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D4L Community Module

Engaging with Learners - How to Develop Your Community

Case Studies of Online Learning - #critlib

2 #critlib

These answers were provided by Jenna Freedman, one of the co-creators and co-moderators of the #critlib community and the Associate Director of Communications & Zine Librarian at the Barnard College Library. 

For people who aren’t familiar with this community, where should they explore to find out more about it?

Thanks for starting off with an easy question! Go to the about page ( of our website (

What are a few of the most interesting features of this community?

I think in librarianship there's an assumption that most of us in the profession are politically and culturally liberal. #critlib is one of the places in librarianship where neoliberalism is assumed--and problematized.

Despite the fact that the point of our existence is being critical, I think it's important to mention that we work hard to be hospitable, supportive, and welcoming. We also turn our critical eye upon ourselves.

What’s it like to participate in this community?

This might be a better question for participants not involved in our small group of "leaders." I scare quoted "leaders" because we're really more like organizers or a clearing house at this point. It may sound hokey or disingenuous, but the group is both leaderful and leaderless. Leaderful, because anyone can volunteer to lead one of our biweekly chats.

But getting back to the question, speaking only for myself--It's fun and informative, inspiring, and great for getting to internet-know people whose work you admire. The chats themselves are--and this may sound ridiculous--blood pumping because they go so fast. I usually have three Twitter tabs open, one for live #critlib posts, one for notifications, and one for messages. I'll have the blog post with the questions in another tab. There's a lot of fast processing, liking, and trying to figure out how to say what you want to say within the character limit.

To be honest, there are times when I wish the chats allowed for more reflection, which is why it's nice that there are in-person events, as well. We--and when I say "we," I mean different people and groups organizing events, some with the core moderators, some not--held an unconference before the 2015 ACRL conference (, where we got to spend a whole day talking face-to-face. Another group has a two-day theory workshop scheduled for December 2016 ( that should allow for deeper discussions than can be had on Twitter.

What I'm saying is, and I hope this is true, participating in the community is whatever the participants make it. There isn't one monolithic body making stuff happen, people just get together and do cool stuff.

What do participants put into it?

At a minimum, they follow the chats, which happen every other week. They alternate between Monday during the day and Tuesday evenings (North America-ly speaking). It's nice when a wide variety of folks feel inspired or empowered to respond to the questions posted by the session's moderator or respond to other responses. It's very nice when a wide variety of folks feel inspired or empowered to moderate sessions. People can participate by attending or coordinating conferences or meetups as I mentioned in the previous question. There's a map on our website ( if people want to find local #critlib-bers.


What do they get out of it?

Again, I can't speak for everyone, so I'll just say what I get out of it. I get to dedicate two hours a month to thinking critically about librarianship on different topics, some I know something about, and some that are new to me. I get to interact with smart, interesting people, some of whom I know, and some who are new to me.

The chats and face-to-face events inform my practice--how I teach, how I interact with colleagues, how I think about cataloging--really every aspect of librarianship AND LIFE. :) I've also learned more about critical theory than I did in my undergraduate theater major and LIS degree.

How did this community get started? What kind of steps were involved?

Nicole Pagowsky ( thought it up and reached out to people she wanted to work with. She/we followed protocols already standard in Twitter chats, notably #libchat ( 

What do/did you do to maintain this community? What kind of issues do/did you have to troubleshoot?

We take turns administering chat topic proposals (which Violet Fox ( has been doing this whole academic year and designing, updating, and maintaining our website, so thank you, Violet!), and we show up to the chats as often as we can. When I am on a chat, I feel responsible for making sure the chat moderator feels supported and that people don't get into attacking each other. That hasn't happened in any significant way, but it is something I'm thinking about when I'm participating.

What other advice can you offer about online learning communities?

Have women and people of color involved in the leadership. Consider how privilege informs dynamics in your community and take steps to protect and empower participants from marginalized groups. When things get tense, or just for fun, encourage people to post photos of baby animals (including humans, if that's what they're into).

This project is administered by the South Central Regional Library Council with funding from the Institue for Museum and Library Services.