Networking has always been a mixed bag for me. As an introvert I prefer reflection or deeper, meaningful interactions with a select group of people and absolutely abhor “small talk.” This leads to trouble when trying to make those initial connections, although once I know someone I am a good listener and a strong communicator. Despite my personal difficulties, I do think there is a lot of value to these interactions in terms of honing one’s beliefs and message and learning about new trends, ideas, etc. My significant other is quite outgoing and a strong networker, and we have benefitted greatly from her extensive network in many ways, from career and job connections to that free pair of tickets to a great show, and everything in between.
Professional organizations are a useful tool for finding connections. Yes, they can be stuffy, or elitist, or bureaucratic, but they give us access to people. Can I find ways to contact those people outside of established channels? Yes, but time and energy are limited and we all have a lot to do, so any mechanism that tilts the odds in my favor is OK with me.
In the library world, I am a member of the American Library Association (ALA) and the New York Library Association (NYLA). The MLIS program at Syracuse is designed to enhance networking opportunities, which is great given that most students are distance learners. Most classes have some sort of group or individual project component, and many assignments require partnering with a local library or establishing a connection with a stakeholder in a library. In addition, the school offers to pay for the students dues in a professional organization during the first year they take part in the program. This is how I ended up as an ALA member, three years ago. In terms of involvement, I will be attending my second conference in a few days; the first one, held in my hometown last year, was a great opportunity to hear a lot of great ideas and participate in discussions about the specific topics that interest me within librarianship. I have also expanded my membership to include LITA, a group within ALA concerned with technology topic.
My membership in ALA provides me with opportunities to meet people, hear ideas, and participate in discussions that help me progress in my professional development. Now that I am looking for work in the field, I look forward to exploring other organizations that are more closely related to my specific corner of librarianship, like the ACRL (a group for academic and research libraries).