Building a learning network - a new professional's experience

Building a network of supportive colleagues beyond the workplace is a great way to learn and develop as a professional.

This year, I attended my first British and Irish Association of Law Librarians (BIALL) Conference with my supervisor Jon Beaumont (who writes regularly for Information Today, Europe). 

Whereas Jon seemingly knows everyone, I feel as if I know no-one.  I think it is important that I build my own network and make my own connections rather than merely slipping into Jon's established circle.  BIALL is the leading professional network for information professionals working with legal information in Britain and Ireland and the annual conference gave me the perfect opportunity to start creating my own circle of professional colleagues.

How to network before an event - volunteer!

Prior to attending the conference, Jon had encouraged my involvement with BIALL.  About a month before the conference I asked to join the PR and Promotions Committee.  By offering assistance in this fashion, I already had people to connect with at my first official meeting.  Not that I need have worried.  Everyone proved to be wonderfully welcoming and chatty.

Learning from the experience of others

The choice of parallel sessions was varied and allowed me to focus on areas I thought would be most beneficial.  For example, on one of the days I focused on personal development and attended sessions on how to train, how to present and how to make an impression.  The plenary sessions provided practical case studies.  One speaker had taken on a massive current awareness project.  Another suggested how KM reward structures could work with fluffy toys and a pirate based theme!

Hearing individuals speak about their own struggles (the lack of IT support; the challenge of making intangible benefits tangible to senior management; how to escape the stranglehold of suppliers) encouraged me to rethink my role and focus on how I could implement new ideas.

Of course, the challenge of attending such an event is what happens afterwards.  Can you take away ideas and work out how to apply them successfully in your own firm and with your own fee earners?

Growing as a professional and growing the firm

Although apparently attendance figures were lower than previous years (as we all know training budgets have been slashed), there were certainly enough people for me to meet.  By building and maintaining my network of connections I can increase the number of friendly faces I can call upon, for the benefit of the firm and of myself professionally.  And I want to be able to reciprocate. I want to become recognised as a person to whom others can come for professional advice and support.

The BIALL Conference has helped me to develop into a more fully fledged information professional and to focus on how I can innovate and truly add value to the team.  

About the author

After graduating in English Studies, Helen worked as an Information Assistant for BPP Law School, Leeds for two years. She then completed her masters in Information and Library Management at Loughborough University in September 2010.  She has been in her current role as Information Officer for Harvey Ingram LLP for 9 months.

Image courtesy of rockmixer via Flickr.