Eric Klinenberg. (Miller, 2012).
I loved our reading about Eric Klinenberg in our New Models module, because for a second time Klinenberg’s thoughts resonated with me and launched me on an exploration of ideas that really illuminate what our Hyperlinked Environments and New Models aspire to achieve in libraries.
We want to get as many diverse members of our communities into our libraries as we can, sharing experiences and space and making every voice heard. Why is that again? It’s easy to think the new library model emphasizing people over books, might be just a fun idea our communities might enjoy, or an exciting change because we’re just bored of books and want to be more popular and global to keep libraries funded and open, or to think this talk about constantly “evolving” is some kind of relentless change we’re forcing on our users trying to stay relevant, avoid getting stale, and keep up with everyone else.
That may all be partly true to some extent, but there’s way more to it.
Emile Durkheim (School of Life, 2015).
Tracing Klinenberg’s hyperlinked mention of “collective effervescence,” a fantastic term I couldn’t resist clicking on, led me to Émile Durkheim (1858-1917), a French sociologist who basically invented sociology as an academic science (Peet, 2018; Wikipedia, 2023b). Durkheim came up with that sociological concept—collective effervescence (Rimé & Páez, 2023). His idea was that when a community or society comes together to participate in doing some activity together, thinking the same thoughts, it creates this sort of heightened, shared emotional experience—and more importantly, it unifies the group–it pulls a community or society together (Rimé & Páez, 2023).
Durkheim was “concerned with how societies can maintain their integrity and coherence in modernity, an era in which traditional social and religious ties are much less universal, and in which new social institutions have come into being” (Wikipedia, 2023b). Doesn’t that sound like this era? That really made me think about what libraries are aspiring to be today, when this new social institution—social media—has come into being and changed everything. We hear from every direction that we live in a very polarized, fractured society today, with for example, teens barely seeing each other compared to how they visited face to face daily not that long ago.
There are a lot of sociologists linked to Durkheim, all great minds who were the most influential thinkers of the 19th Century, who tried to understand the nature of the individual and society (Wikipedia, 2023c). Some thought society constantly evolved from being a simple, cohesive whole, to becoming highly differentiated within, with individuals all serving to meet a different specialized need of the whole, culminating in a society that elevated individuals (Wikipedia, 2023c). Others focused on how minorities integrate into society, with integration leading to a more equal and just world (Wikipedia, 2023c).
What exactly are we trying to do in libraries today, if not those things?
All of these great minds and ideas are hyperlinked on Wikipedia, where anyone can start with just one concept such as Klinenberg’s mention of collective effervescence (Wikipedia, 2023a), and follow the hyperlinked concepts on a journey through many of the same ideas we’re trying to realize in libraries, theorized about by some of the greatest minds of the past from all over the world. There have been many modern studies on these theories, too.
A survey of a lot of the ideas and theories connected to Durkheim and collective effervescence, shows that while instituting those great ideas of sociology into libraries, such as elevating every individual in the community, may make libraries more popular destinations and indeed benefit the field, these efforts will also have a much more profound impact. By bringing our communities together to experience elevated moments of excitement and togetherness and connection, we are helping pull society itself as a whole back together and preserve it (Rimé & Páez, 2023).
Durkheim noted that most of the life of people in a “tribe” is spent doing mundane, everyday, individual work, minding our own business but depleted of the energy that comes from collective experiences—which makes the rare occasions when the entire tribe gathers become sacred and unifying (Rimé & Páez, 2023). We all know from weekends, holidays, and special gatherings, that feeling that together times are more sacred to us.
If you think about Hygge, the Danish concept which is mentioned in our Module 8 lecture as a key part of our new model and which is a major theme of the Anythink Library, it is all about taking a break from mundane, everyday work, and coming together to savor the glowing atmosphere of togetherness with a heightened shared awareness of well-being, contentment, and appreciation (Brits, 2016). Brits describes Hygge as “an experience of selfhood and communion with people and places that anchors and affirms us, gives us courage and consolation. To Hygge is to invite intimacy and connection. It’s a feeling of engagement and relatedness, of belonging to the moment and to each other. Hygge is about being, not having” (Brits, 2016).
What we are talking about doing in libraries is bringing the entire tribe together and setting the stage for them to experience the same sacred and unifying collective experiences defined by Durkheim and found in Hygge.
This is how people are hyperlinks, because individuals are naturally linked as part of greater collectives, and it’s also why we say the new library model is really about people, not books. In the past, people loved and prized books so much that being together among them in a space was sharing an experience that was sacred and elevating. Now, new social models have been established, because of a new technological era. We are not the ones imposing constant evolution on our users— technology is making society constantly evolve, and we are adjusting to meet society’s evolving needs.
So, our mission to create the New Model library is simple. We need to find the things that people will now find sacred and elevating when their everyday mundane is much more virtual than before. In a world that is overwhelming us with nonstop information and communication and where we are more isolated physically in a virtual-heavy lifestyle, the sacred and elevating is now being in physical spaces among others, communicating face to face in person, doing things we share enthusiasm for with our hands and activating our senses, and experiencing Hygge, the opposite of Internet overload (Brits, 2016). Even those who love STEM and virtual everything, love sharing it in person in a library more.
By bringing the individuals of the tribe into the library to play and learn together, we are not just creating better libraries and library communities, we’re creating a more cohesive and unified society as a whole (Rimé & Páez, 2023; Stephens, 2023).
So, what it comes down to is, libraries are hyperlinks, too.
A fantastic new journal article synthesizing many recent research studies on Durkheim’s theory details the way collective effervescence works and identifies elements that I think can help libraries achieve collective effervescence (Rimé & Páez, 2023). Among those, there are several practices that have been proven in many recent studies to create transcendent group experiences, which I think libraries seeking to successfully implement the New Model, should try to incorporate, not only for group events but shared spaces and in general:
- Making sure there are membership emblems, sayings, and songs—tee shirts, badges, anything that says “I belong to this group/activity/space/library”—for every possible group anyone might identify with in the library—this is hugely valuable and worth investing in for creating group identity and emotional fusion, and is also great publicity if people wear them around the community (Rimé & Páez, 2023).
(Creative Team Events, 2023).
- At the start of a gathering, have the group participate in sayings, songs, movement rituals to open the proceedings, because that makes individuals transition from a self-other individual mindset to identifying with the we-ness of the group and lets everyone share awareness that they are all entering into this shared experience together (Rimé & Páez, 2023). I would even try to greet every patron who enters the library in some ritual way, even if they’re just coming for books, like the bell at Dokk1 that rings when a baby is born (Stephens, 2023). This concept is exactly why Hygge tends to be strongest at the holidays, because we share so many sayings, songs, and rituals then (Brits, 2016).
- New and sensory experiences that create emotion should be a mainstay in the library, and presented in ways that encourage sharing closely, which amplifies the experience—for instance, treats should be offered from one shared plate or tray at an assembled gathering—not separate plates, even if you have to have someone act as server or offer prewrapped items, because that increases feelings of cooperation and unity (Rimé & Páez, 2023).
- Shared activities where everyone is doing the same things in the same spaces, either synchronously or overlapping in time, create strong feelings of shared identity and belonging, increase cooperative behaviors, feelings of trust, and feelings of similarity (Rimé & Páez, 2023).
- Mirroring patrons’ postures and movements when interacting can make them feel belonging and welcome and liked, bringing them out of themselves into a wider “we” perspective (Rimé & Páez, 2023).
(Sara S., 2011).
- Bringing in “awe” as much as possible with new amazing tech, video, or other shared experiences that create “awe,” because shared awe experiences especially create self-transcending experiences, aka collective effervescence (Rimé & Páez, 2023).
- Go big! The bigger the assembly of people, the stronger the shared emotional experience of the group (Rimé & Páez, 2023).
Durkheim believed individuals’ survival and well-being are built on periodic social-belonging cultural experiences (Rimé & Páez, 2023). The collective effects wear off eventually once we go off as individuals and resume our mundane daily lives, until another periodic group experience raises our confidence and energy again (Rimé & Páez, 2023). Researchers have shown in 148 studies that social connection safeguards well-being and physical health, while isolation increases mortality, so the more we can get our communities participating in their library, and the more often we can get them to come and enjoy collective experiences, the better for everyone (Rimé & Páez, 2023). Studying Durkheim’s theory on how the elements of collective effervescence work can make us really effective allies for our community.
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