We learn about reference interviews and subject headings in grad school – useful things, sure – but no one ever told us the best way to juggle a rum & coke at a vendor party. And seriously: why didn’t our professors tell us that there would be so many wine & cheese events, anyway?
The idea of networking, or “schmoozing,” can be frightening to new librarians. After all, it isn’t something that is taught in grad school. I’ve always wanted to teach a seminar on The Art of the Schmooze. But since I don’t see that as being added to the curriculum any time soon, I’d like to give you a few tips in hopes of making this whole thing a little less freaky. Maybe, by the next ALA Annual Conference in Anaheim, you’ll feel comfortable asking me about my purple hair.
- Remember that we have lives outside of the library. This might come as a shock, but librarians don’t live in the library; we have outside hobbies & interests. Why is this important? Simple: this means there are things to talk about besides libraries! If you are at a party, and meet a librarian from a branch on the North Side of Chicago, you could start a conversation about call numbers -- but then you’d run out of things to say pretty quickly. And let’s face it, you probably get a little cranky when people, upon finding out you’re a librarian or in library school, start asking you about the Dewey Decimal System, right? Try to branch out; don't just talk shop. Try to pick up on personal cues that might give you other things to talk about; is your fellow Schmoozer eating a piece of that tasty smoked Gouda? Then go up and start talking about the new cheese shop down the street. Of course, there are other topics you can discuss besides cheese. Acceptable topics include: your neighbor's snazzy tie, your misunderstanding of your professor's grading scale, your disbelief in Pink's natural hair color, your excitement about the upcoming Oscar season. Unacceptable topics: your neighbor's bad comb-over, the fact that you're sleeping with your professor, your disbelief in Mel Gibson's religion, your excitement about your bunion surgery. Don't try to BS your way through a topic, though; if you know nothing about the Cubs, it's best to discuss a topic you both know something about. Like cheese.
- Mingle. Especially if you're shy, it can be really tempting to stand in a corner. But you don’t need to work the entire room -- in fact, there are many successful Schmoozers who focus on a few people or circles. But you do need to stop holding up the wall and find a few people to chat with. You don’t have to become besties with them. You can find a small cordial-looking group, saunter up and say, “Hey, how’s it going? Fabulous Gouda, right?” And then introduce yourself.
- Smile. Sometimes people get so caught up in trying to remember to schmooze that they forget to be approachable. If someone looks your way, smile; they might be as shy as you are, and are looking for an opening to discuss the Cubs or the awesome Gouda cheese.
- Be light. Remember, this is a cocktail party, not a presidential debate. While it is okay to be passionate about your favorite wine or the new season of True Blood, you want to avoid getting into truly controversial topics until you’re really familiar with each other. Nothing kills a party like proclaiming your political platform.
- No table dancing. If you’re drinking, it’s a good idea to know what kind of drinker you are. If you become a major flirt or an angry drunk after 3 daiquiris, then you should stop after 2. It is embarrassing for everyone to see a colleague falling-down drunk, especially if everyone else is only slightly inebriated. There is no hard-and-fast rule on the amount of alcohol to consume; if you are not a drinker, you can always abstain. You should do what makes you feel comfortable, but, at the same time, remain in control.
- Be polite. Naturally, don’t talk with your mouth full, say “please” and “thank you,” take leave of others gracefully, and don’t hog the h'ors d’oeuvres, even if they are those little mushroom puffs that you like so much. Pay attention to social cues, such as people checking the time or glancing towards an exit, and take the hint that it might be time to either change the subject or find another group to hang with. Try to remember the names of the people you're talking with by coming up with mnemonics. This can be tricky; if you forget names, remember details about them, like the fact that they love Weezer or have two cats and are vegan. If another person joins your group, try introducing the new person in hopes that names will be dropped again.
- Remember those connections. After a conference, I find myself with a pocketful of business cards (you have some, right? If not, it’s okay to have some made with a URL or basic contact information). If you want to remind yourself of where you met these people, and what makes them special, write down notes on the back of the cards. Little notes like “digs Meg Cabot” or “dances to ABBA,” anything that jogs your memory. Then later, touch base with these people by sending a quick note on Twitter, or Facebook, or even email.
The most important tip is to have fun. These suggestions aren’t intended to force anyone out onto the dance floor in a tiara. Instead, my intent is to make you feel confident in your ability to Schmooze. Connections are what librarianship is built upon: we are used to building these connections between our users and information; establishing these connections between our colleagues and ourselves is equally important. I hope you now feel a little more comfortable in your socializing and Gouda-consuming abilities. Enjoy!
Ayanna Gaines is a Reference and Instruction Librarian at Ventura College in Ventura, California. She loves maneki nekos and cheese. You can follow her on Twitter at @PopCulLibrn.