Magazine article Computers in Libraries

Networking through the 90s

Magazine article Computers in Libraries

Networking through the 90s

Article excerpt

Twenty years ago, when someone said "networking," most people would have thought of a connected group of people who helped and supported each other. Ten years ago, "networking" would have made people think of a local area network. Today, people think of either the Internet or their own intranets or Web servers. The main themes that these concepts have in common are the ideas of connection and sharing. And I think networking in the 90s (and on into 2000) is very much about connecting to the Internet and connecting with others, as well as sharing on both a personal and institutional level.

The traditional idea of networking meant making connections with people, usually face-to-face, at professional association meetings, conferences, or continuing education events. To what end? Often the goals of such contacts were to find colleagues to get ideas or help when faced with problems, or to get yourself known for career advancement. Of course, the telephone makes following up with people and networking over distances easy, as long as you can find the business card someone gave you and actually catch a person in her or his office.

The wonderful thing about networking in 90s is that it can be as active or passive as you like. You can put a lot of energy into it, or as little as you like, and yet, with the aid of computers, you can get a lot of bang for your buck. In fact, Internetworking could be a metaphor for networking through the 90s! The basic idea with Internetworking is that you let computers do all the work. They know how to find each other, how to get in touch, how to communicate back and forth. Why not let them do as much of the work for you as they possibly can? Contacting people by way of the Internet is much cheaper, more immediate, and often just as effective as meeting in person.

Putting the Net in Networking

Nowadays, it seems that networking often means being "Net savvy"--conversant in, comfortable with, and competent at using the Internet to reach out and connect to people. Much of this is done using the Internet as the medium for actively connecting with people. And, largely, this can be done directly through e-mail--it's often easier to set up an e-mail address book than to program a telephone speed-dial button.

I have at least a dozen address entries for colleagues I e-mail regularly to discuss everything from training to new jobs to the latest hassles with new versions of technology. In addition to that address list, I have one of occasional contacts. This is a list of people that I've just met or that I've only e-mailed once or twice. I keep this latter as my "to network with" list--sort of like the concept Microsoft Outlook uses. Many of the people in this group have e-mailed me because they saw one of my columns or Web pages and had a comment, question, or suggestion. Or I may e-mail them for similar reasons. I can easily go back into my e-mail folders and remind myself of the context of a communication and the contact information for a person.

A related way to use e-mail is to contact people I come across via listservs or Usenet groups. And likewise, this is how some people contact me. I tend to be more of a passive consumer, or lurker, when it comes to listservs. (Isn't it ironic how the word "lurker" used to have a somewhat negative connotation, but nowadays people are strongly encouraged to lurk on a list to get a sense of what's going on before they chime in?) But quite often I'll respond to a message off the list, which is the protocol when a topic is only slightly related to the list's themes, or when personal responses are requested.

Or sometimes I'll respond to people off the list for unrelated reasons. Perhaps they have position titles I'm curious about. Or maybe they work for organizations that are doing work I am interested in and want to find out more about. In this way, the Internet makes networking quite different from face-to-face contacts! …

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