Library Futures: Three very special kinds of networking

Helene Blowers

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I’ve been to literally hundreds of library events over the years. Of all kinds. The one thing they all seem to have in common—according to both attendees and people who help plan and produce the events—is the opportunity for “networking.” I put “networking” in quotes, because I think we use it as a catch-all term for a variety of activities.

“Networking” can be, I think, anything from informal hanging out with colleagues to actively cultivating specific professional relationships with new influencers. All of which can be enjoyable. But it leaves me thinking about the specific networking opportunities that events can offer.

Having just attended the first of our OCLC “Library Futures: Community Catalysts” Regional Council Conferences in Phoenix, Arizona, I realized that these membership events provide three different kinds of networking opportunities that are invaluable, especially to career-climbing professionals.

Extraordinary people create an extraordinary network

Our theme for our three global conferences this year is “Community Catalysts,” and I believe that OCLC is a catalyst for three very different and very important kinds of networking that are hard to come by in any profession:

High-energy networking. Like many people, I have both some introvert and extrovert qualities; something I hear being called an “ambivert” more and more often. As such, some networking activities can really take effort and end up leaving me feeling exhausted. That’s never the case at our OCLC Regional Council meetings. Being around smart, friendly leaders from the profession who share how they’re improving results for their communities is, itself, energizing. When the conference is over, I find myself missing the ‘idea buzz’ created by connecting with others in this high-energy atmosphere.

Community-focused networking. Many times, we’re taught to network in order to do things like land a new job or make a sales pitch. That’s not bad. It’s part of the reason we try to connect with people—to achieve our personal goals or get something done for our organization. At OCLC Regional Council Conferences, though, what I hear happening in almost every conversation is people sharing in order to help others—and the OCLC cooperative—achieve success and get more done together. “How can I help you? How can we help each other?” as opposed to, “What can I get from this relationship?” dominate the conversations that I hear. Community-focused networking helps us all go further together.

Future-focused networking. Perhaps this is a result of these conferences being heavily attended by library leaders, but many of the subjects of our conversations take place over years and even decades. We talk about the people and groups we’ll need to bring into our plans next year. About partnerships we’ll need to build. Trends we need to pay attention to and about growing the network itself. This isn’t just about sharing a business card with “the right person” back on campus. This is about building the future of our profession together.

It’s hard to convey the quality of these conversations, which is why I encourage anyone who can do so to attend these and other OCLC membership or product events in person. There aren’t many places where library professionals, worldwide, can network in these ways. It’s unique, it’s empowering, and it’s exhilarating.

Speaking of exhilarating … you can see for yourself some of the presentations and materials that were shared at the Library Futures event in Phoenix. I was impressed, again and again, by the depth of experience being shared. Please take some time to watch these sessions and share them with your staff. Our upcoming Library Futures: Community Catalysts events in Vienna, Austria, and Singapore will feature similarly excellent content for our members in those regions.

One more thought. Your library can serve as a catalyst for this kind of networking within the communities you serve. That was one of the most important messages we heard in Phoenix. So, ask yourself, as you review our speakers’ presentations—what can you do to create extraordinary opportunities for your users, students, staff, researchers, and faculty to connect to each other in energetic, future-focused ways?