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While attending the AALL Futures Summit last week, I got to talk with a number of young members (those within the first five years of the law library profession) and found the discussion to be absolutely wonderful and enlightening. I have a number of topics that I’ll probably blog upon over the next few days, but the first one I wanted to cover was the dichotomy in the social personalities of those younger members who have hundreds of online friends, but find it very difficult to interact in social settings at the annual conventions. One friend said it more frankly, and describe it as a schizophrenic-like situation when it came to social interaction. Perhaps, on the surface, it looks like there is a conflict with the idea that someone can have hundreds of Facebook friends, and not be able to connect with real people (even those that are in that Facebook friends list), but I think that there is a solid reason for this dichotomy, and potentially a way to work out a solution to help bridge this gap.

Right now, the common “social setting” at an AALL conference (and I’d go out on a limb and say this is probably common at most other conferences as well) is that of the Member Reception. It can be an opening reception, or a member luncheon, or even a happy hour for smaller groups during the conference. When you think about it, receptions are really old-school social settings. These are the social settings that represent how we have networked for the past 50 years or so… maybe longer. The idea is to put similar people in a room, pump in a little music over the speaker system (live band if times are good), provide a few snacks, add a little alcohol (a lot of alcohol if times are bad), and voilà… instant networking. The whole thing’s a bit unstructured, but has been the traditional method of networking and has worked fairly well. However, I don’t think that this is working all that well with the newer members, and I think I know why.

I had a number of newer members tell me that they were uncomfortable in large social setting, that they hated the reception environment at conferences, and that in all honesty, they were introverts and struggle with how to work a social setting. Many of us agreed that, while it may be an overly stated stereotype of librarians, we do tend to attract introverts to the library profession (obviously, not all are, but many in the room admitted that they fit that introvert category.) However, most of same people that admitted they were introverts were very comfortable on Twitter, Facebook, Quora, LinkedIn, etc. In fact, right after the conference, many of the newer members that I talked to quickly friended me on Facebook. So why the dichotomy? Yes, shyness plays a part in this, but how can we create a better environment for networking? I think the solution is setting up social gatherings that have structure, rules, and guidelines.

What was interesting, was the common suggestion that was made to fix the social networking challenge for newer members was to set up an environment that mimicked Speed-Dating settings. Yes, this got a chuckle at first… and made many of the married members of the crowd whisper, “I don’t think my husband/wife/partner would approve of me going to a speed-dating session.” However, as the idea started making the rounds around the room, it started getting more and more traction, and I started understanding why this type of setting would appeal to new members. I think the primary reason that this type of session would work is because it has structure, and newer members don’t have to wonder “What am I supposed to do in here? What do I do next? How do I follow up from here?”

The Speed-Dating (you know what… let’s change dating to networking for the rest of this post) Networking structure helps the network-challenged members in the following ways:

  • There are rules to follow 
  • It is easy (show up, follow instructions)
  • It can be effective (meet far more people in the time that you would in a reception environment)
  • If you like someone then you have a reason to get back in touch with them (“Friend” them)
  • If you don’t like someone, then at least you only have to spend a couple of minutes with them (“un-Friend them)
In a way, it is like taking the structure of online social interaction and transferring it to a real-life setting. 
Even the older members would benefit from something like this. Many of us have a core set of friends that we hang out with at meetings. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but after a few years of keeping your social circles stagnant, it can get a bit stale… or can be seen by others as being a bit cliquish. Therefore, the Speed-Networking reception can help expand even the most seasoned member’s social circles in an easy and fun way. 
I’m not sure if we can have a Speed-Networking session set up as a stand-alone session at next year’s AALL meeting in Boston, but we did have a great idea for how an informal one could be set up. One of the newer members suggested that an area in the back of the room be roped off with chairs set up for a speed-networking session for those that wanted to participate. We’ll have to see if the idea gets off the ground, but I think it would be a great way to help newer members network in a way that better fits how they currently interact, and provides the structure they need to network a room.
  • Lyn Warmath

    Great idea, Greg. I especially like the notion that even older librarians would benefit. I can still relate to some of the discomfort described by newer folks. Plus your idea sounds like plain, simple fun.

  • Anonymous

    If you're an introvert and a librarian, you really have to work on getting out of your shell. How are you ever going to make the elevator speech, introduce yourself to new people in your organization (please don't wait for them to come to you!) or be a vital part of your workplace if you don't make that effort?

  • Anonymous,

    I know what you are trying to say, but I think you don't really understand that being an introvert isn't something that you can just wake up one day and say to yourself "Hey, today I'm going to break out of my shell and suddenly change my entire personality."

    It can be done, but it is a process that for some people takes years to overcome (and even then, still struggle with it.) Like it or not, the library profession does seem to be attractive to people that are introverts because it has been one where, historically, you could be librarian for 30 years without having to make an elevator pitch or introduce yourself to anyone outside your internal office down in the basement of the law school.

    Times are changing, and the profession is being challenged to prove its worth, so I applaud the folks that brought up this idea for the association to set up ways to help them come out of their shells.

  • Greg,
    Nice post. I'm a self-proclaimed introvert and although I've broken out of my shell somewhat, I still find the unstructured reception setting challenging for the reasons you mention. I think the speed-networking/connecting/socializing idea is a great one, and would definitely have helped me out especially in my earlier professional years.

  • Michelle

    I attended CONELL at the AALL Conference in Philly, and there was a speed-networking session. And it was my worst experience of the conference. Putting two introverts together and forcing them to talk does not always go well. One woman and I stared at each other for three minutes. And of the conversations that did go well, I didn't have any desire to ask for/give away contact info.

    I had a much better experience when we broke into very small groups (around 5-7 people). It was less intimidating. I was able to add to the conversation without feeling pressured and on-the-spot.

  • Michelle,

    One of the best ideas that I heard (probably because it was mine) was that there should be a 3:3 ratio of older members to younger members. First of all, it makes for better company, but it also allows for a more diverse group, and takes the pressure off of everyone feeling that they have to manage a one-on-one conversation with someone they don't know. With the group dynamic, it can take some of that pressure off of having the spotlight shining directly on you. Thanks for bringing this up!!

  • Anonymous

    Not sure the issue is really that librarians are introverts or that technology can turn introverts into extroverts. I think new members have a hard time at unstructured reception-type events because they don't know many people. I know I felt this way when I first started in the profession, but after years of working, going to events, etc., I know a fair number of people and find it fairly easy to find people I know at these receptions. From there it's an easy step to interacting with people I don't know. But to go in cold can turn off a lot of newbies. Agree that more structure might help.

  • Anonymous

    I'm the first anonymous. I am a Myers Briggs introvert and I have had to work at putting myself out there. Part of the reason we have CONELL is to let new members get to know each other in a smaller setting. You have to branch out. Meet the people your fellow CONELLers know. The worst thing you can do for your own professional development is go to a meeting and not "meet" anyone.

  • Thank you for this post. As I was reading it I was nodding my head in agreement and feeling a sense of relief.
    For myself, my colleagues at my firm and friends in life are surprised when I explain to them the sense of trepidation that I feel at professional networking events.
    I'm not sure what the solution is, but I can't help but feel like its not totally me. For instance, during seated lunch meetings, I have a great time meeting new people. What's the difference? Again, not sure, but very happy and thankful that you've raised the topic.

  • Ellen Naylor

    Hi Greg,

    Good post. I think many associations could benefit from this speed networking idea, since there is always a blend of Intro and Extroverts. Also it helps the 1st timers blend in a bit and forces the older timers to mingle.

  • Anonymous

    This is a different anonymous. I would not like the structured networking. Frankly, I like to hang out with my friends at conferences, when I get to go, and get annoyed when I am placed in artificial social situations. So I would be less inclined to go to something structured and more inclined to skip it altogether.

  • Great post! I consider myself to be pretty middle of the road – friendly and self-confident, able to strike up a conversation, but also uncomfortable in situations where there is a lot of small talk to be made with people I don't know. Pretty run of the mill.

    I too have thought the speed networking would be a great tool to help with this. I can't imagine a scenario where anyone would be coerced to do it, so those uncomfortable with it could excuse themselves.

    Another tool or scenario to think about goes along the lines of the comment from Nicole. I think the reason a dinner is easier is that there is a limited number of people to talk to, it generally isn't so loud you can't hear, and you have a mutual focus (food – yummy or otherwise) that isn't small talk. So, conversation is secondary and thus not so intimidating. With this model in mind, could we devise and activity that would bring us together but wouldn't stifle conversation?

  • Abby

    Thanks for the post! We actually did a speed-networking session at our local chapter (MALL) meeting a couple of years ago. It was run in a 3×3 format, with a new memeber, a long-time member and a mid-career member. Being a newer member (3 years) I found it really helpful to actually talk to some of the members whose name I recognized from leadership and those that I did not know at all, but now have gotten to know.