OLA’s Current Role in Communities of Practice

OLA does not currently operate any active communities of practice, but is happy to be a resource for people in the library community interested in beginning one. OLA staff can discuss which platform would work best for your Community of Practice, add it to our list of active Communities of Practice, and market it on our social media and in our newsletters to extend its reach. You can find information on communities of practice, and best practices, on this page.

Communities of Practice have existed informally for centuries, but the concept originated with cognitive anthropologists Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger, who coined the term when referring to the community that acts as a living curriculum. Wenger notes that “Communities of Practice are groups of people who share a concern or passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly.” They are intended to be spaces where people can connect, share, collaborate, and learn from one another. Communities of Practice can focus on help with everyday work needs, strengthening best practices, organizing and stewarding information and knowledge sharing, and creating breakthrough ideas and practices that can be shared throughout professional communities.


Communities of Practice are:

  • Voluntary – individuals are not mandated to participate
  • Not top-down websites or blogs that are managed; rather, they are spaces where people can actively participate with one another.
  • Actively nurtured by the person or organization that supports it, which can look like listening, observing, and following suggestions that might lead to changes in the field or organization it belongs to.

Communities of Practice work best when:

  • The group of people share a common passion that they will wish to interact with one another about regularly.
  • They are grounded in and support discussions about both theory and practice.
  • They are driven by the members, rather than the organization hosting the space.
  • There is a dedicated person(s) committed to the ongoing operation of the space.

Regardless of the chosen platform a Community of Practice, the following tips should be followed in order to prepare for success:

Factors for Success:

  • Identifying a topic that energizes a core group
  • Skillful facilitation
  • Establishing the right rhythm and mix of activities
  • Having visible support of organizational leaders, but without micro-management
  • Accessing adequate resources in order to reduce barriers to participation

Basic Technical Requirements for an External Virtual Platform (User Perspective)

  • Simple sign-up and login procedure
  • Attractive interface
  • Ability to receive notifications when a posting or reply appears

These platforms offer no-cost options for hosting a community of practice, with the additional benefit that many users will already be using these platforms and will not require a complete change in their information behaviour. Communities of Practice can also take place during teleconferences, on listservs, and other virtual meetings; these are just a few asynchronous virtual platforms where Communities of Practice can be found.

We recognize that all of these platforms are owned and operated by private companies. At this time, OLA does not have a platform that we can offer members for the purpose of Communities of Practice, and we recommend reviewing the privacy policies of any platform before deciding it is right for your Community of Practice.

The best examples of Communities of Practice on Twitter are with planned, timed chats using a specific hashtag. An example of a community that is doing this is #CritLib. They host chats every week at a specific time, and have a rotating cast of moderators who ask the questions and facilitate the conversation. How to get started with Twitter>

Facebook Groups are commonly used as open information sharing hubs in many different sectors, including librarianship. An example of this is the Programming Librarian Interest Group, which is a member initiative of the American Library Association (ALA). There are nearly 15,000 members, with near-constant engagement. How to get started with Facebook Groups>

Slack is a chat forum application that can be downloaded onto your mobile device or tablet, or accessed through your desktop. It has separate channels that can dive into specific conversations and topics, as well as direct messaging with individuals in the group. OLA began an LGBTQ+lib Community of Practice in 2019. How to get started with Slack>

Reddit is a massive collection of online forums where people can share news, content, and comment on other people’s posts. r/Libraries is a community where library enthusiasts, library staff, and people interested in the library world share a variety of information on the topic of libraries. How to get started with reddit>

LinkedIn, like other social platforms, have Groups in place where information can be shared and commented on. Historians, Librarians and Archivists is a group on LinkedIn where professionals share articles and job listings. How to get started with LinkedIn Groups>

Discord, similar to Slack, is a chat forum application that can be downloaded onto your device or viewed on a computer, with separate channels that can dive into specific conversations about a topic. Discord was created specifically for gamers, but has been picked up by many organizations as a digital connection tool. COVID4GLAM is a Discord group dedicated to discussing COVID-19 in the galleries, libraries, archives, and museums sector. How to get started with Discord>

If you wish to add a library-related Community of Practice to this listing, please contact mmacks@accessola.com.

Are you passionate about LGBTQ+ services and issues? Do you work with LGBTQ+ populations in your community? Looking for outreach ideas, or resources that can be used to serve the LGBTQ+ community? We have you covered!

The OLA has set up a community of practice specializing in LGBTQ+ topics. The platform that we’re using is called Slack, an chat forum application that can be downloaded on your mobile device or tablet, or accessed through your desktop computer. Slack has separate channels that can dive into specific conversations and topics, as well as direct messaging with individuals in the group.

So join us on the LGBTQ+lib Slack channel. You do not need to be an OLA member to participate, this a community for anyone working in libraries with a special interest in LGBTQ+ topics.