Researchers in fields like new media studies have been investigating how users participate in self-selected communities and pursue learning in informal spaces. Since this is a library IDT blog, I’m especially interested in finding ways for libraries to support that kind of user-driven, self-motivated exploration. Can we use research from other fields to figure out what our users need and sneakily foster informal learning?

For example, cultural anthropologist Mimi Ito recently published a book on youths’ everyday learning and new media engagement. She and her co-authors say that user engagement falls into two major categories: friendship-driven and interest-driven. When someone is “hanging out,” their behaviors are driven by their friend group. When they’re “geeking out,” their behaviors are motivated by an interest in a particular topic. Peer-based learning can happen in both of those settings. A third genre of participation, “messing around,” can bridge the gap between “hanging out” and “geeking out.”

What does this mean for libraries? For one, it validates the importance of providing “hanging out” space (either physical or virtual) in community centers like libraries so users can explore friendship-driven learning. For another, it underlines the need to provide resources and materials for “geeking out,” like sponsoring meetings of a local anime club or (in dream-budget land) purchasing a 3D printer.