I thought this Bjork song was a great audio representation of the merging of communal and quiet spaces in libraries today. It’s also a little representative of how different I feel when I’m around new folks compared to friends and family. …it’s also just a fun little song.
Susan Cain’s (2012) book, Quiet: The power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking, was a revelation for me, an introvert that has never read up on the subject. Things I’ve always considered to be strange personality quirks were validated several times over by Cain.
Here are a few things I’m not alone in doing:
- Having a fake extrovert version of myself that takes over in uncomfortable and exhausting social situations.
- Hiding in bathroom stalls just to have a few minutes alone to recharge my batteries.
- Walked in a different direction to avoid having to speak to an acquaintance.
- Love my job that is away from the public eye.
- And, most obscurely, I have to turn down my car radio when I’m driving in an unfamiliar area because loud noises and my sense of direction are incompatible.
These are all introvert behaviors Cain describes in her book and the more I read, the more it felt like someone had been observing me for the majority of my life.
Cain’s acknowledgement of these “common” introvert tendencies normalizes these behaviors to readers, helping us understand that being an introvert isn’t solved by merely coming out of one’s “shell.” It’s who we are. We make up approximately one third to one half of Americans, or as Cain (2012) emphasizes, “one out of every two or three people you know” (p. 4). But we are “one third to one half” of the population of a country where “we’re told that to be great is to be bold, to be happy is to be sociable.” (Cain, 2012, p. 3). This is not really part of the introvert M. O., but one that introverts are forced to contend with and adapt to. One of Cain’s biggest questions for debate is how exactly to navigate life as an introvert within the American extrovert norm. “Should we attempt to manipulate our behavior within the range available to us, or should we simply be true to ourselves? At what point does controlling our behavior become futile, or exhausting” (Cain, 2012, p. 207)? How do you work effectively in an open-plan, wall-free office? What are your strategies for preparing for meetings or speaking engagements? Do you have an escape plan for when the party you’re attending starts feeling overwhelming?
Earlier I mentioned that I’ll occasionally hide away in a bathroom stall (or an empty corridor, or leave for some fresh air) if I’m somewhere feeling overwhelmed and can easily get away. Cain interviewed former Harvard University Professor, Brian Little, who elaborated on this behavior. A “restorative niche” is the term Professor Little uses “for the place you go when you want to return to your true self. It can be a physical place . . . or a temporal one, like the quiet breaks you plan between sales calls. It can mean canceling your social plans” or choosing to shut your office door, selecting a specific seat at the table, or choosing to email someone instead of using the phone or meeting in person (Cain, 2012, p. 219).
It was the concept of the “restorative niche” that got me thinking about introverts in the context of libraries. As we are redefining and re-imagining the roles and services of libraries, so, too, have we expanded upon the idea of the library as a restorative niche. What was once a quiet haven is now also a place for collaboration, engagement, and excitement. Extroverts, Cain (2012) reminds readers, need restorative niches too; their niches may instead be found in opportunities to talk, travel, and meet new people (p. 219). The library environment is not drifting away from being a restorative niche for introverts, it is instead embracing itself as a restorative niche for everyone. Our libraries in Library 2.0, as Michael Stephens (2006) explains, embrace the principle that “‘the library is human’ because it makes the library a social and emotionally engaging center for learning and experience” (para. 1). If, ” [the] user is the sun. The user is the magic element that transforms librarianship from a gatekeeping trade to a services profession,” then the library needs to be a space flexible enough to keep both our quiet and our animated patrons happy (Schneider, 2006).
A good example of this balance is found at the Hunt Library at North Carolina State University, Raleigh, designed, to “create spaces that encourage collaboration, reflection, creativity, and awe” and “to be a place not of the past but of the future” (Schwartz, 2013, para. 2). It was “engineered for solo work, to many kinds and sizes of collaborative projects up through mass events. … Library spaces are spacious but never cavernous, with plenty of intriguing nooks and little livable touches that make the patron experience seamless” (Schwartz, 2013, para. 27). Cain, I think, would agree that a space such as the Hunt, is a harmonious gathering place for introverts and extroverts alike. It meets her call for “settings in which people are free to articulate in a shifting kaleidoscope of interactions, and to disappear into their private workspaces when they want to focus or simply be alone” (Cain, 2012, p. 93-94).
While the Hunt Library reminds us that places for quiet reflection are not lost amidst the re-conceptualizing of library spaces, we need to maintain and strengthen that hyperlink between libraries and their introverted patrons and really, anyone seeking a private space to read and work. Is a quiet reading room with communal tables enough? A few study rooms available for booking? Just as Learning Commons spaces are supplied with impressive technology and new group classes are offered, so too should we also be thinking about ‘upgrading’ our private spaces and event offerings. Some suggestions:
- Private study/meeting rooms could feature some of the same tools available in communal space.
- Replace open backed carrels with desk pods.
- Or simply, rethink your current furniture layout. For example, separate carrel desks into a long row instead of side by side.
- Offer events/classes with smaller attendance caps.
Much of what libraries are already doing in terms of services and opportunities align with the needs of introverted community members, as long as libraries continue to allow users to decide how they interact. Collectively, libraries have some combination of in person reference services, texting, tweeting and other social media, chat boxes, and the telephone. The easier it is for a community member to have their information needs met, the more likely it will be they come back again.
I chose Quiet initially because I felt it was something I could relate to but also because I was interested in thinking about the place of introversion in Library 2.0. Having read about libraries like the Hunt and hearing the call at my own library for more spaces for collaboration and interaction, I had wondered if perhaps one of the last vestiges of public quiet space was slowly being forgotten about in favor of an environment that exclusively embraces our extrovert culture. But, my (somewhat alarmist) concerns were tempered by the voices of the Library 2.0 community; as Schneider (2006) reminds us, “The user is the sun.” The library is for everyone.
As an addition to this reflection, I decided to take a walk around my library early in the morning to take a few photos of the variety of our physical “restorative niches” available to our students and campus community. Here is a slideshow of what I found. Note: early in the morning also explains why no one is in the photos.
Cain, S. (2012). Quiet:The power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking. New York: Crown.
Schneider, K (2006). The User is Not Broken.
Schwartz, M. (2013). Tomorrow, visualized.
Stephens, M. (2006). Into a new world of librarianship.