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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?”
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)