You must earn your place in communities

I’m reading ‘Trust Agents‘ by Chris Brogan and Julien Smith right now and I have to say I’m learning a lot! One part that I feel bears repeating here (that I didn’t learn from the book – but from real life) is about joining communities – the right way.

I think the following quote from the book applies to many of the things I teach librarians (social networking, web 2.0 and of course open source), and while it focuses on business, it applies very much to us as well.

Simply too many companies attempt to jump into the fray on social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter and immediately endeavor to peddle their wares. They don’t realize that we all know each other, that we recognize the new stranger in our midst and that we are feeling “marketed to” long before we’ve been properly introduced. 1

As I stated before, even though this mentions specific networks, it applies just as equally to open source networks/communities.

Earlier in the book, Chris and Julien talk about how companies (and libraries) can screw up when joining or participating in an existing community – and how to fix it!

In most cases, the way to fix misunderstandings and earn back respect requires asserting the appropriate combination of deference, respect, and humility. If you are genuine in your efforts, the next step after realizing that the community has pushed back is to apologize. Even if you feel you’re in the right, stat by saying, “I’m sorry.” Next, be humble and learn what the community is teaching … The most important element is a consistent stream of communication back to the “wronged” individuals in the community. 2

And to that I’d add a quote from Wikinomics by Dan Tascott and Anthony Williams:

Critiquing the community is a right reserved for those who have proved themselves by making valuable contributions.3.

As library professionals we often stick to reading/studying things specifically geared to us, but I find it often helpful to branch out and read books that have been categorized as ‘business’ books because we can learn just as much from them. As I finish reading ‘Trust Agents’ I may have more to share with you all.

1. Brogan, Chris, and Julien Smith. “You must earn your place in communities.” In Trust Agents, 106-108. Rev Upd. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley, 2010.
2.———. “How to screw up (and how to fix it).” In Trust Agents, 100-101. Rev Upd. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley, 2010.
3. Tapscott, Don, and Anthony D. Williams. “Embracing open source culture and strategy.” In Wikinomics: How mass collaboration changes everything, 82-83. Expanded Edition. New York, NY: Penguin USA, 2008.


  1. Agree, totally, Nicole. Really great post bringing light to an important aspect of community building.

  2. That last quote about critiquing the community is an issue I’ve run into again and again while participating in the Koha project. People mail the list or pop onto IRC and say, “Gee you guys are doing this all wrong.” My favorite is “You should re-write Koha in [insert favorite programming language here].”

  3. Owen, I haven’t seen that last one yet – but I’m sure it happens in all projects 😉

  4. Hey Nicole

    I like this idea of a twitter newspaper. I think it has app. Potential in libraries.

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