Truth: My rural county has one traffic light, and one small public library. Some of our visitors travel 1.5 hours to complete errands, and to indulge in the library’s services. Recently, library usage has changed and we speculate the reasons are linked to the popularity of our digital collections, as well as the culmination of a successful county-wide project to bring high-speed Internet to residents. By incorporating an online community platform into our regular services, I believe we may be able to maintain the personal connection our newly remote visitors used to enjoy when visiting the library. I will share some of the details surrounding our situation and then a plan to use an emerging technology to engage our community remotely.
Confession: I have neglected my duty as a library leader. With more than 10 years of experience working in three different types of libraries, and a multitude of specialized training under belt, I have neglected to strategically bring my library support staff into the conversation and up to speed on today’s public library services scene. I am still running the library clerk’s (circulation) position similarly to that of a grocer: smile, scan, and say goodbye. As a manager I must find ways to open the conversation and empower my staff to be a part of the ever-changing library community.
How much more empowering would it be if I was able to convey to my teams the scope of public library service today, the possibilities rather than the established procedures, the heart as well as the brain? Don’t we all secretly yearn to reach our community in deep and meaningful ways? This week I find myself wondering about how to make the Hyperlinked Library accessible to public library support staff.
Here are my first ideas:
Ask anyone! Our library is split into four areas: staff area, circulation desk, kid’s library, and main (adult collection-slash-public computers land). Everything we do, from the division of labor and decision-making, to how we treat our patrons is based on this model. I think we would promote and use our digital collection more if it existed within the four spaces of our library.
Jakob Guillois Laerkes’ article on “The Four Spaces of the Public Library” makes an excellent counterpoint and opportunity for re-imagining our traditional library space in a contemporary way. Says Laerkes:
The model consists of four different overlapping ‘spaces’: the inspiration space, the learning space, the meeting space and the performative space. These four spaces’ overall objective is to support the following four goals for the public library in the future: Experience, Involvement, Empowerment, Innovation.
Boom! Cut right to it: we are missing the forest for the trees.
John N. Berry III shared the exciting happenings at Edmonton Public Library and how it transformed teamwork. He wrote:
Based on retail and library models, EPL has brought all customer engagement (information services, readers’ advisory, reference, digital literacy instruction, and customer service) under a single unified Discovery Service. The idea was that customers don’t group their queries into those categories and every customer engagement is a chance to showcase services and advocate for the system. Reference interview training for EPL staff is now called “discovery conversation sessions.
As I just mentioned above, our library has an extensive list of services—many of them digital—that are not reaching our users. We could be so much better at acting as information intermediaries if we spent more time discovering what our patrons want to learn, achieve or access.
Unlock the customer’s needs and release the awesome powers of our invisible collections. It’s a win-win situation.
Dokk1 library in Denmark is one of many inspirational transformation stories being discussed in library school today. This needs to be shared with today’s library teams. Check it out:
Here’s the message I think staff in small libraries need to hear: it’s okay to dream, and to dream big.
Everyone understands: our little library is never going to be an 8-story marvel the size of 10 city blocks. Still, why can’t we talk about how cool it would be if our little library, which is embedded in a community of off-grid and sustainability-conscious residents, became an earth-berm Hobbit hovel? While we are discussing Hobbit-landia Public Library, we may reimagine our underused wall space as a lush, low-cost vertical herb garden.
This post is all to say that the Hyperlinked Library, as “an open, participatory institution,” (Stephens, 2011, para. 2) is not complete until all staff members are welcome to the table, and that it is up to all who understand this to lead the way. It took me 1.5-hours to link 3 small library challenges to 3 future-thinking concepts discussed in freely available online articles that I was reading anyway. We can do this, and ‘not having time’ (my go-to reason why I haven’t done anything) is no longer an excuse.
- Laerkes, J.G. (2016). The four spaces of the public library.
- Berry III, J. (2014). 2014 Gale/LJ Library of the Year: Edmonton Public Library, Transformed by Teamwork.
- Stephens, M. (2011). The hyperlinked library.
The hyperlinked library, says Michael Stephens (2011), is:
“… built on human connections and conversations. The organizational chart is flatter and team-based. The collections grow and thrive via user involvement. Librarians are tapped in to user spaces and places online to interact, have presence, and point the way. The hyperlinked library is human. Communication, externally and internally, is in a human voice. The librarians speak to users via open, transparent conversation.”
As a rural public librarian, I am eager to embrace and enact the hyperlinked library model, yet must learn where to begin moving from concept to application. One of my favorite places to start is by finding role models and exemplars. Even Stephens (2011) identified the writings of Weinberger, Buckland, and Godin as foundational resources for the construction of his Hyperlinked Library model. Exemplars put a face to the abstract idea. I am hoping that by sharing my process of internalizing the hyperlinked library I am also providing a resource for others who wish to do the same.
The Pussyhat Project is my favorite recent example of a hyperlinked community. In two months, “two women with laptops” wanting to make local level impacts inspired national activity and national-scale community. They used Twitter, Facebook, blogging and other Web 2.0 tools to make their message viral.
Before I share more about the project, here is a word from our nation’s president:
The 2016 presidential election was one of the most divided in the history of our country. Donald Trump’s campaign was loaded with derogatory statements and actions toward all sorts of people (read: minorities). Trump believes that his wealth and fame gives him the right to do whatever he wants, including sexually abuse women. His “Grab ‘em by the pussy” comment certainly made its mark in the people’s memory.
Trump, who was elected as America’s president, brings hatred and anger to the table. (Some of) The public’s reaction to this is well encapsulated by the Women’s March mission statement:
“The rhetoric of the past election cycle has insulted, demonized, and threatened many of us – immigrants of all statuses, Muslims and those of diverse religious faiths, people who identify as LGBTQIA, Native people, Black and Brown people, people with disabilities, survivors of sexual assault – and our communities are hurting and scared. We are confronted with the question of how to move forward in the face of national and international concern and fear.“
Scheduled for January 21, 2017, the day after the inauguration, the Women’s March descended on Washington D.C. It was a nonviolent display of resistance to the new administration and their discriminatory attitudes. Looking at photos of these crowds, no one could mistake the community’s solidarity. In fact, even those who could not attend the march at D.C. could demonstrate at the local level and still be recognized as Women’s March participants—the distinguishing feature being pink, knit hats.
How did the symbolic pink pussyhat come about? It was the dream child of individuals wanting to make a contribution to the movement. “We are two women with laptops who started this project,” proclaimed Jayna Zweiman and Krista Suh on their blog. Jayna and Krista invoked the help of a local knitting shop owner, Kat Coyle, for the hat design. The hat had to be simple enough that even beginning knitters could make them. Together, the women developed the ultimate feminine artifact: pink (a color associated with female), knitted (traditionally a female activity), pussy (reclaiming the word from Trump), a hat (easy to see in a crowd, and a device to protect wearers against the ‘cold’).
By the time this wheel really started spinning, it activated the making and gift-giving of hats, united diverse groups of people to a cause, received endorsement by powerful celebrities and women’s movement icons, encouraged sales at local yarn stores, enticed the media to produce stories, and spawned global attention. It inspired true citizenship, which Peter Block (2009) discussed in this way:
“A citizen is one who is willing to be accountable for and committed to the well-being of the whole. That whole can be a city block, a community, a nation, the earth. A citizen is one who produces the future, someone who does not wait, beg, or dream for the future,” (p. 63).
Reflection: bringing it back to libraries
Seth Godin (2009) wrote, “A tribe is a group of people connected to one another, connected to a leader, and connected to an idea…. A group needs only two things to be a tribe: a shared interest and a way to communicate” (p. 1).
This project was not about reinforcing its leaders as such, but reinforcing each member’s sense of belonging to the community and relatedness to the cause.
I think about this: every pussyhat was handmade by a person. Hat makers could donate hats to others. The Pussyhat Project created printable tags for the hats and instructions on how to distribute them to those in need. The tags allowed knitters to share their name, location, contact information, and a statement about how this movement mattered to them personally. This provided an avenue for hat wearers to reply to the knitters. Suddenly, individual people in Washington D.C. are feeling love generated by someone in, say, rural Minnesota. They have never seen one another before(!) and yet, from across the miles, this little gesture suggests:
- I matter
- what I believe in matters
- I am a part of something important
- my contribution is valued
- other people support what I am trying to do today
Who among us doesn’t need to hear this, to have this reinforced? I do. My loved ones do. Some of my patrons do and they are bravely willing to say so.
Often times in library school, we talk about reaching our non-users—the community of people in our area who are not using the library. #Pussyhat has me thinking about the non-users beyond city limits, county lines, and country code. Our patrons are already riding this wave; can my library peers and I catch up?
I think sometimes in libraries we don’t move fast enough to react to the pulse of our communities. Trapped by our need to plan everything out to the nth degree, or by our perception of resource constraints, or by our hesitancy to embrace risk we stall until it is too late to be a part of what the community is already living out.
David Weinberger (2001) gets at this problem in The Cluetrain Manifesto, where he discusses his concept of the hyperlinked organization: “We often assume that complex projects can only be accomplished through centralized planning and control. It worked for building the Hoover Dam, after all. Not to mention World War II.” Blatantly, he adds, “Command and control don’t work when you’re cultivating the wilderness.”
I wish I had known about #pussyhat as it happened and that I had encouraged our library to do pop-up knitting events to connect with our public and the depth of their outrage over the current political scene. I want to embrace an attitude of ‘cultivating the wilderness’ in the way that Ferguson Municipal Public Library did when the rioting began in response to the loss of Michael Brown. Any more, it isn’t about us: the library. It’s about us: the community; we: the tribe. The deeper I delve into the Hyperlinked Library, the closer to “we” I will come.
- Block, P. (2008). Community: The structure of belonging.
- Godin, S. (2009). Tribes: We need you to lead us.
- Stephens, M. (2011). The hyperlinked library.
- Stolls, A. (2015). The Healing power of libraries.
- Weinberger, D. (2001). The hyperlinked organization. The cluetrain manifesto: The end of business as usual.
Seth Godin’s (2008) book Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us is an interesting one to relate to library service. “A tribe” he explained, “is a group of people connected to one another, connected to a leader, and connected to an idea” (p. 1). Acknowledging our very human, millions-of-years history of congregating in tribes, as well as our intrinsic desire to break free from the bonds of rule-bound, humdrum sameness, he calls readers to take up the reigns of leadership. Godin warns readers not to confuse leadership with management; this is no top down method for allocating resources. Instead, Godin’s tribal leaders function more as guides on the side, presenting opportunities for the tribe to speak, and choices for action rather than instructions to follow. Web 2.0 and other technologies amplify the voice of a tribe allowing them to break free from the constraints of local reach. Effective tribes spawn meaningful change; they start movements.
Meaningful change is needed in public libraries today. Faced with continuous reductions of operating budgets and competition from the user-driven market, the demand for new services is evergreen. To this conversation, User Experience Consultant and MLIS Lecturer Aaron Schmidt (2010) adds:
The pervasive concept of library as commercial content provider is preventing us from adapting and evolving. Libraries will have to build a new foundation if they are to recover from these economic hard times—a foundation of valuable services, of user experience, not just free content (para. 1).
The call for constant and rapid change may seem overwhelming, improbable and risky for libraries. This perspective is easy to adopt if librarians rely only on themselves to generate ideas and results. Godin’s concept of tribes presents an opportunity to incorporate the creative powers of our users and our non-users, thereby ensuring our future library is relevant and exciting for everyone. Isn’t this our aim? Godin’s approach reflects Casey and Savastinuk’s (2007) Library 2.0 model, in which libraries embrace constant, purposeful change, and participatory, user-driven services.
Stephens’ (2011) message in “The Hyperlinked Library” echoes Godin’s Tribes. Both are centered on the importance of human connections, conversations and user participation. Both value how modern technology as a tool can expand our reach to the non-local community, gain momentum and provide meaningful, ongoing change.
This leads me to a practical example and personal ah-ha! moment of how these pieces come together in the real library world. About three months ago, I was setting up audiovisual equipment for a library program when a familiar face appeared in the doorway. “Diane!” I squealed, (we’ll call her ‘Diane’), “…haven’t seen you in a few months; where have you been?” Diane said she had discovered our non-fiction eAudio collection. She felt badly that she hadn’t been into the physical library in some time, but ecstatic that we had such a stellar collection of titles for small business startups.
“I just download them and listen through my Bluetooth.” Diane pointed to the hands free wireless earpiece she was wearing. “Doesn’t matter if I’m cleaning house or making a grocery run, I’m always learning something new about being a smarter business owner. It’s empowering!”
Let’s pause here to highlight two key points:
- I was in the library, setting up an event for people in the library, using technology designed to communicate to local audiences only.
- My patron, who was still a library lover, confessed she was no longer coming to the library but connecting remotely and feeling a bit lonely out there.
A chorus of library leaders’ voices champions me along the path of connecting this revelation back to Godin’s Tribes:
- Schneider (2006): “The user is not ‘remote.’ You, the librarian, are remote, and it is your job to close that gap.”
- Casey (2011): “The participatory library is open and transparent, and it communicates with its community through many mechanisms.”
- Stephens (2012): “Technology extends human reach but participation requires engaged participants who feel welcome, comfortable and valued.”
- Kenney (2014): “After all, some users—like committed digital readers—may never visit their local library or meet its staff…. It could be a decade before they stop by the library, if ever.”
To recap, Godin’s (2008) definition of a tribe is “a group of people connected to one another, connected to a leader, and connected to an idea” (p. 1). For my library, Diane was telling us that we were still connected to our remote users by an idea, but we needed a new way to link her, the library, and other members of the community together. Once that communication path is available, a library leader can encourage the tribe to use the platform in ways that are meaningful to them—show them that they will be rewarded, not ostracized, for being creative, nutty, and vocal.
One way we could build the tribe in this case is to support digital collections platforms that allow customer-driven reviews and thought sharing. Our competitors, Amazon.com for example, already permit this feature. But even this remains within the realm of the status quo. I don’t know about you, but I’m ready to have some FUN! So I’ll throw it out to you, readers: where can we go from here?
How to start a movement:
Casey, M. (2011). Revisiting participatory service in trying times.
Casey, M. E., & Savastinuk, L. C. (2007). Library 2.0: A guide to participatory library service. Medford, NJ: Information Today.
Godin, S. (2008). Tribes: We need you to lead us. New York, NY: Penguin.
Kenney, B. (2014). The user is (still) not broken.
Schmidt, A. (2010). Services before content.
Schneider, K (2006). The User is Not Broken.
Stephens, M. (2011). The Hyperlinked Library.
Stephens, M. (2012). The age of participation.
Want to kiss the quiet library goodbye? Here’s a good start:
Peter Mack recently performed a blend of music education and live performance for the patrons of this Minnesota library. The ceiling in our programming space is fairly low and cozy, so the sound was explosive. The first row of chairs remained empty, but the rest of the room hosted patrons of all ages. Our director provided earplugs to anyone who wanted them.
Please share your favorite “Unquiet Library” moments here!
Is anyone else out there (this may be rhetorical) in the awkward and exciting position of needing to research, select, and possibly purchase new technologies for your library for the first time?
When I found myself suddenly appointed as the manager of a public library’s technologies, I conducted an assessment to determine my list of priorities. Some of the public computers were running Windows XP and supplied no Internet connection. Others had an ominous “OUT OF ORDER” sign taped to the monitors. Solutions had been needed for some time.
As it occurred to me that new computers would spawn the need for anti-virus protection, Internet filtration software, hard disk recovery measures, and printer drivers, my own head started spinning; I felt pushed to proceed into the dark tunnel of product catalogues prepared to spend money! Then again, maybe my angst was a form of techno-lust, that “overarching need for new technology combined with unrealistic expectations for the problems it may solve” (Stephens, 2011). For clues to a more strategic, contemporary approach, I turned to Library 2.0 and the Hyperlinked Library models for guidance.
Casey & Savastinuk’s (2007) book Library 2.0: A Guide to Participatory Library Service reminded me of critical errors in my thinking: neither had I considered my library’s mission, which could frame how I respond to this challenge (p. 25), nor had I considered our patrons needs. The Library 2.0 model encourages librarians not to tell its patrons what they can have, but to invoke whole community participation in the development of services they want. This allows librarians to provide constant and meaningful change while making it possible to reach potential users (p. 5).
The Library 2.0 authors explained, “Technology is just a tool that we can use to reach our users” (p. 6). With the refreshed perspective that selecting technological services for our library is, in reality, the task of helping our patrons live exuberant, connected lives, I am more excited about the challenge. After all, one of the things I most love about being a librarian is being able to help my community achieve its information goals. I want the changes to be meaningful, and the prospect of enticing new library users feels inspiring. Here, the Hyperlinked Library model resounds: “the library should seek to encourage the heart of users via every mechanism and every channel possible. Rules and outdated policies fall away in favor of breaking down barriers to service and collections” (Stephens, 2011). Quite honestly, I am much more eager to discover an emergent need in the hearts of my patrons than I am to Ctrl +C, Ctrl + V what was done in the past.
Now, I have questions. What tasks are our users successfully accomplishing with our computer stations? Which tasks have they stopped trying to solve at the library because our equipment didn’t meet their needs, and what was needed to accomplish the task—should I invest in that? I feel like a detective ready to solve a mystery, but I need to be careful about my line of inquiry. In his article Asking the Right Questions, Aaron Schmidt (2016) cautions librarians to not expect users know what they want. He wrote,
Instead of asking people about libraries, we need to ask people about their lives.
Course corrected, I am ready to approach this challenge in the spirit of Library 2.0 and the Hyperlinked Library. This project is not so much a technological one, but human. Still… if anyone out there would like to share your experiences and wisdom, by all means comment here!
Casey, M. E. & Savastinuk, L. C. (2007). Library 2.0: A guide to participatory library service.
Schmidt, A. (2016, May 4). Asking the right questions: The user experience. Library Journal.
Stephens, M. (2011, February). The hyperlinked library.
Greetings and welcome to my blog.
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