Hyperlinked Communities: #PUSSYHAT

Hyperlinked communities

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.

Photo: Cover of Time magazine Source: timedot.com.files.wordpress.com

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?

Source: Yahoo! news. https://in.news.yahoo.com/

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.

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10 thoughts on “Hyperlinked Communities: #PUSSYHAT

  1. Great post, Amanda! I wish that more librarians took your approach, and embraced the goal of “cultivating the wilderness” – what a terrific turn of phrase! We could do so much more with our communities if we were more willing to be bold and to connect more personally.

    I attended the March on Washington with my teenage daughter and talk about empowering! And though I am not a knitter, I read with interest the folks who were using that traditionally female activity to make a strong statement about women’s rights. Now the pussyhats are popping up all over – I saw a great photo of a statue of Eleanor Roosevelt with a hat in NYC, and also the ducklings in Boston. It just gives me a little thrill each time.

    Thanks for your inspiring reminder of what we can and should be doing.

    • Welcome, Danielle. I’m so glad that this you were able to share the March with your daughter. She’ll remember that for the rest of her life, won’t she? In today’s world, it can be very difficult for families to connect outside of the normal routine. My mama, for example, worked full time while raising us and then would come home and have to care for the house as well–my siblings and I were pretty close in age and not much help about upkeep. There were plenty of things I got to do with my mom, but rarely were they at the scale of paying attention to what was happening in the nation. I’m glad you shared this with us.

  2. Great post Amanda! You absolutely nailed it when you pointed out how libraries struggle to move fast enough to be responsive to current events. At my library, our inclination to over-plan and our fear of risk-taking, mean that we miss out on ways to be impactful to our community.

    • Thank you for sharing, Carrie. So, after reading your post, I got this idea!

      Does anyone else find it’s true that new hires are eager to learn the ropes, but also to contribute exciting ideas? And those ideas can feel very left-of-center, especially when hiring folks with no prior library work history. There’s an opportunity to receive ideas unhinged by convention, by tradition. How can we tap into this?

      Discussions in the literature for leadership, change management, and strategic planning topics often discuss the importance of forming committees that flatten structure rather than stratify it, by including people from all levels of the workforce–entry level, administrative, and everything in between. We see this echoed in library models (Lib 2.0, Hyperlinked Library), as well as in business (Cluetrain Manifesto’s Hyperlinked Organization). The combination of these established discussions provide an avenue for our generation of information professionals to deliver our library leaders to the conversation of being more “wilderness,” and more responsive to our communities. Then, we just need to keep the conversation going while helping to develop this type of organization culture in the little ways we can. Cracks are how the light gets in.

  3. Amanda,

    I’ve had a tab for this post open for a few days now and I’ve been reading in bits. I actually sat down this morning and read the entire post in one go and I found myself smiling and nodding the entire way through. I am so pleased that this is the work of a fellow classmate, MLIS student, and woman.

    On a personal level, I’ve grappled with how best to get involved. The overarching theme of participation is invigorating but simultaneously reminds me that I could be more involved. While I feel that there is a time and place for planning and sometimes it’s best to put a minute between ourselves and the news, I also feel that we lose something by postponing our indignation or any other immediate sentiments. But I agree wholeheartedly that in cases like these, in times like these, when the news is moving at a breakneck pace and we are trying to make our opinions heard in real time, the library needs to be a readily available forum on par with social networks and news streams.

    I think now is the time to invoke our respective takeaways from hyperlinked communities and participatory service and transparency. Why not take our local library user surveys and suggest a new discussion blog or chat focusing on these topics? Or better still, start the conversation ourselves on a platform of our choosing and tag the library, our local representatives, friends, family, and anyone who might listen? We are now in a position to loop everyone in at will.

    Thanks again for your well-articulated and heartfelt thoughts on the topic.

    • Hi Katy. Wow. Thank you for the compliments. Balance really does become a question, doesn’t it? WHEN do we plan and when do we LEAP? I think a couple of key components in both #pussyhat and the FMPL was that the community had an intense emotional reaction to an event. No one was left unscathed. It’s okay, too, I think if the reaction to the event is positive. Sometimes we need to celebrate.

      I love your idea about using personal social media as a platform. This stuff IS personal. And we should have a voice that is unhindered. I think your approach reduces the distance between “us” and “them.”


  4. This is an honest and moving reflection on current events. This resonates deeply with me:

    “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.”

    The night of our class chat, I mentioned a posting on FB from a library colleague. There was a meeting at her library related to civic action and awareness. They not only packed the meeting room but had overflow into the parking lot as folks organized and planned.

    Again, thanks for this post. Much to consider.

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