Module III - Collaboration

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This online course is offered to MLIS students in North America in 2015



Go back to: LIBR 559M - Social Media for Information Professionals - Online Modules

Collaboration is a critical skill in librarianship

Learning objectives

After completing module III "Collaboration", you will be able to:

  • Discuss importance of digital collaboration for information professionals and knowledge-based organizations
  • Discuss Metcalfe's law, crowdsourcing and smart mobs (i.e. wisdom of the crowd)
  • Discuss questions in can we afford not to collaborate?
  • List trends in collaboration including tools that facilitate it i.e. Google Docs and collaboration
  • Position social media in a larger (macro) global and sociocultural context for collaborative learning in the digital age


To begin module III on collaboration, complete the following:

  • Instructor's presentation in week I (third presentation)
  • As you listen to the presentation, consider some of the following concepts:
    • Browse the new journal called Collaborative librarianship
    • How can library and information professionals improve on their existing collaborative practices?
    • Is collaboration important in the information professions? Why is it important?
    • Either in the social cafe or on your blog explore some of these questions (again, no minimum or maximum posting), and what might be optimum in information organizations:
    • What is the role of social media in government? democratization (revolution) around the world? in distributed labour markets, hybrid economies, or even globalization - why might this be important for library users? What role do libraries play in this kind of civic engagement? Can one get an accurate sense of community in digital spaces?
  • Read Russell J. (2008). Wikis and Collaborative Reference Services. Sarah K. Steiner / M. Leslie Madden (eds.) In: The Desk and Beyond: Next Generation Reference Services. Association of College and Research Libraries pg. 99-105.
  • Group activity: write a group entry/article of ~1000 words for the class wiki
  • Select a topic (or formulate one of your own) to write about collaboratively, such as:
    • "An introduction to social cataloguing"
    • "Group blogs in information organizations: reference, instruction & outreach"
    • "Using wikis in reference services: an overview"
    • "Using Twitter for "information push": some examples"
    • "An overview of RSS feeds in informing faculty about research"


For information professionals, collaboration is an essential part of working towards and achieving professional and organizational goals. Most online networks created through collaboration - especially where different professional groups depend on and are accountable to each other - set their own rules of engagement but hold enormous potential in trying to solve some of society's biggest problems. Many facets of this new form of collaboration are conducted in virtual, computer-supported environments using social media.

In a traditional sense, collaboration is a natural, recursive process. It refers to situations where two or more people (organizations, even) form mutually-beneficial partnerships in order to share ideas and work together. It can even refer to business transactions which require the precursors of meeting, conversation and other forms of interaction. According to Lawrence Lessig, new collaborations in the hybrid economy spring from the 'read-write' culture of social media, and neither copyright nor legal barriers should prevent them from flourishing.

In Christopher Allen's 2004 essay Tracing the Evolution of Social Software the evolution of terms such as "groupware" and "computer–supported collaborative work" and "social software" speaks to the rise in using social media to work in groups. What are the long-term benefits of collaboration? Are there examples in history where this can truly be demonstrated?

Often, collaborative groups have common goals and hope to reach them by sharing information and building something larger than themselves. In the context of social media, collaboration across organizations, networks and time-space barriers cannot happen without open, transparent and egalitarian processes in place. A decentralized model of control may be in effect, but above all a desire to create something new for the common good must also be present.

Quotations pertinent to collaborative online environments

  • "Collaboration, with respect to information technology, seems to have several definitions. Some are defensible but others are so broad they lose any meaningful application. Understanding the differences in human interactions is necessary to ensure the appropriate technologies are employed to meet interaction needs. There are three primary ways in which humans interact: conversations, transactions, and collaborations." Collaborative software - Wikipedia entry

  • "The instantaneous sharing of ideas has made collaborative work dramatically easier on the web. Groups can easily form, communicate and test ideas even given specific, niche interests. An example of this is the free software movement such as GNU, Linux, Mozilla, and Ubuntu. Some other examples of products created by means of commons-based peer production include Slashdot, a news and announcements website; Kuro5hin, a discussion site for technology and culture; Wikipedia, an online encyclopedia; Clickworkers, a collaborative scientific work. Another example is Socialtext which is a software that uses tools such as wikis and weblogs and helps organizations to create collaborative environments."

  • The concept of the "Self-Organizing Innovation Network" is described by Robert Rycroft of the Elliott School of International Affairs of George Washington University as: "The most valuable and complex technologies are increasingly innovated by networks that self-organize. Networks are those linked organizations (e.g., firms, universities, government agencies) that create, acquire, and integrate diverse knowledge and skills required to innovate complex technologies (e.g., aircraft, telecommunications equipment). In other words, innovation networks are organized around constant learning. Self-organization refers to the capacity these networks have for combining and recombining these learned capabilities without centralized, detailed managerial guidance. The proliferation of self-organizing innovation networks may be linked to many factors, but a key one seems to be increasing globalization. Indeed, globalization and self-organizing networks may be coevolving. Changes in the organization of the innovation process appear to have facilitated the broadening geographical linkages of products, processes, and markets. At the same time, globalization seems to induce cooperation among innovative organizations."
    Robert Rycroft. Self-organizing innovation networks: implications for globalization. Technovation 24, 3, March 2004, Pages 187-197.

Associated memes

  • massively distributed collaboration; networked learning; networked society
  • Collaborative Working Environments (CWEs)
  • Self-Organizing Innovation Networks
  • cooperate - collaborate: work together on a common enterprise of project
  • act of working jointly
  • sports teams; football "huddle"
  • collaborators = turncoats
  • communes; kibbutz
  • John Hegel theory of community -- community leads to content

Related concepts

  • community of practice; communities; teams; team-based science
  • to work or act together, for a common purpose or benefit;
  • to allow for mutual unobstructed action; to function in harmony, side by side

Explorations - major tools for collaboration

As you move through your web-surfing of social media, reflect on how these tools might be utilized by information professionals.

As you have seen, social media can take many different forms; some of the most-widely used tools include: blogs, vlogs, instant messaging, music-sharing, voice over IP, wikis, social bookmarking and networking sites. Social media applications include Google Groups (reference, social networking), Wikipedia (reference), MySpace (social networking), Facebook (social networking), (product reviews), Youmeo (social network aggregation), (personal music), YouTube (social networking and video sharing), Avatars United (social networking), Second Life (virtual reality), Flickr (photo sharing), Twitter and Yammer (social networking and microblogging). Social media can be integrated using social network aggregation platforms like Mybloglog, Ning and Plaxo.

Final reflections

  • A critical question, as we move forward in creating content using social media, is so what?
  • What does all of this sharing and collaboration mean for information professionals?
  • Haven't we always shared and collaborated?
  • As we move into module IV, consider some of these questions; can we facilitate the creation of new knowledge through the use of social media?
  • Explore one (or more) of these questions in the forums, Wimba classroom, on your blog or engage with someone in a forum with which you feel comfortable.

Other exploration

Personal tools