Case Study: Texas A&M University Libraries (Goodwin & Gola, 2008)
In 2005, Texas A&M University Libraries implemented a new federated search system called MetaLib. A seminar held to teach librarians how to use this new software utilised the community of practice theory. MetaLib’s implementation team created an open environment that enabled librarians to easily share information with one another. For instance, librarians were able to learn comfortably even if they had no prior knowledge of the software, and were able to ask questions or ask for help, if needed.
Figure 3.12 Impacts of the community of practice.
Additionally, librarians were expected to proactively learn the material and teach their colleagues.
Implementation of MetaLib provided an opportunity for the trainers to implement the community of practice theory at the library, and to create a new community of learning. All the librarians shared the experience, and learned how to use the new technology from one another.
Case Study: University of Minnesota Libraries (Johnson, 2007)
In 1998, University of Minnesota Libraries utilised an organisational system of a group mentoring. The University of Minnesota Institute encouraged the libraries to use the concept of the community of practice, especially for librarians early in their career, and required them to join the group mentoring since the university needed to train them for the future of the university.
The mentoring was particularly critical in the retention of minority librarians. Small groups can reduce stress, enhance a sense of community, and provide mutual support. The university heard the following opinions from librarians in an institutional evaluation:
I think the institute has influenced my career development in the past year. The institute created a wonderful environment for getting to know other new librarians, some of whom I've met up with at a couple of conferences since then. Also,
I feel the leadership training gave me a lot of confidence in my potential and helped me to better understand how I best work, what role I play in the workplace, my work values, etc. It gave me a lot to think about in terms of what I want to contribute to the profession and where Id like to go with my career. (Johnson, 2007, p. 411)
I feel like a community was created at the Minnesota institute. If I need to contact any of my classmates for anything, they'll be there to help, as I would be for them. It's great to have this community born from a deeply shared experience. (Johnson, 2007, p. 411)
I found the institute to be very supportive of my professional goals as a new librarian, and reinforced my values of why I chose to go into this profession. I've always had a positive attitude toward librarianship, but as a new librarian, I sometimes felt I was lacking guidance in how I could improve. The institute offered practical counsel - plus I got so much from talking with other institute participants. I believe firmly in the value of mentorship and I hope that the profession continues to recognize that librarians new to the profession can benefit from this type of opportunity. (Johnson, 2007, p. 414)
From these comments, one can see that the librarians were very satisfied with the group mentoring activities conducted through a community of practice. The librarians particularly highlighted the sense of community with their colleagues and the benefits of mutual learning, which are the core ideas of this theory. The University of Minnesota Institute successfully developed a way to put this theory into practice.
Conclusions About Using a Community of Practice
In comparison with other management theories, the community of practice theory has less influence on the library community than other theories. However, if libraries had realised that the community of practice theory (which is very similar to organisational learning/learning organisation) could be used effectively for library organisations, this theory may have had a larger impact on the library world. The cases in this section showed that using the community of practice theory had good results; since library culture is quite familiar with the concept of ‘organisational learning’ and ‘practical application’, it is easy for librarians to accept the theory. It promoted greater engagement with library work, and devotion to learning and developing specialties.