My Thoughts On Online Communities

March 6, 2007

I’ve always had rather neutral feelings about social software and networking sites. I think part of this is because I’m a fairly quiet and introverted person who tends to stay in the background. Honestly, many people that I went to high school with wouldn’t remember me if asked. I have a talent for fading into the background if I so choose (or sometimes even if I don’t). I often just go with the flow – and allow life to happen around me. These are obviously generalizations – and there are certainly many exceptions. I can push myself when I feel it is necessary. One of the reasons that I started graduate school was that I felt a bit stagnant at work. I thought that I needed something to get me thinking about improving services, improving technology and making better decisions. It was the right decision – and regardless of the issues with the distance program at SCSU – school has helped to make me more engaged in the practice of librarianship.

Once I started the process of applying to school, I got involved in the blogging community that exists in the library world. This has been a wonderful experience, and I find myself and my ideas challenged constantly by other bloggers commentaries and opinions. It has been an excellent companion to my formal education. But to be candid, I didn’t actually join choose to join this community. I mean I wasn’t even aware that this community existed prior to starting this blog. My participation kind of just developed – which is fairly typical to the way that I get involved in most things. I was still a bit suspect of other types of online communities – and resisted joining any.

Of course, I recently joined Facebook in order to try and create some type of community for distance students at SCSU. Last week, several people joined the network after it got some publicity from SCSU’s distance education librarian, Rebecca Hedreen. This week even more people have joined this group after a discussion on the ILS listserv for MLS students erupted about the quality of online classes at SCSU. I debated with myself for quite a while about participating, but decided that this a very necessary discussion – and a perfect opportunity to mention the group. I tempered my email – hoping to be realistic about the problems that people were documenting and to also be positive about the good parts of the programs. I hope I was successful. Ultimately, I am incredibly amazed by the level of participation. It is obvious that I wasn’t alone in my belief that distance students need some type of community to help them bond and to support their educational experience. Whether or not it will become something substantial is yet to be seen – however, this is a good start. And, it feels good to have done something rather than just complain.

Beyond this, I also joined Bill Drew’s Library 2.0 social network on Ning today. Much like with everything else, I went back and forth – and back and forth. Do I really want to join something else? Am I not already having trouble keeping track of all of my online identities? Despite the fact that the answer to each question is yes, I was incredibly intrigued by the response to the network. I was also pretty interested in Ning itself. Anyway, it is a pretty amazing community – and a pretty amazing group. Gen-Xers, Millennials, the youth of today (whatever you call these groups) have absolutely nothing on librarians when it comes to social networking.

On a more personal and somewhat funny note, I now have more online friends than real ones. I hadn’t had my account on the Library 2.0 Ning site for more than 5 minutes before I had my first request from someone who wanted to be my friend. I now have 8 friends in total. How cool am I? (If you don’t get the irony, I feel the need to tell you that I’m really not in any way shape or form). When one is new to this type of social networking, the “friend” concept is so strange – a wee bit surreal even. However, I’m really getting into this whole thing. Everytime I get an email that someone wants to be my friend, I immediately log into Ning to accept – I can’t possibly afford to be choosy.

The bottom line is that these things are incredibly cool, and I think they have the potential to be powerful tools. I’m totally convinced about their potential worth. Playing with these sites, developing a level of comfort with them and creating online networks are vitally important. After only a short time, I sense that I could become addicted. Sadly, I have so many other things that I need to spend my time on. But, I will persevere and continue to push myself a little bit more.