Enjoying the Community: The Beginnings of Virtual Common Spaces at Lisle Library District

By Michael Stephens |

Last month, we took a look at one library using the free DIY social networking tool Ning to create an online community. In "Exploring the Virtual Commons: Using Ning to Build a Community at Lafayette Public Library," we spoke with Pam Sahr about Lafayette readers. After that post went live, I was pleased to hear from the folks at Lisle Library District  here in Illinois. Back in January some of the staff attended a technology retreat I did for area libraries and got inspired to pursue a technology new to them - Ning. They've added links to the virtual communities via their Reader's Advisory Services page.

For Part Two of this series on creating community with free tools, I fired off some questions to the good folks at Lisle. Jen Ohzourk, Assistant Director, Adult Services, got back to me with some insights about where they are in the process of creating these new spaces:

Michael Stephens: I'm impressed with the focus for this project on reader's advisory. We saw it last month as well. What communities did you create?

JO: We created five different communities (we actually call them online discussion forums) – one for each book group and one for our film group.   Our forums are: Just The Facts (non-fiction) group, RA book group (fiction), Science Fiction/Fantasy group, Murder Among Friends (mystery) group, and Just Between Frames (film group).

MS: I appreciate how each community has its own look and feel. Graphics, color and theme fit each topic. I usually have a group project or two per semester focused on using Ning to create a community and the students seem to enjoy all the bells and whistles and ease of use. Now Ning has embedded applications, just like Facebook. But more importantly, the students explore what it takes to engage users.  What has the response been from library users?


JO: There has been a very positive response from our patrons.   We have been publicizing the groups on our library’s home page, in our newsletter, and handouts for each group, and have even put the information on signs in the library that advertise the upcoming groups’ meetings.  Some of the groups have more members than others, and we have noticed that some members are more comfortable interacting than others.   


MS: I was glad to see your guidelines for using the spaces. Each Ning has this statement: We encourage the personal expression of opinions, but ask that anyone posting please be respectful of the opinions of others. Content is moderated by the Lisle Library District. We reserve the right to remove any objectionable content posted at any time, without warning. By posting here, you agree to follow the TOS of Ning. It's straightforward, fair and links use back to the TOS of Ning. I like the fact you promote respect in the communities. Have there been any surprises?


JO: I have been happily surprised by the responses from the science fiction book group – there are a lot of people who are technologically savvy in that group, and some have really been posting a lot to our Ning page.   However, even though some of our library patrons are not very “tech-savvy,” some of them have told me that they enjoy just looking at all of the things that the forums offer, such as information about upcoming events, and continued discussions of the books/film.


MS: I noticed that your Nings are open to the world for viewing, instead of just for community members. What was the thinking there?


JO: We decided to make the communities open for several reasons -- open communities really promote the library and the groups, and they also allow anyone (even if they aren't from Lisle) to see everything on the pages, even if they don't choose to participate. The facilitators do control what is posted by members (all postings need to be approved, as well as all new members).


MS: What do you think of Ning as a community building tool?


JO: It’s definitely a wonderful tool, especially for providing people with a way to communicate with each other beyond their monthly meetings at the library.  I personally know of a few people who can’t always come to the monthly book group meeting, but then they are able to participate via Ning.   It’s also a great way to get to know the people in the groups beyond just talking to them once a month.   The other facilitators have had similar experiences, and we all really enjoy using Ning.

Ms: How are you evaluating the community so far?


JO: Right now, since the communities have only been active for a short time, each of the facilitators monitor their own forums and keeps track of members and whether people other than the facilitators are posting anything (comments, blog postings, etc.).   We are open to feedback at any time, and as yet, have only received positive comments.  In the future, we may look at statistics (postings per month, etc.), but right now, we’re just enjoying providing these forums for our patrons.


I appreciate Jan taking time to tell us about their work creating the users' commons online with Ning. More importantly, the fact that these new endeavors are being given time to grow slowly and organically is a useful take away.