Considering Hyperlinked Communities: Covid-19 and Digital Divide

In the 21st Century Digital Divide Jessamyn West (2014) touches on some very current dilemmas we are facing here in 2020.  She examined the role of libraries as the safety net for the digital divide in most areas, as well as considered the role we are all playing in the shaping of our culture though our behavior online. 

The public library’s role as the safety net for the digital divide abruptly ended in mid-March for many organizations.  There was no time for planning and infrastructure building.  On March 11th, my library was filled with patrons taking care of their daily needs on the computer provided and by later that evening we were all being informed the library wouldn’t reopen the following morning. By “we”, I mean those of us who had access to online information. 

Closed, shield, note, after work, mirroring - free image from needpix.com

I am sure many showed up the next morning completely unaware of what had shifted overnight.  While there might not be any need for finger-pointing or blame, this was still an utter fail.  We abruptly ceased our social contract of providing the community with needed resources, offering very little backup support to the most in need.  In hindsight, we let fear lead when we could have thought more strategically about how to stay linked with the community.  Only time will tell the long-lasting damage done to our reputation. (disclaimer- a reflection on my own personal work experience- not libraries at large).

I want to pause here and think about the term “Hyperlinked” and how we are extending that term in this class.  Webster defines hyperlink as an electronic link providing direct access from one distinctively marked place in a hypertext or hypermedia document to another in the same or a different document.  My understanding that I am gathering from the course content (correct me if I am wrong) is that we are extending this term to represent the invisible but powerful connection we want to make between the information and services we provide as a library to our community. This connection is to be a two-way model, information and services that reflect the needs and wants of the community even if the community cannot articulate those needs and wants.  By using this modern term “hyperlink” we are putting into the imagination the understanding that we are linking together in real spaces and in virtual spaces due to the new technology that is all around us.

Here is where I pushback, this new technology is all around us, but is only available to some through the physical space that we provide.  After over five months of the physical space being closed and the connection severed, I think we have some real work to do when imagining the Hyperlinked community in a post quarantine time.  If we are going to sure up the connection in the future, we are going to have to be activist about closing the digital divide.  Offering hotspots for check out and expanded WIFI in our parking lots is one way I have seen this work done.  Another way would mean being local voices in our community about the need for infrastructure and funding for school-age children to have free WIFI in their home.

photo of all the new hotspots purchased this summer for circulation

All this is part of the work of a truly hyperlinked community, that even in a crisis situation we think about that connection we have forged and get creative about how we support those who rely on us.

A great example of a hyperlinked community that held connection through the quarantine: https://www.theguardian.com/culture/2020/aug/13/when-covid-closed-the-library-staff-call-every-member-of-victorian-library-to-say-hello

References:

West, J. (2014). 21st century digital divide.

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. 

References:

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

A Quick Intro…

Hi- Thanks for taking a minute to stop by! I am about halfway through this program. I feel like this semester is my “fun” semester, I have no core classes on the roster, only classes that really line up to my interests. I live in Denver, Colorado, and work in a public library district. Libraries have been my passion for my entire life. As a homeschooled child we relied heavily on our local library and at a young age, I began volunteering. My B.A. is in English Lit and my general professional focus is digital library services. I have a strong interest in the field of digital humanities and digital management.

Why am I here?! (in this class that is)

Living in Denver is a privilege when it comes to amazing libraries. I live in the Anythink Library Distict and I work in a neighboring district that is also a special library district modeled similarly to Anythink. I am surrounded by the idea of libraries being more than just books. I really felt that this class would help me be competitive in the Denver job market and further my understanding of the philosophy of librarianship in general that I want to be a part of. As mentioned in the previous paragraph, I was introduced to the library world very young. I spent so many hours with librarians in a rural library district in Georgia. I have early memories though of discussions with my mother that librarians were so grumpy all the time. She always joked that they had to take a class on grumpiness in library school (this was not a bash, she was truly a library advocate in the 90s, this was honest perception). This general overview of the profession was and sometime still is a stain on the powerful work of a library and librarians. I am overjoyed that there has been a dedicated effort to changing that perception over the past 20 years. I believe this class and the model of the hyperlinked library is a part of that work and I want to be a part of that effort!