Lessons learned from the OCLC Community Center during the pandemic

When I wrote about the OCLC Community Center’s fifth anniversary last year, I thought we were all getting a handle on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. We knew things weren’t over yet, but we also weren’t expecting to spend the next 12 months working from home, socially distancing, wearing masks in public, missing lunches and meetings and conferences, and so much more. While nothing replaces those in-person interactions, I’ve been amazed at how virtual engagement and connections have grown and deepened. As a result, we’ve all learned many valuable lessons about creating online community that will have lasting impact.

Active participation is crucial

The OCLC Community Center is an online forum for library staff who use OCLC products to confer with peers, ask questions, and contribute ideas to improve services. With hundreds of community members signing in every day, sharing best practices, and submitting enhancement suggestions, it’s become a key way for OCLC staff, including those directly involved in product development, to personally connect with library staff.

This provides immense value to both OCLC and participants. That’s not a new revelation, of course, but we confirmed just how valuable it can be. Over the past 12 months, more than 100 library staff delivered more than 40 presentations to just under 11,000 live, virtual attendees. Community members submitted proposals, responded to emails asking to share expertise, and showed up for peers’ webinars. The OCLC team also tried a few new approaches, like more open calls for proposals for virtual sessions and an always-open form to submit ideas for content, and we continued to watch discussion boards, read listserv posts, and sit in on office hours to look for trends and content.

The result? Participants answered the call to share and come together in an unprecedented year. One example is our new twice-annual virtual cataloging community meetings. They broke records with more than 1,200 attendees!

“This past year it feels like more folks than usual are participating in the discussion threads and the WebEx sessions. I especially love the communication that takes place during the various ‘Office Hours’ sessions offered by OCLC. It’s nice to put faces to the names I’ve become familiar with.”
~ Candace Lebel, Systems Coordinator, The Claremont Colleges Library

Let the community lead the way

Community leadership and input is the basis for successful, virtual community engagement efforts. Empowering the community to lead ensures that the engagement opportunities offered really meet the right needs.

“No librarian must solve their problems alone.” Click To Tweet

We work with a wonderful group of four elected member leaders on the WMS leadership team every year who provide invaluable feedback, facilitate community outreach, and participate in collaborative presentations like “The New Model Library” presented by OCLC Research and the WMS Community Leadership Team. OCLC staff also depended on a small, but mighty, program committee to help review, select, and moderate the RSC21 Web Series sessions—a process that lasted from January through June this year. And ongoing feedback from the community during regularly scheduled sessions and office hours, as well as on discussion board threads, has been the basis for many updates.

“No librarian must solve their problems alone. On the OCLC Community Center, colleagues at other institutions stand willing to assist, even when the questions have no direct impact on their own configurations and procedures.”
~ Thomas Waters, Technical Services Librarian, Brenau University

Grace, grit, and gratitude bridge virtual gaps

Pets and children don’t honor “do not disturb signs,” technology doesn’t always work, and webinar fatigue is real. We’ve seen the library community display continued resilience to make virtual engagement work, including attendees offering encouragement when unexpected circumstances arise. A recent resource sharing session drove home the value of gratitude, with participants offering examples of how sharing thanks from library users helped support staff working in interlibrary loan. They also pointed out how sharing expressions of gratitude with other libraries that participate in interlibrary loan resulted in a “virtuous circle” that brought staff at these libraries closer together where everyone is able to learn from each other.

“The conversations in the Community Center have been invaluable with helping me manage the transition to the modernized discovery interface. I’m so grateful for the expertise of everyone who’s contributed and made our update go smoothly!”
~ Alli Martel, Digital Technologies Librarian, Springfield College

A special thanks

With gratitude in mind, the entire OCLC Community Center team would like to thank participants for continued commitment to sharing, collaborating, and helping move the field forward.

I’d also like to offer a special thank you to our top contributors. You all gave your time, insights, and input in record quantities this year. We appreciate it.

  • Meg Atwater-Singer, University of Evansville
  • Janelle Bitter, Raritan Valley Community College
  • Terry Brandsma, University of North Carolina, Greensboro
  • Richard Broekman, Tilburg University
  • Gary Cocozzoli, Lawrence Technological University
  • Judith Gulpers, Erasmus Universiteit, Rotterdam
  • LadyJane Hickey, Austin College
  • Judy Hsu, University of the West
  • Sherri Langton, Northwestern College
  • Candace Lebel, The Claremont Colleges
  • Alli Martel, Springfield College
  • Brandon Martin, Northeastern State University
  • Steve McDonald, Tufts University
  • Ger Potze, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam
  • Tamsin Rothery, Oxford Brookes University
  • Laura Vogler, Wabash College
  • Thomas Waters, Brenau University
  • Kathleen Wynd, Université du Québec à Montréal
  • Grace (Gan) Ye, Pepperdine University

We will take what we’ve learned to continue to encourage your active engagement. And we look forward to another exciting year of connecting, collaborating, and learning from your contributions.

If you’re an OCLC member who would like to participate in the Community Center, find out more here.