Communities of Practice: Learning from One Another

by Timothy R. Merrick, MLIS Day

I’m now entering my third quarter as a dMLIS student here at the iSchool. It hasn’t taken long to realize that I’m going to learn just as much, if not more, from my fellow students as I will from the faculty. I say that not to criticize our faculty, but to acknowledge the quality, quantity, and diversity of experience that each of you bring to the iSchool. I wish I could connect with every one of you to exchange ideas, experiences, and knowledge. And I’d like to think that you might also benefit from what I have to offer.

My day job is with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), and I recently participated in the bureau’s inaugural Science Information Management Workshop in Reston, VA. The workshop brought together 175 USGS personnel who, in one way or another, have some responsibility for managing our scientific data and information. As with most conferences, the greatest benefit of this workshop was the opportunity to network with others who face the same challenges that I do. But what happens when conference attendees go back to their desks to square off once again with those challenges? One answer that we discussed was cultivating communities of practice.

What are communities of practice? According to Etienne Wenger,

"Communities of practice are groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly."
(Taken from Etienne Wenger's CoP page, accessed March 30, 2006).

The key words in that definition are “groups”, “share”, “do”, “learn”, and “interact”. Take away any of those components, and you no longer have a community of practice. Communities of practice are social learning networks (groups). They form around a common domain of skill or knowledge (share). They consist of practitioners, not just theorists or the mildly interested (do). Their reason for being is mutual learning (learn). And they are purposeful in pursuing that mutual learning (interact).

What do you want to do after the iSchool? Do you want to be a youth librarian? An information architect? An archivist? Do you know other iSchool students who share your interests and passions? If so, consider forming a community of practice to share your knowledge, experience, skills, contacts, etc.

Maybe you’re a member of one or more student organizations. Are those groups helping you build practical skills? If not, talk with the officers about setting up communities of practice. Together, we have a wealth of knowledge to share with one another.


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Page last updated: April 17, 2006