In search of community

multiple people dangling shoe-clad feet over a rock wall

I’ve always felt a strong sense of professional community as a librarian. I had a close local cohort of friends in my distance MLIS program, a fantastic group of ALA Spectrum Scholars who helped me feel accepted and included, and great colleagues. I’ve been lucky to have worked at institutions that invest in the professional development of their librarians (especially early-career folks) and therefore have been able to attend conferences, leadership institutes, and other learning experiences. I joined the social media platform formerly known as Twitter in 2008 and shared thoughts there and via my personal blog, connecting with librarians across the country on everything from critical information literacy to elder millennial jams.

Then the pandemic hit. We still had all the finest web-based apps needed to maintain our ability to work, but something about connecting online didn’t feel right anymore. It was simultaneously too much and not enough. I missed grabbing dinner with friends, going to yoga class in person, and visiting family (among all of the comforts of having a “normal” day-to-day life). The isolation was crushing. All of the fledgling communities I had started to build in a new city crumbled and the long standing professional community in LIS was struggling. We all trickled back into our “normal” routines eventually, but things were markedly different. We were different, and the communities that sustained us throughout the years of isolation were not necessarily the same ones we relied on pre-pandemic.

I finally left what was then still Twitter in 2023, as did many of my colleagues and friends. I’ve struggled to feel motivated enough to attend conferences and professional activities in person given the number of free or low-cost online offerings (book a flight and wait to be reimbursed? in this economy?). But I do miss being able to catch up with colleagues at other institutions in person. I miss the serendipitous collaborations that sprung for venting sessions over coffee or lunch after a thought-provoking presentation. I miss getting to know people outside of their identities as librarians. I don’t know where the librarians are online anymore, but I know that I miss them! Occasionally we see one another in professional service organization meetings, private-chatting each other via Zoom, but of course, it’s not quite the same.

I am very curious to discover what community looks like now for folks in LIS, especially early-career folks. I will admit that moving into a management position and recognizing that I’ve been in libraries for 17 years(!!!!) have also contributed to a shift in community for me, but it hasn’t changed the fact that I need a community. I think we all do. We all want to feel understood and valued in our profession. So what does librarian community look like now, and what can we make it?

One thought on “In search of community”

  1. A thoughtful and thought-provoking post, as usual — thank you, Veronica!

    I’ve been thinking about community a lot, especially when I have the opportunity to get together in person with library colleagues. (My current job is fully remote.) It seems like certain kinds of interaction are so much better in shared physical space that we should prioritize in-person time to focus on them: for instance, big-picture, strategic dreaming and scheming; intensive mentoring/coaching; and honoring important life events. Of course, as you note, bringing people together usually requires significant resources, and I also don’t want to lose sight of the fact that in-person time that is casual and fun, without the weight of long-term strategy or big emotions, also has great value.

    Short answer: it’s hard!

    But I think being intentional about creating and sustaining community within our profession is a good place to start. For me, that means dotting my calendar with regualar calls with trusted friends and looking for the chance to see colleagues in person whenever I travel. It seems that many of us now place special importance on being in each other’s presence, and gatherings unmediated by screens have a poignancy and joy I didn’t experience earlier in my career.

    Thanks, again, for sharing your perspective on this vital topic. I hope we’ll be able to see each other in person again soon!

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