How our community of practice survived (and thrived) in 2020
VALA2022 Lightning Talk
- University of Wollongong
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What does a community of practice look like if they don’t practice anything? How do you operate a community of practice if the community changes with every meeting? What’s the point of a community of practice, anyway?
In February 2020 when a group of library staff met at a café on campus to talk about starting a community of practice (CoP) about user experience (UX), none of us could have imagined that we would experience a year of such rapid growth and innovation in the middle of a global pandemic. Surrounded by disruption, our CoP had to change and adapt before it had even taken shape. In the spirit of experimentation and with growth mindsets, we disregarded the idea of what a community of practice should be and made our own path.
The University of Wollongong (UOW) Library enables a flexible, skilled workforce through professional development activities outlined in the Future Ready Library Strategy. In 2020, UOW Library’s digital dexterity program initiated several internal communities of practice, including the UX CoP. There was growing staff interest in UX as we realised all library services have an impact on user experience. While many of us worked from home, these CoPs operated online through Microsoft Teams. Through this digital environment, rather than face-to-face, we were able to transcend geographic locations and include our diverse staff profile at all organisational levels.
The field of UX embraces human-centredness and inclusivity (valuable practices pre- and post-pandemic) and this became a foundation for the how the UX CoP would operate in the digital environment. The group was diverse, with people from all teams dropping in and out of discussions. We were agile with asynchronous conversations. We were collaborative and creative, with likeminded and curious people upskilling and reskilling in core skills such as critical and analytical thinking, public speaking, planning, collaboration, networking and using new technologies.
The UX CoP became an open forum for sharing, exploring, listening, unpacking, understanding, and reflecting; we made connections during a time that was incredibly isolating, and it was a safe place to learn new things during a time that was stressful.
While the community of practice was strategic we didn’t focus on creating tangible outputs, meeting KPIs or tracking metrics. Our goal was to learn something new, and this resulted in a range of complementary benefits to our staff and UOW Library. Staff anecdotally said they felt more confident, more empathetic, and more aware of biases, perspectives and UX due to their involvement in the CoP. This positively impacted their everyday work, from interactions with clients to how we think about our collections.
The CoP gave our people a purpose, and this learning process was reciprocal; the more we learned, the more our staff shared knowledge, evolved in our roles and became multidisciplinary, human-centred individuals. We keep the user in mind in all that we do for UOW Library and this UX focus will position us well as knowledge workers of the future.
Christina Salopek is a Resource Sharing Officer at the University of Wollongong Library. Her team is responsible for Subject Readings, Document Delivery, and supplying Inter Library Loans for its clients and reciprocal suppliers. Christina has a background in heritage and the cultural arts sector and has a keen interest in content development and learning about new ways of learning and engaging in the online environment for the user. You can find her on Twitter: @ChristinaSalop1
Kyra Thomsen (she/her) is the University of Wollongong Library’s Digital User Experience Lead; her team’s goal in the Library is to improve client experiences by understanding, anticipating and meeting user needs. With a background in content strategy and creative writing, Kyra is fascinated by the user story behind every mouse click and mobile swipe. You can find her on Twitter: @ContentWithKyra
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