What Makes an Organization A Good One?: Another Insight from “Communities of Practice and Social Learning Systems”

In his seminal paper “Communities of Practice and Social Learning Systems,” Etienne Wenger argues that “the success of an organization depends on their ability to design themselves as social learning systems and also to participate in broader learning systems” (226). This is interesting, for it suggests that successful libraries and departments (and the librarians who make them up) are dynamic and learning oriented. Wenger calls this focus enterprise, or the level of learning energy inherent in an organization. He writes:

How much initiative does the community take in keeping learning at the center of its enterprise? A community must show leadership in pushing its development along and maintaining a spirit of inquiry. It must recognize and address gaps in its knowledge as well as remain open to emergent directions and opportunities (230).

And since, for Wenger, “[c]ommunities of practice depend on internal leadership,” it would seem to follow that one of the major tasks of an organizational leader is creating and maintaining an environment of enterprise, and putting learning at the forefront of the organization. This, to me, is a really interesting element of leadership, and one we might not necessarily automatically think of when we think of leading. But, increasingly, I think it’s central to good organizations and good organizational culture.

What do other librarians think? Is the “learning energy” of your library important to you?  How do you contribute to the learning energy at your library? What challenges do you face promoting learning in your library? Let’s discuss!


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Filed under Education, Library Instruction, On Being Human, Posts by Kevin Michael Klipfel, The Library Game

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