Notes on "Collaborating with Strangers: Facilitating Workshops in Libraries, Classes, and Nonprofits"

 Collaborating with Strangers: Facilitating Workshops in Libraries, Classes, and Nonprofits Bess G. de Farber, April Hines, and Barbara J. HoodCollaborating with Strangers: Facilitating Workshops in Libraries, Classes, and Nonprofits
Bess G. de Farber, April Hines, and Barbara J. Hood
Item Number: 978-0-8389-1542-4
Publisher: ALA Neal-Schuman

I’m super thankful to work with the fabulous Bess de Farber, Grants Manager for the UF Libraries and lead author (with April Hines and Barbara Hood) of Collaborating with Strangers: Facilitating Workshops in Libraries, Classes, and Nonprofits. Released in 2017, Collaborating with Strangers distills experience drawn across many years, fields, institutions, and communities to provide a workbook for how to create events and activities that foster collaboration, and the ensuing benefits with innovation, creativity, community, and more. The book is a how-to manual, and it excellently provides the conceptual grounding for the why to then lead into the focused how-to of creating collaboration through CoLAB Workshops. The full manual includes all of the aspects for running a successful CoLAB, along with methods for assessment and feedback for ongoing improvement and follow-up after the events. Being at UF and getting to work with Bess, April, and Barbara regularly, having taken part in CoLABs, and having seen the significant and substantive results in terms of impact (e.g., collaboration, community) and deliverables/outcomes (e.g., new workshops developed, new grants proposed and awarded, new collaborative articles and books, new courses), I am very excited that the book is now out for everyone to use in planning and making collaboration happen at their institutions and with their communities.
For folks who are new to CoLABs, they “offer a proven method of reintegrating real-time, face-to-face conversations into classrooms, conferences, and communities and generating innovation while revealing the wealth of resources available for those who choose to become involved” (xi). The first chapter provides framing, explaining that the CoLABs work to create more diverse social networks, building from findings that those with the most diverse social networks are more innovating, in terms of more creative outputs. This follows from overall findings that more diverse teams develop better ideas because of the heterogenity rather than norming/conforming affects of homogenous groups. The first chapter also seeks to debunk some of our contemporary myths which emphasize individual efforts and devalue collaborative work, and where people feel that others are less interested in connecting than they are. These myths put in place the conditions for separation, even with the demonstrable value of collaboration and community. CoLAB workshops provide a means for breaking through the myths with the logistics and methods for doing so, in order to foster a collaborative, innovative, and curious community. My favorite quote in the book is in the first chapter: “Our work an personal lives are enhanced as we become more insightful and compassionate” (6). The second chapter opens into the how-to:  “CoLABs create a structured, engaging, and welcoming ‘café’ environment where workshop participants can connect to strangers and/or their colleagues to discover hidden commonalities, diversities, expertise, resources, networks, ad creating opportunities” (9). The book proceeds on to weave together the why and the how, with clear examples from past CoLABs, templates for participant signs, checklists, information on including collaborative events in grants, and everything people would need to run their own CoLABs for maximum benefit, with assessment embedded.
Because I’ve been one of the participants on several CoLABs, I was most interested in learning about the modified-format events that I haven’t yet done. These are covered in Chapter 5 “Variations on CoLAB Workshop Activities” which includes Icebreakers (10 minute activity), Conference Sessions, Classroom Settings, Topic-Based Sessions, Grant Proposal Development Sessions, and more.
I’m excited to see this book out and available, and very excited to know that I will soon be hearing stories from others on how they implemented CoLABs and the fabulous outcomes and next steps!