Assignment: Community Engagement – Community Guide

Paging @Michael and/or @Kyle to my assignment post in case they’re being swamped by oceans of excellent content. I myself have about 30 classmate blog posts on my Netvibes page to try and read after this.

And now, the assignement!


When I first thought about community guide vs community creator, I thought I’d come down on the community creator side. But after a short scan, there seemed to be a number of virtual communities within the Alaska State Library’s sphere of influence. Therefore, the Library’s time and resources could be better spent on engaging and supporting an existing online community.

Identifying communities

But which one? I thought about three communities that seemed to be reachable by State Library staff.

State of Alaska Confluence Wiki users – The State of Alaska has Confluence as an enterprise wide wikispace which supports pages, blog posts, comments, status updates and more. Every State of Alaska employee has access to the basic wiki and can see all non-sensitive content. The wiki is divided into workspaces – some open and some not. The purpose of this community is to share information about their work, especially with team members. Most conversations between community members is project related, but there is a limited amount of deliberate sharing across department lines. Information is shared through wiki pages, uploaded files and in some cases by weekly status reports. Organization of information varies by workspace, but chronological or by project topic is typical. Parts of the State Confluence community do meet face to face, though usually only with their immediate team members.

Alaska School Librarians Facebook Group – The Alaska School Librarians Facebook group exists to promote companionship and resource sharing among school librarians separated by the vast distances of Alaska. The group is closed to outsiders, but invitations can be obtained. Conversations tend to revolve around either what has happened in their libraries or around articles or documents shared by a group member. Information is shared by Facebook posts and occasionally by posting files to the group. Information is arranged chronologically. The statewide group meets once a year in conjunction with the Alaska Library Association Annual Conference. School librarians within a district will usually meet for in-service days.

AkLA-L participants – AkLA-L is the official electronic mailing list of the Alaska Library Association. It has a public list archive that goes back a number of years. The purpose of the community is to connect library staff in Alaska, whether or not they are a dues paying member of the Alaska Library Association. Conversations between community members range from sharing Friday jokes to requests for policies on checking out laptops to coordinating author visits to tactful ways of dealing with unruly patrons or book challenges. Information is shared though e-mail, mostly plain text and some file attachments. Information is in reverse chronological order but searchable. Many members on the AkLA-L list meet at the Association’s annual conference. It is fun putting names to e-mail addresses.

Choosing and analyzing a community

After reflecting on the three communities, I decided to not pursue either the Alaska School Librarians or the AkLA-L list members in a systematic way. The School Librarians Facebook group appears to be a thriving community. I actually contribute to it myself from time to time. While I have never been a school librarian, I was accepted based on my knowledge of potentially useful online resources.Bottom line is that they do not seem in need of a guide.

The AkLA-L members could use a more flexible online environment and the web team is giving them one. At the most recent AkLA e-Council Meeting, my colleagues on the web team unveiled AkLA Communities, a BuddyPress environment that incorporates many of the features of our MOOC here. AkLA Communities still needs some work, but beta testing by ecouncil members and a few others is ongoing and promising. In the meantime, conversation on the AkLA-L list remains strong and will likely remain so even after the formal launch of AkLA Communities.

For better reasons than the simple process of elimination, I have chosen the State of Alaska Confluence wiki users as a community to offer the State Library’s services as guide. The environment they are using is powerful and explicitly designed for active sharing, but little sharing is going on aside from a willingness to have activity displayed on the sign-in dashboard. I think this community could be more vibrant and interdisciplinary as well. It seems like a place where a generalist institution like the State Library could make a positive contribution.

The wiki users community as a whole has weak ties to my library. We have a presence in the wiki, but it is primarily for ourselves. There is no “Confluence Users Group” to directly engage other users. Anyone who signs into the wiki can observe activity from our library workspace unless explicitly restricted, as we can view their workspace’s activity.

I think ties can be built in two ways. First, library staff can start commenting on other parts of the wiki that we have access to. We can offer “voice of the user” to IT discussions and possibly offer information resources to other types of projects on the wiki. Second, maybe we could be the ones to start an actual “Confluence Users Group” to explore the power of the online environment. We might also build ties by posting questions to the wiki dashboard and seeing what results we get.

Through experimentation, I’ve found out that we can definitely offer information resources including journal articles and books to this community. I started noticing a community member highlighting articles on leadership and workforce trends. The articles looked like they had been reformatted from somewhere else. The result was readable, but not pretty. I contacted the poster with the EBSCOhost link to the journal of one of the articles, allowing the member to take a professional looking copy of the article to their team meeting. A dialog ensued that made it sound like notifications of further resources in this area would be welcome.

I think the other important thing the Library can offer is a viewpoint that looks for connections between workspaces. While everyone sees a dashboard of all recent activity when they log in, most Confluence users immediately jump into their workspace and don’t pay attention to the work of others. It’s possible that software developers in one department are missing out on approaches to similar problems in another department. Or that two departments are working in similar policy areas. The library is in a good position to observe and synthesize activity on the wiki that might catalyze collaboration between agencies. This would be a value add for community members.

A majority of community members on the State of Alaska Confluence wiki are IT staff with their own technology resources. As far as I can tell, they have no visible technology needs. However, there may be state employees who are unaware of the wiki and in need of the capabilities it has. The State Library could have a role in bringing the Confluence technology to those future community members.

Instructional needs of members vary, but I suspect that most people do not understand the full power available to them in Confluence. We might have a role in showing off lesser known features. Though this might need to be coordinated with State IT staff.

Brief engagement plan for Confluence Wiki users

The glory of a wiki community is that it is decentralized. No one organization dictates activity — short of uninstalling the software altogether. However, this makes it unclear who should be contacted.

I plan on a two pronged approach. First, I will keep an eye out for those individuals who seem to be sharing information beyond their immediate project. If I find their content genuinely interesting, I will engage them on it with an eye to how the Library might be able to ease their information discovery and sharing.

Secondly, there are designated ‘space admins” for each of the workgroups. I will make an effort to identify these individuals and start discussions with them. Depending on their receptiveness and department, I may try to connect them with a departmental liaison from the State Library.

The conversations would start on topics of joint interest. I would point to library resources and expertise – their favorite journals, lesser known features of the wiki, access to web resources that might be inaccessible to them in their offices, etc. In some ways it would be collections focused, but might also involved collaboration on training opportunities or maybe even beta testing opportunities.

I’m honestly not sure how I could explain the symbiotic relationship that could emerge between this community and my library. I would try to explain our potential as connectors, as people who could see similarities in projects and interests between departments and serve as potential matchmakers. In some ways, I see the biggest potential as not so much between the State Library and the wiki community as much as in the potential that could be unleashed by enabling agencies to easily and actively collaborate and share.

via MOOCing Up North

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