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Hyperlinked Communities and Skateboarding

Screenshot of the Pushing Boarders conference website
Screenshot of the Pushing Boarders conference website

An academic skateboard conference?

When the notification from my Google News app came across my screen I was confused. “What? There’s an international academic skateboarding conference? What the heck is that?” I had so many questions. So the recommendation, built upon my search history (and possibly my viewing of hundreds of Instagram skateboarding clips), did its trick and I clicked to read more. The article was titled Why an Academic Skateboard Conference? written by Adam Abada detailed the five-day conference in Malmö, Sweden. It covered such topics as “education, allyship, heritage, preservation, corporations, social media, the male gaze, religion, design, sexism, grass-roots skateboarding, non-profits, NGOs, print media, web media, and journalism.” Now why am I bringing this up in a discussion about libraries? Well, one of the overarching and prominent themes of the conference was inclusivity. Abada explains:

Often the culture of skateboarding — dictated almost exclusively by middle-class cisgendered white men — doesn’t allow that much space for people who don’t look or live like them. It routinely cool-guys many people out with a “shut up and skate” attitude before they even get to begin. That attitude is what has made skateboarding inaccessible to so many people — namely women, LGBTQ+, gender non-conforming people, trans people, and many people of color, who are not afforded safety or acceptance within the community itself.

Inclusivity is an important aspect of Hyperlinked communities. It was this passage that reminded me of Lauersen’s keynote speech at the UX in Libraries conference. Lauersen brings up skateboarders, too, and how there’s change and fear: “In libraries we ban things.” This excludes a whole group of potential users. This fear is also illustrated in his story about how he used to hide his money in his sock because he was worried about the makeup of the neighborhood—though he had no experience with it before. This fear drives a lot of exclusion and the library should be a place where inclusivity should be supported and celebrated. I loved how Lauersen said its not about saying we’re inclusive, but actively asking people to join, to dance. ALA president Loida Garcia-Febo ends her statement about equality, diversity, and inclusion with the call for us to move the conversations and, most importantly, the actions forward. Inclusivity demands action. As Abada writes on this note:

A photo of my skateboard
My old skateboard that I’ve had since I was younger.

It’s a case for examining our behavior as skateboarders: who and what we’re cheering for, what words we’re using, who we’re inviting to the session, and who we’re including in our media. Cheering for your friend when they land a trick? Do the same for the young girl learning to push at the park. Hear someone saying “pussy?” Tell them that’s not OK. Only skating with other guys? Invite someone who identifies with a different part of the gender spectrum to come skate. Want to feature more trans skaters in your magazine? Reach out to the trans community.

Call to action brings about more change than just talking about it. Librarians actively need to ask those we want to include to “dance” or, if they prefer, to skate.

Bibliotech: Why Libraries Matter More Than Ever in the Age of Google by John Palfrey

Bibliotech by John Palfrey cover
Book cover

The subtitle of this book is essentially what this book is about; Palfrey explains why libraries still matter and will continue to matter in the “dreaded” Digital Age. (I only use “dreaded” here to describe the adversity to change most people feel when new technology appears). Palfrey reviews what libraries do well, what they need to do better, what the dangers are, why libraries are still important and still relevant, and is, overall, a call to action for librarians. Bibliotech was published in 2015 and written by a non-librarian. Palfrey uses the term “feral” to describe someone in a library position without a librarian degree and, by doing this, describes himself; Palfrey was a law professor before becoming Harvard’s library director and chairman of the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA). Despite this (or maybe because of this), Bibliotech espouses some of the components of participatory service and the Hyperlinked Library. However, Palfrey doesn’t go as far as to include the user and making the user an active participant in developing services for the users. In this sense, though the work encourages the librarian to ditch “nostalgia,” he latches on to everything being on the librarian’s end.

 Palfrey (2015) states that one of the primary problems librarians face is the “hybrid nature of today’s information” in both digital and analog forms (p. 28). He goes on “libraries are in crisis not only because it is impossible to collect and catalog the vast quantities of printed and digital material that are being published every year, but also because it is prohibitively expensive to even attempt it” (p. 27). With budgets being slashed, this undertaking is more difficult. He calls for libraries to collaborate in acquiring and preserving materials. Networking and collaborating is essential to doing things better. Along with this, libraries need to collaborate in developing technologies and services “that will make them relevant for the near-future” (p. 38). Another point he makes regarding librarians themselves is that the ones who are thriving are those that work with other libraries and librarians and are “agents of change,” embodying the future rather than reacting to it (p. 134). Research and development and professional development are two areas where librarians could do better. Risk-taking, he also states, is a missing feature of today’s libraries. As one librarian, Kari Lämsä, puts it:

Libraries are not so serious places. We should not be too afraid of mistakes. We are not hospitals we cannot kill people here. We can make mistakes and nobody will die. We can try and test and try and test all the time.

(p. 214)

This quote really stood out to me and reminded me that taking risks is a part of participatory service. Risk-taking, along with research and development, is an important part of moving things forward. The focus remains on redefining the library to be “demand-driven, firmly grounded in what people and communities need from libraries today and in the future” (p.227).

These ideas of collaboration, embracing change, R&D, risk-taking, and redefinition to become more customer- and community-driven are surface-level ideas of the Hyperlinked Library. A somewhat similar idea to participatory services that Palfrey advocates is “hacking libraries,” meaning to reconceptualize libraries towards a people- and services-focus over materials (p.114-15). However, Palfrey’s idea is solely on the end of the librarian and other professionals in improving services. He calls on librarians to work with graphic designers and user experience experts, business consultants, and “those who love libraries and seek to serve the public interest” (p. 128). The user is left out. There isn’t an emphasis on encouraging the user to participate, be engaged, and evaluate. He believes some aspects of the library should function like labs, where people create new knowledge using existing knowledge the library provides (and that there should be systems in place to accurately archive these works); however, real participatory service encourages library users to work with librarians to add, plan, and evaluate new services. Users are experts in what they need.

Inside the Walter W. Stiern Library in Bakersfield, California. Credit: Vincent Gutierrez
Moving forward. Credit: Vincent Gutierrez

Towards the end, Bibliotech outlines a ten-step plan for moving libraries forward. These are insights into how libraries can move into the future. Most of these also align with the very basic concepts of the Hyperlinked Library. Bibliotech does an effective job of emphasizing that libraries have an important place in the Digital Age, though Palfrey does leave out a key component: the library user.

References

Palfrey, J. (2015). Bibliotech: Why libraries matter more than ever in the Age of Google. New York, NY: Basic Books.

Delight

I’m going to start by referencing a Fox News article about something that recently happened on Twitter. Yes. That Fox News. No. It wasn’t a negative story about libraries. You may consider it superficial or possibly vapid, but recently Chrissy Teigen visited a library for the first time in 23 years. Chrissy Teigen is a television personality, model, and author. She had this to say [language advisory!]:

Aside from free publicity for libraries in general and starting a conversation about how awesome libraries are, why am I writing about this? I’m not typically concerned with celebrities and I only knew her as someone my fiancé follows and sometimes talks about. When I first read about this I thought, Awesome! Another ally! But later, after I read Steve Denning’s (2015) article “Do We Need Libraries?” I thought about this exchange on Twitter and about how Denning describes how businesses are shifting focus from seller to buyer. Denning states: “The customer has choices and good information about those choices. Unless customers and users are delighted, they can and will take their business elsewhere.” It was that keyword “delight” that triggered this memory and association. Teigen was delighted by her library experience and that’s something we need to aim towards for everyone.

Reaching Everyone

One of the concepts, as explained by Stephens (2016), of the Hyperlinked Library is reaching all users, not just the ones who come through the doors (p. 2). As libraries are constantly expounded as being democratic, equalizing institutions, the hyperlinked library is for everyone, even those who think they may not need it. Shannon (2014) states that new entrepreneurial models “broaden the library’s narrative to include everyone, not only the ‘have-nots.’” Clearly, users like Teigen are “haves” and reaching those users is important, but keeping all our users delighted is important as well so they come back, so it’s delightful to use the library. While Teigen didn’t mention newer library ventures such as 3D printing, seed libraries, or digital services, and we may not know her library’s organizational structure or model, we can think about how much more delighted these users will be when they discover they can do the things they normally associate with libraries and then some. Not that it has to all be about delight, lest we overstep the line between gimmick and delight, but we must keep in mind to “integrate the new built on a foundation of core ethics and values” (Stephens, 2016, p. 2).

I had my own experience recently. I utilized the Zip Books service at my library branch. This service allows a user to request a library book not in the catalog or available through interlibrary loan and ships it to you from Amazon.

https://www.kerncountylibrary.org/zipbooks/

Within three months, you return it and it becomes part of the library’s collection. I’m a long time user of the public library, and being able to use this service made me feel delight, but knowing that this allowed me as a user to have some slight control over the library’s collection was an even better feeling. Including the user, and thinking of the user, is another concept behind the hyperlinked library. This example also shows that new integration built on the foundations of core ethics and values. Services like this allow us to be better aligned with our ethics and values and make sure the library remains for everyone–me, Teigen, and everyone else.

References

chrissyteigen. (2019, August 7). I just went to the public library for the first time in *23* years… [Tweet] https://twitter.com/chrissyteigen/status/1159163126891204609

Denning, S. (2015, April 28). Do we need libraries? Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/stevedenning/2015/04/28/do-we-need-libraries/?utm_campaign=ForbesTech&utm_source=TWITTER&utm_medium=social&utm_channel=Technology&linkId=13831539#5206ac496cd7

Mattern, S. (2014, June). Library as infrastructure. Retrieved from https://placesjournal.org/article/library-as-infrastructure/

Stephens, M. T. (2016). The heart of librarianship: Attentive, positive, and purposeful change. Retrieved from https://search-ebscohost-com.libaccess.sjlibrary.org/login.aspx?direct=true&db=nlebk&AN=1350356&site=ehost-live&scope=site

chrissyteigen. (2019, August 7). I just went to the public library for the first time in *23* years… [Tweet] https://twitter.com/chrissyteigen/status/1159163126891204609

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