Online Communities

From Library Success: A Best Practices Wiki
Jump to: navigation, search

Coming from WebJunction? Please click here for more information.

Success Stories

  • The Ann Arbor District Library uses blogs -- and leaves the comments open -- to create an online dialogue between the library and its patrons. Click here for more info.
  • The Missouri River Regional Library, which serves Cole and Osage Counties in Missouri, has a blog that is dedicated to the Library Expansion Project that the library is currently undertaking. The community is starting to notice and comment on the project - both positively and negatively - which gives the library a chance to address issues quickly and completely.
  • In 1995, the North Suburban Library System (NSLS) launched NorthStarNet an online community information network. The electronic community was created as an entry point to the Internet for libraries and for organizations in the communities they serve. This resource for sharing information across physical and electronic borders has grown from four public libraries to 50 libraries supporting over 900 local information providers serving close to 100 communities.

Tips for Developing Online Communities

  • Design the community to be shared.
  • Give incentives for sharing information about the community or referring friends.
  • Give up control - allow the community to guide itself. Too much control stifles growth.
  • Collaborate with other online communities.

Ideas for Creating Online Communities in Libraries

  • I think it would be cool if we could somehow connect all of the people on the reserve list for a particular book. Let's say 15 people are waiting for Company: A Novel. What if those people could pass the book amongst themselves instead of turning it into the library for processing between each person? And what if they could meet online to discuss the book, review it, and recommend other books to each other? Can't we assume that these 15 people share something in wanting this book and so can become the basis of an online community, provided through the library website?

Questions, Comments, What You'd Like to Know About Online Communities

  • I am curious about the accountability factor regarding online communities. Specifically, is it a better idea to force users to "sign in" to a wiki (or blog) in order to allow them to edit the page? Is it a good idea to require a library card number as a username (or allow them to create a username\password that is connected to a card) to help prevent spamming the site? Or have open sites been successful? -Posted by Mike Beccaria 8-11-05
    • At MRRL, we don't require any kind of registration or signing in to comment on our blog. We've had very few problems with it, too. I have to go in and delete the occasional poker or casino spam, but it's not too bad. We have a statement above our comment form, however, that warns folks that comments will be deleted if they are off-topic or rude. Our patrons have had no problem abiding by that (even when they disagree with us)! - Posted by Robin Hastings 8-12-05
  • I would be really interested to see some statistical measures of the success of various tools for fostering online community in libraries--maybe number of overall web-site visits: pre-blog and post blog; pre-virtual reference and post-virtual reference, etc., measure of visits to "regular" library web-site vs. visits to online community area. -SMK 8-22-05
  • From a WebJunction member:

Our public library has a web site which was created by library science master degree students at the local uiniversity. We are able update the web site ourselves. The site was done in HTML. We use the site to inform the patrons about new materials, upcoming events and other pertinent information about the library.

We would like to put our catalog online, but have not done so due to the cost. We would like to find out the best ways to do this and keep the cost as low as possible. Currently the web site does not have many bells and whistles and would like to make it a bit splashier.

Great Examples of Libraries Creating Online Communities for Their Patrons


The following stories were submitted to as part of their Focus on Online Community for Public Libraries :

  • From a public library:

In 2004 we redesigned our web page to make it faster loading (we still have 8 branches having to use dial-up where 56 k (hell 18K) is an optimistic speed. We have added the control bar which gives direct access to our e-library services as well as the provincial gateway (due for launch on September 3rd) as well as on online librarian Ask Us segment where the public can e-mail their questions to a central location and the work is “farmed out” among our user libraries.

In September 2005 we are launching as part of our province's 2005 Saskatchewan Centennial celebrations, our E-library services (online databases, province-wide catalogue, Ask a Librarian) with regular press releases and TV/radio spots. This is to culminate during Library and Education week in October. Our wildcard book marks for September are featuring the services with individual book marks for the Databases, the Gateway, the Ask A Librarian and the e-library services in general. We will be printing in total 42,000 for distribution in September (roughly equal to our circulation at the 20 branches).

Our main concern is the level of information literacy within our area. We have been offering online database access for home for the past 3 years but the user ship has been very low. We are currently trying to address this issue through marketing and through running of local training sessions (public, school and library staff members) on how and why to use the databases. We received a grant from Canadian Heritage to hire a new MLS graduate Youth Intern for 6 months to assist us with putting together the marketing plan and preparing the lessons. We are in the process for trying for additional funding to hire a trainer for 1-2 years. The goal is to provide the public and school (staff and students) with search tools and to emphasize our slogan of “Looking for information: Use Google First, and then for the real facts visit the Web site” We are trying to emphasize the unreliability of information on Google and to teach them how to evaluate the information that they are retrieving.

  • From a Historical Society:

Our Historical Society library site is housed within the main Society site. The library site offers online access to our catalog, to information about our research services, and to many indexes and study guides that educate about our collections. Patrons can email questions to library staff (or call or write).

We have participated in several partnership projects that expand access to our collections. Feedback from patrons indicates that they are very pleased with the resources we have published online, and want us to continue to provide this sort of access to collections and information about collections.

  • From a public library:

Our library webmaster is committed to using standards to unify access for all users. The standards we are working on incorporating are WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) and Section 508 which is a federal government standard. She has used XHTML (extensible hypertext markup language), CSS (cascading style sheets) and is starting to use Dreamweaver (web development tool) and PHP (server-side HTML embedded scripting language). Due to the time it takes to make our web site standards compliant we have not been able to do any of the blogs, etc. Our library web master has time constraints because she is also one of our reference librarians.

  • From a public library:

We are in the process of redesigning our web site for greater access to subscription databases. Also, we will be featuring reader e-newsletters through web interface from We will be a pilot library.

This month we are promoting downloadable audio books from our web site. This is a new service, and one in which we hope will link the library with customers who do not ordinarily have an in-library presence. The audio books can only be downloaded from a home or work computer, not in the library.

We do email reference from the web site. We are not using chat or blogging.

Forums and Listservs

Online Book Clubs


  • Ann Arbor District Library Blogs - The Ann Arbor District Library has a number of blogs on their website. They include:
    • Director's Blog
    • Library News Blog
    • Events Blog
    • Audio Blog
    • Books Blog
    • Video Blog
    • Research Blog
    • AXIS Blog (Teen-oriented services and gaming)
    • Teen Blog
    • Adult's Blog
    • Kids' Blog
    • and more!

Posts are tagged with one or more categories so that each post can be in more than one blog (for example "teens" and "events" or "kids" and "audio".

On all of these blogs, the AADL has chosen to leave comments open, which has led to some interesting online discussions between the library staff and their patrons. Technological changes, the website's redesign, and library construction plans have inspired many comments -- some positive, some negative, but all useful. One item about the library's system to e-mail due date notices on books ended up with 25 comments while a post about gaming tournaments ended up with over 60 comments! This is a great model that could be used in other libraries. Blogs are a fantastic tool for disseminating information to patrons, but it is also a great tool for soliciting useful feedback from patrons if a library is willing to allow and encourage patron comments. This is a great way to develop an online community and a better relationship with your patrons!

  • From a WebJunction member:

I just finished setting up an internal blog for the use of our staff in order to foster communication and teamwork between our six branches. This was my final project for my Internet Applications class that I am taking as part of my MLIS studies. I had to write a paper outlining the steps of the project and I also prepared a handout explaining the use of and how to's of the Blog for the employees.


Flickr,, Furl, and other social software

  • From a WebJunction member:

We are in the process of redesigning our library website. In discussions with my colleagues, they have been bemoaning that no one uses their websites a lot. They connect to their catalog or remote databases maybe check their calendar but that is about it. I think the future in making library websites attract users is by letting our users contribute to our websites. We have just started podcasting. Right now the podcoasts are mostly kids, but we will expand it to adults soon. I also plan to have a blog on our website where everyone can talk about books, programs, etc.

  • Internet Librarians ( bookmark group):

Internet tools, tips, and resources for librarians of every stripe.

Instant Messaging

  • Check out the wiki section on virtual reference services for relevant articles, success stories, and a list of libraries that use IM.

Great Examples of Online Communities Among Librarians

General Online Communities

  • Blended Librarian
  • WebJunction
  • Info Island Library Community in Second Life



  • Nexgenlib-L
  • Web4Lib


  • LISNews is a collaborative weblog dedicated to reporting news and discussing current events in the library world. It is an open community where any librarian can post stories and comment on posts, making it far more of a "conversation" than the average blog.


Blogs and Websites to Watch

  • BlogJunction from the folks at WebJunction
  • Blogging Libraries Wiki - a comprehensive list of library blogs
  • John Blyberg’s librarian blog

Specific Blog Posts, Articles, and Presentations

  • Hill, Chrystie. Everything I Need To Know I Learned Online. Library Journal (Feb 2005).