We’ve been playing with the idea of “community of interest” for some time at WebJunction, beginning with our fabulous Spanish Language Outreach and Rural Library Sustainability projects, and branching out into other groups, most recently the very exciting Government Information in the 21st Century project–still in its early stages, but expect wonderful materials to show up on the site very soon.
(And by the way, the new “Groups” box on our cleaned-up home page will make projects like these much easier to access than they used to be.)
Our site partners too (with three new states coming on board soon) operate as communities of interest, mostly geographically defined (but not always: see our Equal Access partner site).
But in musing recently on “Communities of Interest” I came across an alternative term, one that helped clarify my thinking about WebJunction a bit: “Community of Practice”. Though new to me, it is in fact a well-known concept in the organizational development field (here’s a nice Wikipedia article).
So what makes this important to WebJunction? Here’s Etienne Wenger, who helped coin the term:
A community of practice is not merely a community of interest–people who like certain kinds of movies, for instance. Members of a community of practice are practitioners. They develop a shared repertoire of resources: experiences, stories, tools, ways of addressing recurring problems�in short a shared practice.
I like the focus and utility that this concept brings: I’ve always wanted WJ to become a place where people *get stuff done*: working together on public access computing or service to Spanish speakers or government information.
Don’t get me wrong: WJ is a great place to come and get smarter, have your questions answered, and boost your general professional skills. It’s also a good place to build relationships around the many topics that are germane to the many facets of librarianship. But (my bias) the more we can facilitate your participation in communities of practice–enabling you to connect with others to synergistically develop your *practice*, the things you do every day and care about over time, around which you build your career and your job satisfaction (and ultimately, your identity)–the more our potential as a powerful collaborative platform can really start to shine forth.
A while ago a WJ job candidate pointed out that we used the word “community” about seven times, in seven different ways, on our home page (thankfully, the issue has been retired with our refresh). So maybe we don’t need yet another spin on “community” here. But I’m really intrigued by the “CoP” notion.
(Some may accuse me of a subliminal response to the control/authority element suggested by the acronym “CoP”, as opposed to the flirty and somewhat oriental flavor of “CoI”. But I hope the reflection stands on its own merits.)