Building Community Online

After doing some reading on what it takes to build community online, it seems like there is a pretty strong consensus on what works. Once I heard some of the “best practices” described, I realized there was a lot of common sense out there that may be worth considering for those trying to build an online community.

So many, including Nancy White and Martin Reed point to the fact that you need to ask the question: “Why do you want an online community?”. Both of them seemed to be saying you need to have a purpose for having your community online. Don’t just do it because everyone else is or because it seems “trendy”. This seems especially important when considering library communities. In one of my library classes, we talked about it over and over: make sure you’re considering your community of users before implementing technology. If they are not going to use it, it will be sitting out there on the web, dying and ghostlike, making your library look bad.

Another piece of “common sense” that I don’t think I fully realized was how much time and effort it takes to build, maintain, and moderate an online community. Nearly everyone across the board says this. As part of the same class I mention above, I had the opportunity to hear how much effort it took over seven years for something like WebJunction to get as far as it has. As Martin Reed says in his article, “Community building takes a lot of time and effort. Results take a long time to arrive – do you have the time, patience, commitment, spare time?”. Once again, the consideration of time and effort seems important for libraries looking to build online communities. With limited staff and budget, make sure your community building efforts are purposeful and necessary.

With all of that said, it seems to me that community building can be quite  fun even if it is hard work. Most of what I’ve read and heard has been inspiring. It’s especially inspiring to hear how the successful community builders really want to include the ideas and suggestions of their members. They seem to really remember that the community is about its members – and they practice what they preach. I had the privilege of hearing WebJunction’s Chrystie Hill tell a story about running into a member at a conference who had an idea for a forum. She said to this member: “That’s a great idea! Why don’t you set it up?”. I think we librarians know by now that our members, or patrons, are essential. Integrating these community building practices, online or otherwise, are vital to our success.

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