney blog, http://daveadelaney.com
About the Author
Megan Hodge is an assistant branch manager at Chesterfield County (VA) Public Library. She received
her MSLS from the University of North Texas in 2012 and was an ALA Emerging Leader in 2011. She is
also the co-founder of Virginia’s New Members Round Table and is currently the Leadership Director of
the ALA New Members Round Table.
Article published Dec 2012
Disclaimer: The ideas expressed in LIScareer articles are those of their respective authors and do not necessarily
represent the views of the LIScareer editors.