One of the undisputed benefits of SLA membership is the opportunity to network with your industry colleagues. As information professionals, we are almost unique in our ability to understand both technology and information. Discussion lists, chat rooms, message boards, and the like combine to create great networking opportunities, but how should we make best use of these virtual communities?
Etienne Wenger's conversation with Jeff De Cagna in July's Information Outlook gives an interesting insight into communities of practice, which he defines as "a group of people who share an interest in a domain of knowledge." He explains that the members of the community will interact with one-another, engage with one-another, talk with one-another, think with one-another, and develop relationships with one-another. You only have to subscribe to the solo librarians discussion list to understand how librarians interact, engage, and talk with one-another. While these interactions do create networks, one wonders whether these are communities yet. I doubt it. I do not know what goes on between members offsite, whether they think together and develop relationships. The networking is easy, but the truly rewarding bit is the creation of a community, which is an ongoing experience of sharing, learning, and developing relationships.
In this month's "Executive Outlook Hope Tillman refers to both the important role we have to play in sharing information and the best practices initiatives set up on Virtual SLA. I have to say that I have a slight problem with the term, "best practices," which implies something is better than something else. My best practice may not be the best one for you. I like to think of them as shared practices. But whatever we call them the SLA community needs to use and develop them as part of the benefits of the community. The Leadership Knowledge Center for Association Units (www.sla.org/content/leadership/lkc/index.cfm) is a database of best practices added to the database by various chapters and divisions. It includes useful examples of procedures, policies, and experiences. These include "Thinking Outside the Box for Fundraising," "Chapter/Library School Relations," and "Membership Survey." These shared practices help members manage the association, but there needs to be a similar database of shared practices to help us all become indispensable in our organizations.
We are all trying to do more with less, so lets avoid reinventing the...