Build Bridges and Broaden Your Reach

14 Jun 2018 11:19 AM | Alan Kilpatrick (Administrator)

This talk was presented at the 2018 Canadian Association of Law Libraries Conference as part of a breakout panel presentation: Taking the ‘Work’ Out of Networking: Build Relationships, Not a Stack of Business Cards.

It’s never too early to start networking.  It’s been valuable at every stage of my career.

Networking helped me identify my professional interests and led me to law librarianship.  During my MLIS degree at Western, I wasn’t sure which area of librarianship to pursue.  I gained career insight by joining a variety of student groups, such as the Progressive Librarians’ Guild (PLG) and Canadian Library Association (CLA) student chapters.  I also took advantage of conference student rates and attended diverse conferences such as the Ontario Library Association (OLA) conference and the Association of Records Managers and Administrators (ARMA) conference, and by connecting with the wide range of librarians I met at Western.  For example, through the PLG I discovered an interest in the law and its intersection with librarianship.  Through a student position at a campus library where I had a supportive supervisor, I found I enjoyed providing reference services.  

During my career as a law librarian, networking has become even more valuable.  Through the Canadian Association of Law Libraries (CALL), I’ve connected with like minded professionals.  I regularly contact colleagues met through CALL to ask for advice, help answering reference and research questions, and about professional development.  Entering my fifth year of law librarianship, I’ve begun looking at other law librarians in the profession to see how they’ve developed their careers and what paths they’ve taken to get where they are.  This has motivated me in my own professional development.

Recently, I’ve begun to notice that many of the professional opportunities I’ve been fortunate to participate in arose through networking.  It’s never too early to start networking.  Don’t put it off.  It’s worth it.

Get Active.  Joining a professional association is a great way to network.  As a new law librarian, joining CALL and the Saskatchewan Library Association (SLA) connected me with similar professionals and provided networking opportunities at conferences and social events.

Do more than join.  Volunteer for an association.  Attending conferences where you don’t know anyone can feel awkward.  I certainly felt so.  Volunteering eliminates that awkwardness and enhances your networking.  I found that volunteering, with social media during the CALL conference and as a technology volunteer during the SLA conference provided me with plenty of opportunities to speak with other attendees, presenters, and vendors.

Join a committee to get the most out of professional association networking.  I’ve participated in the CALL Vendor Liaison Committee and currently chair the Website Editorial Board.  I’ve sat on the SLA board for the past two years.  Participating in committees gave me the opportunity to connect with association members on a smaller scale, provided a safe and welcoming environment to practice my networking skills, and has resulted in some of the most gratifying professional experiences I’ve had.

Here’s an important point.  Don’t commit yourself to every volunteer or committee opportunity you’re approached about.  Don’t be afraid to say no and don’t spread yourself too thin.  As a profession, we’re too keen to take on more than we should.  This can lead to burn out which can only harm your professional reputation.  In all your professional endeavors, networking or otherwise, strive to maintain work life balance.

Network widely and wisely.  Don’t limit your networking horizons.

I’ve endeavored to practice networking every day since becoming a law librarian.  I decided to join the Saskatchewan Library Association (SLA) for the opportunity to practice networking.  As a law librarian, I wasn’t sure if I had much in common with the public librarians that largely make up SLA.  What I’ve found is that networking widely among the information profession, even among non-law librarians, has led to some unexpected and fruitful partnerships I hadn’t anticipated.

Attending SLA events connected me with a diverse group of librarians and allowed me to form several mutually beneficial relationships.  For example, I often call on the unique expertise of the Legislative Library for help answering complex legislative questions.  Joining forces in this way has enabled me to serve my users more effectively. Chatting with public librarians in SLA led to the recognition that unmet legal needs exist among the public.  This, in part, inspired one of our library’s most promising partnerships, the Saskatchewan Access to Legal Information Project.

Networking isn’t limited to something you do with librarians.  We know that in-person contact with our users is decreasing as the services we provide increasingly occur online.  We need to get out of the library, become visible, and network with our stakeholders to remain successful in the future.

Attend stakeholder conferences in addition to library conferences.  We’ve hosted a booth, and occasionally presented, at the Canadian Bar Association Saskatchewan Branch Mid-Winter Meeting for the past five years.  Attending has allowed us to learn more about our user’s information needs and how to better serve them.  It’s been an opportunity to educate our stakeholders about the library’s value and potential.  Attending has increased my visibility as a law librarian and the relationships I have with lawyers.  Most importantly, it’s increased the visibility and reputation of our library.

Share your story.  We’re all doing interesting things in our libraries and as library professionals.  Tell people about it!  Fellow librarians can learn from your experiences, ideas, and lessons learned.  This can lead to new connections and partnerships.  Sharing your story among stakeholders will educate them about your library’s value.

There are many ways to share your story.  I’ve found Twitter and blogs to be among the most effective.  Twitter allowed me to begin reaching out and sharing my story.  I strategically used Twitter to identify law librarians and stakeholders I wanted to learn from and connect with.  For example, I recall following Michel-Adrien Sheppard and Connie Crosby long before I met them in-person.  I knew they were people I wanted to connect with.

Twitter’s character count does limit the ability to tell a story.  I found that connecting Twitter to a blog results in a great way to tell, and then broadcast, your story.  Write a blog post that tells an aspect of your story: a professional accomplishment, a new workplace initiative, or a library project.  Then, tweet it strategically.  Include a link to your post and the Twitter handles of those you want to share the story with.  It takes time.  Eventually, it does pay off and results in real world connections.

This is what we’ve done with Legal Sourcery, our Law Society Library blog.  For example, I’ve written dozens of blog posts about the potential of law libraries to improve access to legal information and then shared them via my Twitter account.  I strategically targeted other libraries and legal stakeholders throughout the province.  Eventually, someone from the University of Saskatchewan’s Law School read the posts and approached our library to learn more about how libraries could help with regards to access to legal information.  This, in part, has grown into some of the most exiting partnerships my library participates in today.

Embrace new situations.  Networking can be intimidating.  Don’t be afraid to step outside of your comfort zone.  Networking confidence is something that will naturally develop over time.  This has been my approach for many of my professional firsts: the first shift on the reference desk, the first networking event, the first conference presentation, the first time chairing a committee, and so on.  Embrace new situations that come your way despite any fears you may have.  You never know where they’ll lead to.

To recap, my five networking points are: It’s never to early to start networking, get active, network widely and wisely, share your story, and embrace new situations.

Thank you.  Please feel free to contact me at alan.kilpatrick@lawsociety.sk.ca or on Twitter if you have any questions.

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