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LSW’s Growing Pains

An interesting thing happened. This little group of friends decided, mostly as a joke, to call themselves the Library Society of the World. Then that Society got big.

The amateur anthropologist in me has been watching the group negotiate this phenomenon for a while now, and it’s fascinating. Here’s a short sketch.

Two years ago, Josh created a wiki and basically told his friends “Wouldn’t it be fun if we called ourselves the Library Society of the World? Sign up, give yourself a silly title, and have fun.” At that point, we mostly communicated via Twitter and a Meebo chat room. At that point, we talked just like we’d been talking before. The only difference was that we’d adopted a group name.

Fast forward about a year as friends of friends started joining in the discussion. We still hung out in the Meebo chat room, though Twitter had blown up one too many times and most people had jumped ship for FriendFeed. I now no longer knew everyone I was talking to if I posted to the LSW FriendFeed room, which was pretty cool. My core group of friends was still my core group of friends because we’d been friends for a while now (of course there were a few new friends in the mix, because that’s how friendships work over time), but the LSW was bigger and broader than that core group, and there were even whole social networks of LSW members that I hadn’t joined (like LinkedIn for example).

Then an interesting thing happened. People started joining the LSW never having known it in its infancy. People started hearing about it at conferences and workshops. Big Names started declaring allegiance. New members figured they were joining A Group, something substantial, something with heft and momentum and growing name recognition (albeit, a Group with a pretty lose sign-up mechanism). Joining and participating in A Group comes with a whole different set of expectations than joining and participating in a circle of friends.

And at this point, with membership estimates topping 800, it’s entirely reasonable for new members to expect the thing to feel like A Group rather than just a group. Protesting that it’s “just a group” is becoming less and less productive. At the same time, the thing is a grassroots collection of librarians doing stuff and sharing information, which means that there’s really no formalized set of processes, governance, or oversight that people might expect from a Group. I’m not even sure I know where all the social networks are that have been created in the name of the LSW. The whole idea is for people to jump in and just do stuff, kind of like we did when we were just librarians doing stuff who also happened to be friends.

I’m fascinated to watch this Group (for it is undeniably too big to protest that it’s not A Group) and see how it weathers these growing pains. For my part, if I hear “I wish the LSW were more [fill in the blank] than it is,” I hope I’ll answer with an encouraging “Then help make it that way! Or at least make your corner of it that way,” rather than with something along the lines of “But that’s irrelevant because it’s really not a formal Group.”

Personally, I think this is an exciting development. It means that things are different, sure, and that we should probably take a step back and decide what will have to change and what can and should stay the same. But if more and more people start doing stuff in the name of the LSW, developing friendships, and forming their corners of the LSW into whatever it is that they need it to be, I think this can only be a good thing.

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