I’m at least nominally a member of three online communities. Or, rather, I’m a member of three communities that have given themselves distinct names and spaces, and then there are a lot of people I interact with that also function as a community but with much fuzzier edges. Anyway, the Library Society of the World is one of these communities, and I’ve been a member since back before it was a community. It’s a place where I feel comfortable hanging out, trust people enough to have spirited debates with them, and understand a lot about where people are coming from, their jargon, and their jokes.
Just recently I joined two other communities, one where I was invested in figuring out the culture and in participating enough to build up trust and camaraderie with its members (or at least a subset of its members), and one where it’s likely I’ll never be an active participant. Right now I’m watching the first community mourn the death of one of its members, and I’m watching the other one hum along in a way that feels like an interesting but entirely foreign groove. And having both of these things as foils for my other hangout spots has set me to thinking quite a lot about what it means to be a community, and what this means for people who are hoping to build and maintain hang-out spots for groups of people.
I love it that my library is a community hang-out spot on campus. I love it that it has a culture and that there are both written and unwritten rules governing community participation there. And from what I’ve seen of the communities I’ve felt a part of in my adult life, these things are important for community building and maintenance. If these things aren’t explicitly shaped by some moderating force in the community, the community will come to these things on its own.
At the same time, I’m more aware than I was before that the very things that make a community feel like home to its denizens can also pose a barrier to entry for newcomers. Some barriers are higher than others, of course, but they’re barriers nevertheless. And since my job is to help usher my students into the community of academic scholarship, using my library as both a sub-community and a vehicle, I wish I knew how to see and overcome some of those initial barriers for my students. Because you know what? Belonging to these kinds of communities is a wonderful thing.