The Hyperlinked Library Model as an Egalitarian and Inclusive Model for Library Operations and Community Service
By Viola @ the Library
I think of the “hyperlinked library model” as a model of library operations that is egalitarian and inclusive. Ultimately, it is a model that is mindful of all the basic human needs, a model that goes as far as broadening itself to make space for people be creative, safe, supported, social, caring, fulfilled, and to simply be. I like this model. I want to work/live within such a model. As I visualize what this model might mean for me, as a library worker and patron, I suddenly feel somewhat dissatisfied with my current experiences. I would love to someday experience a truly hyperlinked library, a library environment that is both egalitarian and inclusive–one that allows me to simply be.
The Egalitarian Library
The hyperlinked library is egalitarian in the sense that it is not structured or managed in a hierarchical manner (Weinberger, 2001). There is no rigid organizational employee structure that ranks one employee as higher or better than another. By removing the whole idea of lower-level staff and upper-level management, this model can bring an end to “subordinates” and “superiors” and all the conflicts that stem from such a power structure. Such a power structure is prosaic, at best, and retrogressive, at worst, and can do a lot more damage than making an organization dysfunctional—it can make its inhabitants (employees/staffers) physically ill.
Personally, this rigid hierarchical structure makes me feel stifled and makes me want to be downright *insubordinate* (and yes, it even makes me feel ill). It is a tyrannical and oppressive structure that suffocates creativity and makes me less inclined to share my many ideas and insights, creative in-put that could potentially be of great use to the library. This tyranny breeds distrust and suspicion and fear of communication. Hierarchies do not foster open conversations and connection (Stephens, 2011; Weinberger, 2013). And conversations—human connections—are really where the magic happens, first and foremost (Searls and Weinberger, 2015).
The vertical hierarchical structure of libraries cannot offer great services to a world in which users are dynamic and swiftly changing in their needs and expectations. A new way of doing things has evolved to keep up with the demands of users (Denning, 2015). As Denning notes, this new, highly “Creative Economy” functions very differently, “[running] on different management principles: self-organizing teams delivering value directly to customers with constant feedback from customers. The role of the manager is transformed from controller to a coach” (Denning, 2015). In such an economy, workers have much more freedom to create and contribute their unique gifts and talents to innovative information services.
As we see in the UTS library transformation, trust is key in allowing staff to function at their best (Booth, 2013). The hyperlinked library is a library where staff do not have to operate out of a sense of fear and dread. Why should the very people who offer their time to support the operation of the library find themselves stressed and fearful of failing or appearing imperfect? This seems to me to be so toxic and counterproductive to the very productivity and efficiency one might hope for in a library setting or any organization for that matter. An egalitarian model eliminates this fear of failure, fear of punishment, fear of embarrassment, because we are all equals and can function/exist as such.
Abandoning a culture that places emphasis on perfection and perfectionism is one important solution (Stephens, 2011). And going a step further to celebrate playfulness, child-like curiosity and exploration, as well as warmth and a spirit of caring, can go a long way to foster creativity, innovation, and trust (Booth, 2013; Cuddy, Kohut, and Neffinger, 2013; Schmidt, 2014; Stephens, 2010; Stephens, 2011).
The library of the future—the truly hyperlinked library—is more than just an egalitarian world for its staffers. It is an egalitarian world for its specific patrons and for the larger community it serves. It is an inclusive world.
The Inclusive Library
The other facet that characterizes the hyperlinked library is that it is truly inclusive of the individuals and communities it serves. This inclusiveness is not just a superficial commitment to diversity; it is a commitment to gathering insights from the community, as well as engaging that community in a process of ongoing (true) collaboration so that the library remains relevant and perhaps even ahead of the times (Booth, 2013; Casey and Savastinuk, 2007; Denning, 2015; Schmidt, 2014; Stephens, 2006).
In order to be truly inclusive, the library of the future is uber-sensitive to change, be it change in tools/technology or change in social/community dynamics. Being mindful of change as a constant thing is an essential competency for information institutions and information professionals (Stephens, 2016). The library’s ability to embrace and celebrate change in its users, its offerings and services, and the world in general, is a necessary organizational competency for staying relevant and useful to the community (Casey and Savastinuk, 2007). To keep up with change, the library must be will to include users in its design, both spatial design and service model design (Booth, 2013; Casey and Savastinuk, 2007; Matthews, 2010; Schmidt, 2014; Stephens, 2006)
In the hyperlinked library, participatory experience is prioritized, and in this way, the library remains current and relevant for patrons in the present but also in the potential future, as it anticipates community needs through extensive community engagement (Casey and Savastinuk, 2007). Individual users and their communities become the focus of the all the work done by the library (Denning, 2015; Stephens, 2006). The library workers constantly ask themselves if they can “delight” patrons and if they are already doing so (Denning, 2015).
The boundaries between the library staffers and community are dissolved, in much the same way that the boundaries between managers and other employees are dissolved. Collaboration between workers and collaboration with the community creates a highly responsive environment, with in-put coming from all sides. Self-directed workers and teams can engage in sharing and incorporating new information into traditional or new services. Such teams “[have] a direct line of sight to the customer and can see whether what they are doing is leading to customer delight. The customer becomes the center of the organizations universe, rather than being on the periphery, or not even present at all” (Denning, 2015).
By being inclusive, the library of the future becomes a safe space for creative explorations and innovation, on the part of staff and users. Employees come to their library work ready to be endlessly innovative, if they desire. Patrons come to the library to be creative, to feel supported in their varied explorations, whatever these may be.
The four Cs that Michael Stephens highlights as present in this new model of library work and library service become the norm, become what people can expect when they walk into a library (Stephens, 2011). They can expect to “connect” with a real and warm person, face-to-face or virtually, and to sustain such a connection over time, for as long as is supportive of and relevant to their needs. They can expect to “collaborate” and “create” with others and with relevant tools/technology/equipment, as needed. They can expect to experience a model of “caring” in which the person and his/her/their wellbeing comes first, where human effort and interest directed at learning and exploration is celebrated, as well as a need for safe spaces in which to simply be.
And on the subject of being able to “simply be” at the library, I agree with Dr. Wendy Schultz, that the library of the future, hyperlinked and borderless as it may be and regardless of its adoption of technology, it will become a space that celebrates going “offline.” For those who want to switch off for a while, they can feel free to do so, taking a break from technological devices, finding a space for basking in the pleasure of holding a book in your hands, breathing in the scent of those pages, or gazing at a garden of plants in the library’s atrium, then taking a nap in a cozy chair, pausing for an “[escape] from the technohustle” (Schutz, 2006). There might be a “knowledge spa,” a sauna, a meditation or yoga class, a space for rest, a space for a shower (Schmidt, 2014; Schultz, 2006). No matter what that space is, no matter how great or small, it will be a space in which to simply be.
- Booth, M. (2013). People and UTS Library.
- Casey, M. E., & Savastinuk, L. C. (2007) Library 2.0: A guide to participatory library service (see Info 287 course page for Module 1).
- Cuddy, A.J., Kohut, M., & Neffinger, J. (2013). Connect, then lead.
- Denning, S. (2015). Do We Need Libraries?
- Mathews, B. (2010). The unquiet library has high-schoolers geeked.
- Schmidt, A. (2014). Exploring context.
- Schultz, W. (2006). To a temporary place in time.
- Searls, D. & Weinberger, D. (2015). New Clues.
- Stephens, M. (2006). Into a new world of librarianship.
- Stephens, M. (2010). The hyperlinked school library: engage, explore, celebrate.
- Stephens, M. (2011). The hyperlinked library.
- Stephens, M. (2016) Open to Change.
- Weinberger, D. (2001). The hyperlinked organization.