Hyperlinked library environments blog post: How do we do difference?
“Conformity imprisons liberty”, Kent John Chabotar (2012)
As I read through many of the past readings, I had an uneasy feeling—yes, communities are all well and good, but I am also troubled by likeminded people gathering with other likeminded people to pull in other likeminded people to circle around our likeminded ideas. . . It sounds really safe, secure and friendly but also really insulated and in some ways xenophobic (and research has shown that the more we hang out with likeminded people the more polarized we become, Munson & Resnick, 2014). If I were a hiring manager and said I just want to hire people who think like me, I’d lose my job. We know that diversity is important—all kinds of diversity not just race or sexual orientation or ethnic background or class, but diversity of ideas and knowledge is (are?) also important. (To what extent are library users a bunch of likeminded people, and the people who aren’t using the library those of a different mind? And if this is so, how do we change that?)
The environment module, in contrast, seems to, at least, offer the possibility that the environment could change this notion of the closed, insulated community. And, as I read many of the readings in this module, they do suggest something at least superficially different: many emphasize engagement (Simon, n.d; IMLS, 2017) and bridging differences (Simon, 2017).
Simon Video on Museum Relevance and her audience approach to design (once you get past the ad for Lucidea. . . around 3 minutes) and a link to Santa Cruz Museum, where Simon works–pretty cool design–field trip anyone?
And, Michael Casey, in his talk to the class, also emphasized engagement—if I’d thought of it, I’d have asked him about diversity of ideas in his library community and if he had ideas about how environments might encourage this (like his opening early hours without staffing)? I also came across a reading on “library as place” that talks about how “libraries are, by definition of being public places, neutral territory. Unless a library is privately owned, it is generally not dominated by a single group or person” (Sloan, 2013). But is this true? I do wonder though, if most of these spaces stay homogeneous in ideas (not in other aspects of diversity)? Can engagement increase diversity? Can design?
One example of an environment that encourages diversity is the street I live on which at first glance is completely homogeneous—typical California suburb where every home looks the same and the people in the houses look pretty similar as well. I live on a street of all white people (except my husband, who is from India, but he says for all practical purposes, he’s white), but the diversity of political viewpoints spans the gamut from extremely liberal to die hard conservative, from libertarian to Trump supporter. And, we all regularly get together. I also belong to a book group where we all share the same political views. And while this later group is the group I chose to belong to and feel more comfortable with, I learn a lot more from my neighbors (and, by the way, my neighbors NEVER go to the library; my book group is there all the time . . .). What library environment would welcome my neighbors?
We don’t change when we hang around people like us (well, at least I don’t), and the more the community fine tunes itself around shared interests the more those with difference are going to stay away (maybe makerspacers are an environmental change that may shake things up a bit, bringing in people of a different mind?). This thought brought me to the Dokk1 (2015) libraries and their model of the library space.
Talk about an information environment: here it seems they are trying to reach all types of users. The woman speaking, Marie Ostergard, even notes, “we can meet across political convictions”, which clearly is viewing diversity as beyond who we are and including also, what we think. She notes that libraries need to be different all over the world—and this seems particularly significant. And, yet, the language used to talk about these new spaces include “cultural spaces” and “living rooms” (Morehart, 2016), and I wonder if those are alienating terms? When people start talking about culture, they seem to be talking about something fairly “elite” (opera, theater, museums, libraries?), whether that is their intention or not. . . If we look at the physical library, most look startlingly similar. . . maybe the environment has to change to invite diversity of ideas?
Havens (2013) states, “Platforms bring together like-minded individuals who often share surprisingly similar goals. Together these individuals make up the most powerful component of any open project: the community” (quoting In the Age of Platform, Phil Simon).
And, in contrast:
Boyd (2016) writes, “Like US cities in the 70s, MySpace got painted as a dangerous place filled with unsavory characters, while Facebook was portrayed as clean and respectable. With money, media, and privileged users behind it, Facebook became the dominant player that attracted everyone. And among youth, racial divisions reproduced themselves again, shifting, for example, to Instagram (orderly, safe) and Vine (chaotic, dangerous).”
How do hyperlinked communities, communities in general and information organizations create and design environments that encourage challenges? Differences? Disagreement? How do I find that Netflix movie that I thought I would hate but ends up really changing my perspective or how do I test my sedimented ideas against thoughtful people who strongly disagree? How do we create and support diverse communities with diverse ideas? How do we bring people into our information spaces to share information who are not like us? Can libraries design for difference? the digital world opens up literally unlimited resources, but if we are looking only for those resources that are “like us”, then is the digital environment offering anything more? In fact, the argument can be made that the online library is even more exclusive then the physical because, as Sloan (2013) notes, “In an online environment, communities are formed less by socialization and more by common interest”. Maybe physical libraries are better able to encourage difference because we might run into someone who is NOT like us?
I’m an avid reader, and for a long time relied on “if you liked this, you will like this” recommendations on a variety of platforms until I realized I was reading book after book that sounded just like the book I just read. I want the recommendation of the book that is NOT like all the other books (or the movie or the music). But, so far, I have not discovered such a website. Maybe it’s like boyd (2016) states, “the limited diversity of people who are building and using these tools”. Is it possible to engage people with diverse ideas in not only collection development but in how to create an environment where I can talk to someone who doesn’t share my ideas? I’m not interested in becoming more like me. . .
Having gotten out my angst, I was reminded of the “inside-out library” (Havens & Storey, 2013) in the last module. While this essay was not in the environments module, it seemed very much about environments: “the greatest areas for growth and success for libraries in the networked world occurred when libraries took their materials, services, and expertise further away from the center of traditional library contexts” (p. 4). I wonder if this movement from the traditional to the new disrupts in a way that can encourage people who are not “likeminded” to join?
If the library is a “community”, then how do make sure its inclusive of diverse ideas?
Bhaskar, M. (2016, Sept. 30). In the age of the algorithm, the human gatekeeper is back.” The Guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2016/sep/30/age-of-algorithm-human-gatekeeper.
Boyd, D. (2016). What World Are We Building? Points. Retrieved from https://points.datasociety.net/what-world-are-we-building-9978495dd9ad.
Chabotar, K. (2012). Valuing diversity of ideas. Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved from https://www.insidehighered.com/views/2012/07/05/essay-promoting-diversity-ideas-higher-education.
Dokk1Library. (2015, Apr. 27). Aarhaus, Denmark. Retrieved from, https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=35&v=IvFfbjs8aZo.
Havens, A. (2013) From community to technology and back again. NextSpace. Retrieved from http://library.oclc.org/cdm/singleitem/collection/p15003coll11/id/19/rec/5
Havens, A., & Storey, T. (2013). Nextspace. Retrieved from From community to technology…and back again: Part 2, The networked library.
Mathews, B. (April 2012). Think like a startup. Retrieved from https://vtechworks.lib.vt.edu/bitstream/handle/10919/18649/Think%20like%20a%20STARTUP.pdf?sequence=1
Munson, S. & Resnick, P. (2015). Presenting Diverse political opinions: How and how much? Retrieved from http://dmrussell.net/CHI2010/docs/p1457.pdf.
Simon, N. (n.d.). The participatory museum. Retrieved from http://www.participatorymuseum.org/.
Simon, N. (2017). Making Museums Relevant: A Conversation with Nina Simon. Retrieved from https://lucidea.com/video/making-museums-relevant-a-conversation-with-nina-simon/.
Sloan, E. (2013). Library as place in communities: A literature review. The Idaho Librarian. Retrieved from https://theidaholibrarian.wordpress.com/2013/11/17/library-as-place-in-communities-a-literature-review/.