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Where do you find community? Communities of practice and library professionals: OCULA president’s message

By Melanie Parlette-Stewart

This fall I’ve been reflecting on how change challenges us to find new ways of doing and learning. What I’ve come to, and I think what will always stand out to me, is the importance of community in finding our way in such a diverse profession. I realize that over my time as OCULA President I’ve returned to this issue several times and I think this is because I’ve realized that those times when I’ve felt alone in the profession are those when I’ve not felt that I had people or places to share my experiences and ask questions. We all know that librarianship is full of niche specializations, but how does someone go about developing those more intimate relationships with those that share our interests and passions? It’s not something that we know innately and we’re certainly not provided with a “here is how to find your way” roadmap when handed our degrees or diplomas (although that would nice…).

While larger professional associations like OLA and divisions like OCULA hope to bring together those who work in common sectors, our profession is full of opportunities to specialize and focus your work based on your interests and job duties.

Interested in eLearning? Join the eLearning in Libraries Listserv or attend the eLearning Symposium. Are you fired up about mentoring? Volunteer with MentorMatch. Are you passionate about LGBTQ+ services and issues? Join the LGBTQ+lib Slack channel. Suffice it to say that there are a multitude of ways that we might find your people and build collegial relationships with those doing similar work or having similar interests.

Decorative image with text: passion led us here
Image by Ian Schneider on Unsplash

But community is so much more than our like interests. I think it’s also about discovering a space in which you have the ability to be yourself and feel comfortable and confident to contribute and be a part of the conversation. Sometimes this might even mean the creation of new spaces. For me, I found an unexpected community when I created what the librarian wore—a group of fashion loving librarians across a variety of sectors. I also love seeing these new and emerging spaces such as the Instagram community, like the life of librarians Instagram. How we express ourselves and share our experiences is key to how we form our own identities as professionals. I love this guide on how to support and develop a community of practice.

Communities of practice exist and function in a variety of spaces. According to Wenger and Wenger-Trayner, “Communities of practice are groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly” (2015).

For example, many might have discussions related to their interests on social media—very broadly, in Facebook communities like Library Think Tank, and more focused on specific areas of interest, such as following a specific Twitter hashtag like #critlib.

We also know that the benefits of communities of practice are extensive. Key ways that communities of practice are beneficial to members include collaboration, empowerment, access to experts, and innovation (Fontaine & Miller, 2004).

Decorative image with text: more awesome now
Image by Juli Moreira on Unsplash

But how do we find these groups? Again, there is no roadmap—whether we are entering the profession, transitioning to a new role, or just looking to have support. This is in part probably because it’s such an individualized experience. Finding community can be difficult and challenging. We might seek to identify potential communities of practice. For example, you might explore social networks (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn), look for listservs, reach out to those who do similar work (although this might be intimidating), or network through conferences and other events. There is no single place where one can go to find the experts, potential collaborators, events, and conversations in the areas that interest you—and a space that is a great fit for one person might not be for another.

In our conversations, members of OCULA Council have felt these same challenges as we have sought to rally around causes and issues that are important to those in the profession, exposing a variety of approaches such as creating a Slack channel around special interests. We also know that it’s important not to recreate the wheel and want to help our members connect with those that have similar interests and do work. In order to share this information, we want to hear from you. We’ve created a short survey here where you can share your communities of practice and we’ll also be gathering your ideas at the 2019 OLA Super Conference—recognizing that communities of practice really are powered by the people.

Melanie Parlette-Stewart is the Digital Media Librarian at the University of Guelph Library. She is also the 2018 OCULA President. She can be reached at mparlett [at]

Works Cited

Fontaine, M. A., & Millen, D. R. (2004). Understanding the benefits and impact of communities of practice. In Knowledge networks: Innovation through communities of practice (pp. 1-13). IGI Global.

Wenger-Trayner, E., & Wenger-Trayner, B. (2015). Communities of practice: A brief introduction (PDF).

Cover image by Claus Grünstäudl on Unsplash.

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