Tribes and the Hyperlinked Library

Seth Godin is a former business executive who became popular through his blog, Seth’s Blog. He writes with motivational flair on topics like marketing and leadership (Godin, n.d.). He has also authored nineteen books. His book Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us, reads, in fact, like a series of blog posts (Godin, 2008). Each vignette highlights a business person who has exceptional or innovative leadership qualities.  

I would be remiss in this book review if I didn’t take this opportunity to provide a constructive criticism of the book. My criticism is in regards to the vignettes. While they were somewhat interesting, reading the snapshots of different business people left me feeling like a kid opening up a mountain of presents at Christmas; I felt empty. The book lacks a structure that builds upon ideas. It could have benefitted from taking a few of those stories and developing the ideas further. The vignettes were too much like a short-form blog post. While interesting, they were simply not substantial enough for a book.

That being said, Tribes focuses around developing small teams or developing relationships with followers and stakeholders. Godin identifies a tribe as a group of people connected to: each other, an idea or a leader (Godin, 2008). The bottom denominator here, is connection. People yearn for it. The internet has enabled people to gather in like-minded tribes. The internet has also flattened hierarchies so that most everyone can influence and most everyone can be a leader. In fact, Godin says that everyone is expected to be a leader, to have initiative and be change agents (2008). One way that people can influence is by rating products and services, they can write and self-publish, and they can connect with celebrities and scholars, who would most certainly would have been inaccessible prior to the internet.

To be a great leader, though requires something else. “Great leaders create movements by empowering the tribe to communicate” (Godin, 2008, p. 23). He goes on to say that leaders create a culture around their goals and invite others to join in. This is one area where I think he could have elaborated on this concept. It’s good and deserves more attention. In his Ted Talk, How Great Leaders Inspire Action, Simon Sinek (2009) introduces the idea that, if you want to sell an idea, you need to start with why you’re doing it, with your belief. What does this have to do with Seth Godin? Well, it all comes back to tribes. We buy into groups who believe what we do; they’re our tribe.

So what can libraries take away from this? The library should look at their patrons, not as someone to sell something to, but their tribe, people they can invite into their vision. The advent of the internet has created a medium for people to contribute and collaborate. “Technology extends human reach but participation requires engaged participants who feel welcomed, comfortable and valued” (Stephens, 2012, p. 40). Many businesses are harnessing this power (think Amazon). Some libraries have become hyperlinked libraries and are leveraging these relationships and tribes.

The San Jose Public Library created a teen space by inviting a designer, Louise Mackie, to work directly with the teen library users. She said, “I did not miss the multiple layers of bureaucracy…. The direct relationship with both the users and the client was spontaneous, refreshing, and efficient” (Chant, 2016, para. 7).

The Los Angeles Public Library, which serves the biggest population of any library in the United States has their own approach. They realize that they are nothing without their community. So on their 141st anniversary, they solicited the public for their vision for the library (Mack, 2013). In that way, they are recognizing their tribe, creating a participatory service model and ensuring that they remain relevant to their users.


Chant, I. (2016). User-designed libraries. Retrieved from

Godin, S. (n.d.). Seth’s blog. Retrieved from

Godin, S. (2008). Tribes: We need you to lead us. New York, NY: Porfolio.

Mack, C. (2013). Crowdsourced design: Why Los Angeles is asking the public to design the library of the future. Retrieved from

Sinek, S. (2009). Start with why–how great leaders inspire action. Retrieved from

Stephens, Michael. (2012). The age of participation. Library Journal, 137(3), 40.

2 Thoughts.

  1. I enjoyed reading your review (and like the critique). The idea of tribe is a clever approach as we hyperlink our way into a flattened and vertical profession of innovation. All these concepts are so prevalent in our literature in the course. I loved your answer to how we can use Godin’s book: “The library should look at their patrons, not as someone to sell something to, but their tribe, people they can invite into their vision.” By your examples, and so many others, the tribe ideal is how we can model our relationship building with whom we serve. Cool!

    • Thanks, @narrability! I mean, the library IS the best place, and really the only thing that I want to sell in this life. I could talk up the library all day, but you don’t just want to shout into people’s faces with your bullhorn. You want to show them how the library is THEIR library and like you said, build relationships.

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