Death of a community

Ok, so it's really two communities, and two near-deaths. But that's not as "grabby" as the header, so tough.

Yesterday I went to a meeting of my local school librarian's association. I'd previously worked on the Board for many years, editing the newsletter and helping set up the website and elists. Three years ago, I decided that I couldn't give my all to the Board work (partly because I was sick, and partly because I'd started doing a lot of work Knowledge Quest). But I still care deeply about the local organization and want it to do well. It hasn't. Member participation is low, the newsletter is almost defunct, the website is a travesty rather than a resource, rules and procedures are rarely followed, etc.. That saddens me. What saddens me more is that I'm apparently the only one that's upset by this. The President even said so, adding that it's difficult for people to be involved in this day and age. No one responds to e-mails, surveys, etc.. The association seems to be near-death.

I've belonged to an on-line booklovers community for almost ten years, following it from one site to another and various permutations. Again, member participation has dropped off, and the majority of people posting are involved with games and not book discussions. This is another group I care deeply about, and it's also in a near-death situation.

I know that people change, that interests and loyalties and commitments change. What's important one year is less so the next, and sometimes choices have to be made as to what you devote your time to. But successful communities have fresh blood, newcomers that can take the place of oldtimers, infusing the community with new energy and new ideas. I don't see that happening as much in these two "homes".

Sometimes I wonder if I'm this upset because it calls into question my judgment. It's like breaking up with someone: was it my fault? why am I the only one emotionally invested? why don't others care? if I'm it, maybe it's because I'm making wrong choices...

I know that the Boards of each place are invested: they care. But if the greater membership doesn't seem to, if participation and new blood aren't happening, there's a part of me that thinks "just pull the plug". Maybe, if they're not there, people will realize what they've lost and agitate to regroup/reform. And if no one does, then it's sad but it's part of learning and growing.

Today's maudlin thoughts are being brought to you by Lipton's Cup-o-Soup.

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camillofan said...

I belong to two struggling communities myself (and no, even though I'm a member of your online booklovers' group, that organization actually isn't one of the ones I had in mind). The problem for me is that I have reached a stage in my life when, after years (I'm talking 25 years!) of willingly, eagerly, and devotedly being a lynch-pin member of every organization I joined, I simply cannot be in charge of anything. I am sure that the circumstances of my life will change again, and perhaps in five or six years I'll once again be able to say "yes" to everything anyone asks of me. But for right now I'd simply like to be able to maintain my involvement in my groups by being one of the rank-and-file members, and nothing more. Yes, I'm talking about being the equivalent of a tithe-contributing pew-sitter in church-- temporarily. No committee memberships; no cookie baking. One of the "takers" instead of one of the "givers"... for a little while.

Unfortunately, however, that's all anyone else seems willing to be, so the two groups I have in mind are floundering. I keep thinking, "Where are the 30-40 year-olds who have the energy, passion, and time that I had when I was that age? And why aren't they taking their turn?" Is it utterly irrational for me to feel a tiny bit resentful? Is the only honorable choice for a person in my position to quit a group altogether? That seems extreme. Back when I was able to be at the center of everything, I never thought that the non-leaders might as well leave the group. From each according to his abilities, etc., etc.

Okay, all that said, I'll add that I'm interested to see you commenting about the online book group in this context. If you're talking about the group we've both been members of for almost 7 years, it seems to me that things haven't changed all that much since the migrations began in 2001. I have accepted that our glory days, the days of weekly genre chats hosted by people who could be counted on to show up because they were being paid $100 a month in Amazon g.c.s to lead the conversations, are gone forever.

[And if you're not talking about our shared book community, then, in the words of the great Emily Litella, "Never mind."]

Lazygal said...

Cam, yes, ours is one of those communities. It's not just the weekly genre chats I miss (although I do miss them), it's the fact that posting today seems to mostly be either a "I'm reading this", "here's a list of what I like", or an entry on one of the game forums. There's little conversation (HP6 and JS&MN are two rare exceptions) any more. Several people have left - mostly in anger, but one or two because life has overtaken them. Newbies post once or twice, and that's it.

I'd love to see a real effort to restart conversations about books, authors, genres. And to attract and keep new members. But that's more than one person's effort, it takes a group to make that happen.

camillofan said...

I do think it hurt us when the current events people left in anger. I didn't share their politics, but I thought it was probably wrong to delete their board, and it took some smart and energetic people out of the community.

Lazygal said...

I never thought they should have a board - much as I don't like the Title Tag stuff - because it's not about books. Current events are fine, and if you want to talk about a book on current events (eg, "In the Time of Madness" by Perry, about Indonesia), I'm all for it. But political discourse isn't discussing books, which is what this site is supposed to be about. It's a pity they didn't stay, but if all they wanted was to yell about their political beliefs and harrass others for theirs, then good riddance.

camillofan said...

It's telling, though, that the people in question were mostly old-timers-- folks from the CyberSites days. The old ReadersVine, as you well remember, was a community within a network of communities, and part of the fun for a lot of members was meeting the same folks in different guises at different Vines and interacting with those folks in many different ways. At one place we talked books, at another we talked history & politics, over there we talked music... (*pauses to dab away a tear* ) I'm someone who always regarded Readers as her "home" Vine, but for whom the variety was an important component of the whole experience. For instance, it always added something to my literary conversations with Lizzie that I also knew her on MusicVine as a classical pianist and choral singer; but these things just don't come up at TRP.

TRP, of course, is not TRV, but it was an offshoot, and because of that I think people can be forgiven (even now) for wishing that it could be (and even for trying to make it) as similar to what they had (and loved) as possible. Again to use myself as an example, I used to agitate for real-time chats at TRP, because they were the absolute core of my experience at TRV. Evidently that wasn't the case for enough other people, though, because TRP never became a chatting community.

One could say the same about grams (IMs). Lots of perfectly good forums don't have them, but TRV did, so it still feels (to me, an old-timer) like a deficiency that TRP doesn't (and grams were a great place the sort of off-topic, non-book conversation to which it might seem inappropriate to devote a whole board).

So I guess what I'm saying is this: there's a case for not having a politics board on a literature forum; however, given the origins of our particular group, we paid a high price for eliminating it.

Lazygal said...

Cam, I too miss the IMs (Ponderable and I really got to know each other that way) and the chats. Perhaps with more interest, we could have kept them at the various TRPs, but even with the politically minded, they didn't work.

Aravis said...

For all that there were complaints about the existence of our boards, they were the most active with the exception of A Clean, Well-lighted Place. They were separated from the rest of the community so that nobody had to read them who didn't want to, just as one can change the channel on the tv if you don't like what's on. There were a lot of members who didn't participate on those boards and who disagreed with Robert and Wyn who were still upset by how we were treated and dismissed. They wrote to me about it, and some have also stopped going to TRP. Deleting those boards wasn't as popular as you might think.

But then, we never saw eye to eye on this and never will. You've always wanted everything far more regimented there than I did. On the other hand, I agree with you that there isn't really any discussion happening at TRP in the forums, and there hasn't been for a very long time. I've got too much else to do that interests me. There's far more interaction in blogging than in TRP, where I often felt as though I was talking to myself.

As for the failure of the chats, we kept scheduling them and nobody would show up. There was no point. The old IM system was much better, I agree. As I recall the current message system was initially just supposed to be a temporary measure. The program CoCo used for the site was buggy with the old IM's and she planned to figure it out, but then her life got crazy and it was decided that this method would do fine.

For CoCo and Karmon, TRP is a hobby. A fun hobby, but a hobby nonetheless. As you say, they don't get paid and in fact steadily lose money keeping it going. I applaud them for their efforts even though I haven't always agreed with them, and I know you do too. :0)

Lazygal said...

Ah, but Aravis, one of my complaints was that I was verbally attacked for my beliefs (by more than one person - one of whom I thought was my friend).

It's not just a question of regimentation, it's a question of purpose. What is TRP about? It's about books. Bashing Bush isn't discussing books. That's simple. I agree that the way that board was shut down was not handled well, but it also didn't fit with the mission of TRP.

As for those of you wondering about the other community, I've received an e-mail from a friend from there, agreeing with my analysis of the "slow death". She wrote I think at least part of the leadership problem has to be that the same group of 45-60 year olds are tired of always having to lead - fair enough. But the 30-45 year olds are, perhaps, too consumed by thoughts of their ovaries or with the products of said organs, or alternatively maybe with getting established at new jobs or in marriages or the like, to be bothered with library
associations. What we need is an influx of 25-30 year olds like I once was, full of energy and righteousness and not yet squashed and burnt out. But we all know the profession just isn't pulling those young people in. It's going to be an interesting next two decades in our field.

camillofan said...

Except for the snarky reference to people who are having children and actually want to devote time to them (how common! that reproduction thing really ought to be left to the illiterate! ), your librarian friend's words might have been written by me about several groups I'm in.

Lazygal said...

Cam, my friend actually reads this blog... and her comments reflect a near obsession (she's trying very hard to get pregnant, and having a great many problems).

camillofan said...

Then I humbly repent of my own snarkiness. I have been in that position myself, and it has, I suppose, made me hyper-sensitive to remarks about people being caught up in the reproduction thing to the exclusion of other concerns. I read the words "too consumed with," and misinterpreted her comment.

LydiaM said...

We've have some seemingly interesting new people drift through TRP, but they don't stay. How *do* we get them to hang around?

I also find TRP can get a bit lonely for people who don't read much in the way of mystery or science fiction/fantasy. Where are all the people who read fiction that wasn't published in the last year, biographies, science stuff, poetry, etc???