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How participatory service can tap into the power of introverts.

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In her book, Quiet: The power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking, Susan Cain (2012) explores the world of the introverted or “highly-sensitive” person and its intersection with Western society. With recent studies and theories on temperament to back her observations, Cain frames the communication and theoretical differences between introverts and extroverts. Introverted types of people tend to prefer small amounts of stimuli at one time and like to apply energy to core projects with care. This portion of the population makes up one third to one-half of the population and are known to work slowly and deliberately at a task with great concentration. Extroverts, on the other hand, are goal-oriented types that prefer large amounts of outside stimulation from others. They are often comfortable multi-tasking and taking risks. As the Western world tends to praise the “Extrovert Ideal” of taking action and exuding power through quick decisions, introverts are often overlooked and underestimated due to their more careful and quiet ways.

As noted in Mathew’s (2012) Think like a startup, change must be embedded in the actions of the people. The first step to creating change is to understand the makeup of an organization’s members. So, how does the examination of introverts and extroverts inform our ability to incorporate participatory service into libraries? As introverts have the tendency to be less overt in their contributions, Cain’s narrative reveals a number of ways in which libraries can glean information and feedback from these types as administrators, staff, and users.

The concept of an introverted leader may sound like a contradiction, but as studies have shown, introverts have qualities that work to build an organization based upon merit, not ego. This “soft power” can have incredible impact on the culture of an organization. When selecting administrators, libraries should consider not only extroverted qualities like polished public speaking and confident decision-making, but also consider introverted attributes like strong listening skills and the ability to cultivate the talents of other toward organizational goals.

Fostering feedback and input from introverted library staff will help balance perspectives and positively contribute to an organization’s decision-making. Sensitive and introverted temperaments tend to be more cautious and pay attention to warning signs. These traits are imperative to promoting group survival. To consider their input in decision-making processes ensures that organizations are factoring in all facets of a decision. Libraries must tap into these introspective members who are well suited to deliberate practice and work.

Casey and Savastinuk (2007) mention in Library 2.0 that innovation is key to implementing a culture of change in libraries. Cain explores the subjects of creativity and innovation in Quiet. She argues that introverts work more creatively when in solitude. As “brainstorming” has proven to produce sub-par decisions, all staff would benefit from physical cooperative groups in moderation. The exception here is when groups meet in an online environment. As introverts feel more confident in their physical space, group work online may suit them well and can be highly productive. Another suggestion here by Cain is to build restorative niches into the library organization, whether physical or temporal. This suggestion will help all temperaments recharge, and hence, be their most productive.

Tapping into the needs and opinions of our introverted users involves providing more passive means of communicating and existing. Enabling the ability of users to provide feedback to the library through anonymous comments online can help provide quieter users with a forum to voice their opinions. Creating spaces in library programs for introverts to work individually or in small groups will make them comfortable to learn, socialize and communicate as they choose.

A final thread that runs through Quiet is the complementary pairing of introverts with extroverts. Cain illustrates this by examining fruitful historical combinations of introverts and extroverts like Rosa Parks & Martin Luther King Jr, Eleanor & Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the biblical brothers, Moses & Aaron. These pairs harnessed their individual qualities to impact their worlds for the better. In reading this work, I found that Cain celebrates the introvert, but does not forget the power of extroverts. She ends with a call for a balance between action and reflection. I am certain that we all could benefit from this kind of balance.


Cain, S. (2012). Quiet: The power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking. New York: Crown Publishers.

Casey, M. E., & Savastinuk, L. C. (2007). Library 2.0: A guide to participatory library service. Medford, N.J: Information Today.

Mathews, B. (2012, April). Think like a startup: a white paper to inspire library entrepreneurialism. [White paper]. Retrieved from

2 thoughts on “How participatory service can tap into the power of introverts.

  1. What a concisely organized and well-rounded review of, what I think is, a book that should be read by every manager. I had been wanting to read Quiet for a couple of years and ended up reading it for one of the core classes last semester. I am so glad I did. I feel like it really gave me permission to be myself, and to stop pressuring myself to be that extroverted ideal that I most certainly am not. I do admire great speakers, Angela Davis as an example comes to mind, and I am happy that there are people who can be extroverted and dynamic and persuasive in the world, leading us to greatness. I also know that in the background, there are people who are quietly arranging, organizing, and supporting those people, and that their work is as equally important.

    I love how you pulled the ideas of our earlier readings and Quiet together. The library space is flexible enough to accommodate a range of types on the spectrum, and the book shows us that we don’t need to leave anyone out in accomplishing our hyperlinked goals.



    • Thanks for your thoughtful comments. Just like you, I felt this book helped me understand myself better. I think extroverts would get so much out of this book, too. It is a window onto our worldviews and helps show how introverts are assets. I like how Cain shows that introverts can be leaders and are more internally driven by the process and not necessarily the product. This is so true for me!

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