Welcome to the Jungle: How to Navigate the Networking Waters

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By: Babak Zarin, Access Services Librarian, Central Rappahannock Regional Library

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So there you are. Your department is throwing a social reception, and you want to talk with someone, but you have no idea how to get started and you’re starting to wonder why you came in the first place.

Social networking is a skill, one that can take a lot of time and experience to develop since it involves you having to go places and speak with people you may not know very well. Social networking is also an increasingly required skill to have as we shift into the “Age of Information.” Speaking with others is now not only a way of learning about areas of librarianship you’re less familiar with, but also building the professional connections and personal relationships that will sustain you throughout your life.

But for many, the idea of showing up and talking with people you barely know is an awkward scenario all around, especially for people who are new to their professions and don’t know how to get started. Here are some basic pointers on networking:

  • Scope out the location. Take a look or walk around the room. What’s the general layout of the room? Are there pockets where people are gathering? Is there a lot of room to walk around? Where is the nearest exit? This simple step can help you settle some initial nerves because it helps you figure out the flow of people, and therefore where you need to be in order to talk with people.
  • Avoid being empty-handed. If the event offers food or drink, consider getting a small plate or cup since holding onto it will give your hands something to do and can help you fill awkward conversational pauses by giving you the excuse of eating or drinking. And for those drinking, remember, alcohol is optional, and it’s perfectly okay to have something non-alcoholic.
  • Dress casually, but not too casually. Now may not be the time to bust out your custom-made shushing librarian hoodie, but most of the time you don’t have to dress 100% formally either. Although ambiguously defined, you should be good if you dress in business casual. You can and should use colors and small details (e.g. jewelry) to help you stand out and feel comfortable being in the group.
  • Embrace the small talk. Small talk is polite conversation about uncontroversial matters, and while many people are tempted to resist making it, don’t fight it or force it! Instead, embrace the idea of spending a few minutes asking about how other the person is doing, where they’re from, what their interests are, their opinion on the weather or seasonally appropriate sports team, and answering those questions in return as you’re comfortable doing. This helps to build the common ground you need for longer, more involved conversations later on.
  • Finally, don’t be afraid to just show up. While most of these tips are focused on helping you talk with people, it’s perfectly okay to go to an event, find a corner, and listen to the conversation happening around you if that’s all the energy you have. It’s far better to be there to hear what’s going on than to not go and miss out on what happens entirely since it means missing out on possibly meeting people you need to meet.

Done well, social networking can make a huge difference in your life, both personally and professionally. So while I know all this is a lot, I hope these pointers help you in finding the people you need to be around and talking with: because when you find your people, we all benefit!

Shaking hands

Babak Zarin (JD, Elon University School of Law 2014; MSLIS, Catholic University of America 2019) is a newly minted librarian and member of the 2018-2019 ALA Spectrum Scholar cohort. His research interests include looking at the evolving state of intellectual property and how library practices can continue adapting their services to the needs of today's information-heavy, pluralistic society, as well as fandom studies. Currently, Babak works as the Access Services Librarian for the Central Rappahannock Regional Library in Fredericksburg, VA, where he works to ensure that members of the library community with impairments or disabilities are able to have equal access to the library's resources. He can be followed on Twitter under @legitnowl