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Understanding the Hyperlinked Library

I’ve been trying to wrap my head around the concept of a Hyperlinked Library since the start of the course (for obvious reasons). Even after perusing the course website and foundational readings, I couldn’t seem to craft a defined conceptual model of it in my mind. Knowing this, I approached the Module 3 readings with curiosity and an open mind, and was surprised (and relieved) to find that each article brought me more clarity about what it means for a library to be “hyperlinked”. So, I wanted to reflect on the readings this week in hopes that, by discussing and sharing my thoughts with the class, I can further organize my ideas and allow others to clarify or strengthen my understanding where it might be weakest. (Also, sorry in advance for the length!)

To get straight to the point, all of the readings this week had the same fundamental message: We must embrace change. As this is my penultimate semester here at SJSU, this sentiment is nothing new. I’ve taken enough classes to understand that the library world has been in a state of flux for years ever since the advent of the Internet, and even more so after the rise of Web 2.0. While these readings present the same overall theme, they give a perspective I surprisingly haven’t thought of before – technology has certainly changed how people interact with and process information, but it has also fundamentally changed how people interact with and process everything else as well. We are not the only ones affected by what Denning (2015) dubs “the disruption”. While our domain is indisputably information, libraries may be doing themselves a disservice by focusing solely on how changes have affected information seeking and processing, and ignoring changes in how people (especially the younger generation) now experience the world. As Professor Stephens (2010) says in his article about hyperlinked school libraries, “These young people are living in a decidedly different world”.

This was my first ah-ha moment. It brings to mind the many proscriptive policies that currently exist in the public library system I work for. No talking above a whisper, no food in the library, and, in some joint-use branches, no cell phones allowed until after 3pm. When Pew last checked, 92% of adult Americans had access to a smartphone (Anderson, 2015). In my Social Media and Web 2.0 class last year, I discovered from several market studies that Instagram and Snapchat, both mobile apps, were the most popular social media platforms among teenagers today. Smartphones have become deeply integrated into our lives, so why try to eliminate them entirely from school library spaces instead of, as demonstrated in Matthews (2010), using them as a way to engage our patrons?

Cellphones, Computers Are the Most Commonly Owned Devices

I’m sure there are other examples of similarly outdated thinking, such as the organizational model itself, as was discussed at length in Weinberger’s (2001) mini-manifesto against traditional bureaucracy and top-down management and Mathews’ (2012) rallying call for libraries to start thinking like startups. People these days are used to iterative, dynamic, responsive, flexible, and instant services. Bureaucracy, with its myriad policies and red tape aren’t conducive to the user-centric paradigm in which we all find ourselves now.

Schmidt (2014) recommends that, in order to remedy this and move libraries out of the dinosaur age, we shouldn’t be afraid to offer innovative, contextually-appropriate services (his example being showers in the library). Break the mold, he seems to say, and evolve. Otherwise, “when we’re closed off to concepts without examining them fully, or without exploring the frameworks in which they exist, we’re unlikely truly to innovate or create any radically meaningful experiences” (Schmidt, 2014).

And in my experience, there ARE people out there who are concerned about how far we can take this line of thinking. Take, for example, this recent Annoyed Librarian post that pokes fun at the extent to which many of these new and innovative ideas have been taken. A quick jaunt through the comments is also illuminating as many oppose the new “Library Culture” push (as it’s dubbed in the article) to “bring all services within the library and giving meaning and purpose to everyone’s lives” (Annoyed Librarian, 2017). Though tongue-in-cheek and satiric in nature, the article and commenters do bring up an interesting point – is there a line we don’t cross when it comes to meeting our patrons’ needs? How far do we take this reinvention? Is there a limit to the redefinition of libraries before they become something completely different altogether?

I think that last point is where a lot of the fear with this type of change is – are we going to lose our “essence” as libraries and as librarians? If we cater to these new trends, what separates us from a café, or keeps us from becoming some kind of glorified social services space? This is where I finally began to understand what the idea of the Hyperlinked Library is. The switch, especially in public and school libraries, to becoming a more social space with services outside of our original domain of books and information, is inevitable. We need to “delight” and please our customers after all, as Denning (2015) points out multiple times. Our role has always been to connect our users to information and resources. With the Web and the shift in thinking caused by Web culture, we can continue to do so but must broaden our conceptualization of what these resources are, where they reside, how we can present them to our patrons, and so on. The Hyperlinked Model says that we are the connectors for our customers and it is our jobs as librarians to hyperlink them to the information they need in as many ways as we can swing it, whether that be connecting them to materials, other people, web pages, hands-on experiments, or so on. It is up to us to innovate what those “ways” are, and, as mentioned above, how far we want to take it. That limit (or lack thereof) is something I’m still reasoning through myself.

References

Anderson, M. (2015). Technology device ownership: 2015. Retrieved from http://www.pewinternet.org/2015/10/29/technology-device-ownership-2015/

Annoyed Librarian. (2017). Library culture: Dream into reality. Retrieved from http://lj.libraryjournal.com/blogs/annoyedlibrarian/2017/07/06/library-culture-dream-into-reality/

Denning, S. (2015). Do we need libraries? https://www.forbes.com/sites/stevedenning/2015/04/28/do-we-need-libraries/#687ec726cd7f

Matthews, B. (2010). Unquiet library has high-schoolers geeked. American Libraries. Retrieved from https://americanlibrariesmagazine.org/2010/06/21/unquiet-library-has-high-schoolers-geeked/

Mathews, B. (2012). Think like a startup. Retrieved from https://vtechworks.lib.vt.edu/bitstream/handle/10919/18649/Think%20like%20a%20STARTUP.pdf?sequence=1

Schmidt, A. (2014). Exploring context | The user experience. Library Journal. Retrieved from http://lj.libraryjournal.com/2014/05/opinion/aaron-schmidt/exploring-context-the-user-experience/#_

Stephens, M. (2010). The hyperlinked school library: Engage, explore, celebrate. Retrieved from http://tametheweb.com/2010/03/02/the-hyperlinked-school-library-engage-explore-celebrate/

Weinberger, D. (2001). The hyperlinked organization. In R. Levine, C. Locke, D. Searls, & D. Weinberger (Eds.), The cluetrain manifesto: The end of business as usual. Retrieved from http://www.cluetrain.com/book/hyperorg.html


1 Comment

  1. ” No talking above a whisper, no food in the library, and, in some joint-use branches, no cell phones allowed until after 3pm.” Oh my!

    You make a good point about the limits. I think my view is broad of what libraries might do in relation to information in its many forms and services that enhance our constants lives. In the public library sector, I’m drawn to the models of service that pull in community partners, such as parks and rec, health, etc.

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