The opening keynote of the 2023 AALL Annual Meeting asked attendees to consider the definition of community. The speaker was Charles Vogl, author of bestselling books on the nature of human connection. Community, he proposed, is a group of people who share a mutual concern with each other. Attending this year’s AALL for the first time, I am flooded with a sense of community.
Vogl started the morning by asking us to meditate on and share our experiences with loneliness. It sounds intimidating written out – tell the strangers around you about the time you felt pain. But the conversation focused on creating a sense of empathy in the room – and with the people we consider our visitors and customers.
There are two strategies in community building, he posited. One is extractive. The community organizer is reaching out for time, attention, or money. The second is enriching. It provides value that goes beyond engagement numbers and profit to address the big question: what are you giving out? What networks are you creating? Vogl used this foundation to talk about the value of invitation in community building.
When we track community engagement, often we just track numbers. How many people attended, who responded? Vogl counseled us that building community isn’t about how many social media followers you have, or how long your email list runs. You can’t achieve community with rare events or special promotions – it’s about sharing many moments together.
Frequent invitations are powerful. It doesn’t matter if people accept them or not. When we receive an invitation, Vogl explained, we are telling people that they matter – that they belong in our spaces or within our services. Even if people can’t show up, that outreach matters and someday it may even translate to larger returns.
Just one simple invitation is enough to help a new employee feel connected profoundly to work. Our outreach is often pointed outside, when it’s the interior work that can invigorate the organization. Just fifteen minutes of somebody’s time could change a life.
The meeting theme “Map our Future” has been framed as a reinvigoration of our professional lives in the wake of the pandemic’s disruption. I joined LLAW in 2007 immediately after joining the staff at the State Law Library. This Chapter has long been a valuable source of community for me. It’s a place to share ideas, to commiserate, and to brainstorm new efforts for the legal community in our state. Over the years, my ability to participate has fluctuated severely. But the patient, persistent invitations to connect and learn have been invaluable. They anchored me in ways I didn’t see clearly.
My takeaway from Vogl was that patience, persistence, and openness are key – and that’s something I’ve always been able to find with LLAW.
Wisconsin State Law Library
Carol was lucky to receive an LLAW grant award to help her to attend the 2023 AALL Annual Meeting. Watch this blog for more on her conference experience.