A Recommendation to Find a “gap”: Context Book Review of Hamlet’s Blackberry

Be Mindful of the Gap.  This is the fundamental theme and advise that weaves through William Powers (2010) book Hamlet’s Blackberry where he examines how great thinkers from the past have dealt with the emerging technology of their time.  Powers (2010) provides a close reading analysis of historical texts to draw ideas and solutions that we could employ today help solve our current inability to balance our screen usage as a tool instead of an addiction.  The tangible solutions found in this book for an individual to employ are vast and well worth a read for personal development reasons. 

For library organizations, I found interesting connections between what the Library 2.0 model is focused on and how the ideas from this book would serve the model well.  “Human beings are skillful at figuring out the best uses for new tools. However, it can take a while” (Powers, p.3, 2010). 

A library is well-positioned to facilitate that process.  As stewards of information and technology, we have a responsibility to help our community experience these tools in the best way possible.  “You cannot change the user, but you can transform the user experience to meet the user” (Schneider, 2006).  Through programming, participatory services, and mindful spaces we have the opportunity to help shape the community’s adaptation process to the technologies that emerge.

For humans to find the “good life” Powers (2010) presents the idea that there must be depth in context, “depth is what makes life fulfilling and meaningful” (Powers, p.4,2010).  To achieve this depth, the primary suggestion is to find space for our inner world.  Essentially a “gap” between connections.  How can library programming facilitate this gap?  As we develop programs or trainings this should be a primary consideration.  Just as we would rarely start a class or program without a set of objectives, we should also build in reflection gaps either during the program or suggestions for afterwards. Maybe a simple suggestion after a VR experience where we encourage the patron to reflect on the experience this evening and consider what connections she made to her own life could have an impact on the overall experience leading to further depth for the individual.  We should not be prescriptive but it is our job to help information be absorbed by the individual, we have a duty to provide suggestions for the best possible path to absorption. 

We can also consider our spaces as a place for a gap.  While the library is of course both well connected to the internet and to the community, it is often a place people go to be alone and quiet with their thoughts.  When space and furniture planning these concepts continue to be important.  Quiet spaces are still a request as seen in the user-designed teen spaces. (Chant, 2016).  The Library 2.0 model asks that we think broadly about the concept of the library as a service to the people not the housing of a book collection (Casey& Savastinuk, 2007).  Thinking outside the box in an attempt to facilitate a gap from the technological connectivity is a service to patrons.  This is clearly illustrated in the example of the new Helsinki Library offering a public sauna.  Space where neither books nor technology have relevance, but instead a place to step away from the crowd and focus on our own inner world (ALA Architects Wins Helsinki Library Competition, 2013).

            The point of participatory service is not just the feedback, the feedback is merely a useful byproduct.  The goal is the enhanced experience for the user who is given the opportunity to participate and seizes it.  Imagine the busy working mother who sees the trip to the library in the evening as another errand on the list but instead of just picking up a book she notices a simple poster asking the community to reflect on their favorite holiday tradition and jot it down on a post-it.  She seizes this moment to add to the conversation and reflect on how her community members have responded.  This is the meaningful gap that Powers (2010) is pushing for.  The quick errand has turned into a brief gap from the day’s agenda and connectivity allowing for the real connectivity that we are so often reaching for when we scroll social media.  The process of sharing and reflecting in that moment created the gap and associated the library space with that depth of experience.

            Adapting to change requires reflection, this theme persists in Hamlet’s Blackberry and it is echoed in the Stephens (2016) words: “one way of handling change graciously is through reflective practice” (p.2).  This prescription for gracious acceptance of change is valid not only for librarians but also for the spaces and services we offer. “We must always keep working to be there, to be present, to be at the edge of what’s happening, and to be very visible while focusing on people, not technology, not the collection. Those are merely tools” (Stephens, p.26,2016).   Since “our tools are fertile and constantly multiplying” (Powers, p.2, 2010) it best to see technology for what it is: an enhancement of the human experience- not a distraction from it. 


ALA Architects wins Helsinki library competition. (2013, June 14). Dezeen. https://www.dezeen.com/2013/06/14/ala-architects-wins-helsinki-library-competition/

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

Chant, I. (2016). User-designed libraries | Design4Impact. Library Journal. Retrieved September 11, 2020, from https://www.libraryjournal.com?detailStory=user-designed-libraries-design4impact

Powers, W. (2010). Hamlet’s Blackberry : A practical philosophy for building a good life in the digital age. HarperCollins.

Schneider, K. G. (2006, June 3). The user is not broken: A meme masquerading as a manifesto. Free Range Librarian. http://freerangelibrarian.com/2006/06/03/the-user-is-not-broken-a-meme-masquerading-as-a-manifesto/

Stephens, M. (2016). The heart of librarianship: Attentive, positive, and purposeful change. American Library Association

3 thoughts on “A Recommendation to Find a “gap”: Context Book Review of Hamlet’s Blackberry

  1. Thank you so much for your book review. I enjoyed reading your observations.

    I read Clay Shirky’s book Cognitive Surplus. It was about how educated people are using their free time in new ways and are often trying to find value and community out of that time. It seems like your book is the bridge (or gap) to connect how people are filling their free time to how libraries can accommodate that change. Change is the ever present constant and libraries aren’t always known for adapting to it well. Your book sounds like an interesting look into how libraries can adapt and grow with their communities.


    • Thanks for making the connection- that sounds like a book I would really enjoy. Hamlet’s Blackberry really felt like a book I would read for my own personal needs, but it was fun to make connections to course content with it. I was constantly reminded of how much time has passed in 10 years ( since the publishing of this book), but it many ways it was still on point to our current digital dilemmas.

  2. Hi @amberbales! Your last sentence is profound- that technology needs to enhance human experiences- not distract from it. I liked the example about the busy mom who is able to connect with others through jotting down her thoughts and sharing them and then reading others’ thoughts. Simple ways to connect can have lasting impact. Good post!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *