Issue 43, 2019-02-14

Editorial: Just Enough of a Shared Vision

What makes a vibrant community? A shared vision! When we live into a shared vision, we can accomplish big goals even when our motivations are not completely aligned.

by Peter Murray, issue 43 coordinating editor

I love my job, and I love this profession. That is, I get excited about my job as the open source community advocate at Index Data and am an eager participant in the library technology profession because we freely share our knowledge and experiences. I will take as a given that I have both a myopic view and rose-colored glasses. [1] (Myopic because there may be other professions that have similar inclinations to share expertise and experiences; if so, I’d love to compare notes! Rose-colored…well, you can be the judge.) Let me explain.

In my day job working on the FOLIO Project, I alternate between astonishment at how well the community works towards the same goal and unease at not knowing how-and-why it works the way it does. (Or worse: that one misstep could bring the project’s community crashing down.) This isn’t to say that the project doesn’t have rough edges; there have been disagreements over priorities, technical approaches, and other concerns. Instead, the community seems to get stronger as it works through those disagreements and adds more partners.

The same can be said about the Code4Lib community. Sixteen years ago some colleagues got together to shared their expertise and experiences – first on a mailing list, then an IRC channel. Out of that sprang national meetings (America and Japan that I know of), numerous regional meetings, this Journal, and a Slack team. (Did I miss anything?) We’ve been through our struggles — figuring out if we’ve grown into needing a fiscal agent and who that fiscal agent would be, for example. People have left the community, and new people have joined.

Why does this work? Can preconditions be set to strengthen the chance that a community will succeed? Much has been written and talked about best practices for healthy communities, and I want to add to that body of thought. So here is my take — let’s call it the “Just Enough of a Shared Vision” theory.

The Just-Enough-of-a-Shared-Vision Theory

I think there is a crucial need for a common understanding of what a community is about. This common understanding needs to be ingrained so deeply in the community that the participants are guided by this shared vision when they are not consciously thinking about it. And further, that there is a close alignment of one’s personal goals, one’s organizations’ goals, and the community goals. Or, put another way, all three (the person, the organization, and the community) are getting benefits for the effort.

What might this look like? One year’s conference organizers generously share their knowledge with the next year’s organizers. A beginner’s question on a mailing list is answered by half a dozen people with personal stories of hard-won wisdom. And yes, a new author is inspired by previous writings in the Code4Lib Journal and wants to share their own experiences. (Or become a volunteer editor for the Journal!)

Viewed this way, we might be able to work out how to create a shared vision for a vibrant community. I think it comes in three parts.

Openness to sharing the vision. This openness takes the form of community members being willing to live into the community’s vision and an innate acceptance of those who say they are living into the same vision.

Openness to being wrong. While sharing the vision, the community members know that the community is not perfect; that there are misunderstandings, blind spots, and inadequacies.

Openness to new ideas. The building of the community is never done; it is a journey of experiments in doing things better and learning from each other.

The community’s vision is attractive to people and organizations. People grow in experience and personal connections. Library patrons are better off through services improved by that experience and personal connections. Organizations take from the community in proportion to what they give to the community. And the community moves forward.

In a community consisting of libraries and non-profits, I think much of this comes naturally. When commercial ventures are added to the mix, community members can wonder about motivations. Is the company going to put into the community in proportion to the benefit they receive? It is here that we lean on the “Just Enough” part of the theory. The goals of the community and of the organizations involved do not need to align perfectly, and they probably never will. But there needs to be close enough alignment and openness in communication so the rest of the community members understand the alignment.

This means that decisions are made in such a way that the goals of a participating organization are met and the goals of the community are met. That when decisions are out of balance between the organization and the community, the community has an instinctive reaction to guide the process back to balance. And I get that while this is easy to say, it is hard in practice and in specific circumstances. If the shared vision is strong enough and inclusive enough, though – wow, that is a place I’d love to be.

Introduction to Issue 43

Issue 43 has seven articles.

Inspired by something you see here? Please consider submitting an idea for an article to the Code4Lib Journal.

Thank you, Carol

In the course of putting together this issue, Code4Lib Journal Editor Carol Bean finished retiring from the journal. (Andrew said goodbye in his editorial in the last issue, but it has taken this long to complete the process!) Carol volunteered as an editor for the Journal’s first issue, and over the course of the next 42 issues she eagerly offered her insights and keen copyeditor eye. Over the last few months she has transferred her knowledge and her responsibilities to other members of the editorial committee, and with a full-throated voice we say “Thank you, Carol!”


[1] “rose-colored glasses” — An optimistic perception of something; a positive opinion; seeing something in a positive way, often thinking of it as better than it actually is. (See Wiktionary definition.) I’m also grateful for colleagues like Filip that make me think of broader geographic and cultural communities, and so I now think about including explanations of idioms when I use them.

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