The impact of the internet on American commerce and culture has become radically apparent over the last twenty years. Across the nation, once thriving retail locations such as shopping malls, video rental stores, and even bookstores, have closed store fronts with the rise in popularity of on-demand virtual options such as Amazon, Netflix, e-Readers, and personal devices. Where does this leave libraries, once considered the epicenter for seekers of books, research, or the services of an information professional?
Libraries, in some regards, are working twice as hard to stay relevant. Not only are they redefining their service model, but they’re also fighting against stereotypes that they once helped to create. Most Americans wouldn’t scoff at a visual of a stuffy and silent library, full of dusty books, complete with a shushing librarian. Once a haven of silence, the new version of libraries includes flexible spaces for connection, collaboration, and even *gasp*noise. Some libraries offer additional services, such as community spaces available for reservation, programming for children to learn new skills and participate in after school activities, and even cafes that allow patrons to partake of food and drink.
Fortunately, the very nature of librarianship lends itself to new ideas, evolution of services, and adaptability to meet the needs of users. However, the Hyperlinked Library shouldn’t be a complete change or total abandonment of function, but rather an expansion of services. Some traditional critical functions such as quiet space, access to information and the services of a professional to help, should remain.
One aspect to consider is the increasingly diverse needs of an increasingly diverse patron base. Consider the need for silence for some when compared with the need of space to talk and collaborate for others. In Susan Cain’s book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Won’t Stop Talking,the traditional definitions of these concepts (connection, collaboration, and even introversion) are challenged. What emerges is a more enlightened understanding of how a nation that focuses so much on talking and teamwork can find success in spaces that make room for silence and reflection. Libraries are uniquely positioned to successfully serve, but some strategizing will be required.
Quiet, at heart, is a book that advocates on behalf of introverts. Just as libraries are fighting stereotypes, so do introverts. Cain suggests that these individuals, once considered disadvantaged in American society, should be seen in a new light. Similar to libraries, she argues that viewing introversion with a different lens will allow for the leveraging of their strengths. What Cain does NOT do is argue that introverts are better. Rather, she suggests that both introverts and extroverts have a critical function within society.
The book makes the following arguments:
- Over time, the United States has shifted from a culture that valued skill development to one that values the ability to sell. This has increasingly painted extroversion as successful, and introversion less so.
Cain refers to this as a cultural shift. She states that America used to be a “Culture of Character”, defined by its emphasis on skills that could be developed, such as citizenship, duty, work ethic, and reputation. Now, America is defined as a “Culture of Personality”, that is focused on innate personality traits that can’t be changed. These include descriptors such as magnetic, fascinating, dominating, and forceful. Cain states that America values these qualities, because they thrive in an American capitalistic society. Extroverted people, such as Tony Robbins, are able to command audiences, influence behaviors, and ultimately make money.
- It’s ok, even helpful, to be introverted.
Despite the power of being extroverted, Cain points out that some of the biggest game-changing technological advances were developed by introverts, who are often CEOs of their organizations. For example, Craig Newmark, the founder of Craig’s List, encouraged inventors to be alone as often as possible, in order to execute their vision without outside noise or interference. Similarly, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg is described as shy and introverted. Both of these inventions have served as catalysts to make the world even more connected. Although introverts enjoy being alone, they can efficiently create connections in ways that extroverts aren’t wired for.
This isn’t unexpected. Studies show that introverts are more likely to share inner feelings online. As Cain states, “The same person who would never raise his hand in a lecture hall of two hundred people might blog to two thousand, or two million, without thinking twice. That same person who finds it difficult to introduce him-self to strangers might establish a presence online and thenextend these relationships into the real world.” (Cain 63).
Other introverts who’ve made radical differences? Rosa Parks, who famously refused to move on a segregated bus, was even more effective in her passive resistance. Cain states that had it been a more boisterous advocate, such as Martin Luther King Jr, it would’ve been more expected, and less impactful.
- The synthesis between introverts and extroverts is critical to success.
Cain does not argue that introverts can do it alone. One example she gives is that of former Vice President Al Gore. Gore, a passionate advocate for environmental issues, was able to channel his vision into his project An Inconvenient Truth. As Cain states, “[Congressmen] need more intense stimulation to get them to listen. Which is why Gore finally got his message across when he teamed up with whiz-bang Hollywood types who could package his warning into the special-effects-laden show that became An Inconvenient Truth.” (Cain 150-151).
Not all successful introvert/extrovert dynamics have to be in a business setting. Cain relates the story of her friend, extrovert Alison, who describes how having a network of introverted friends to offer a different perspective has often helped her. “’I so appreciate people who listen well,’ says Alison. ‘They are the friends I go have coffee with. They give me the most spot-on observations. Sometimes I haven’t even realized I was doing something counterproductive, and my introverted friends will say, ‘Here’s what you’re doing, and here are fifteen examples of when you did the same thing’…my introverted friends are sitting back and observing.” (Cain 121).
The Goals of the Hyperlinked Library
Libraries are able to make connections among people, whether introverted or extroverted. As we’ve previously stated, libraries can no longer survive as book warehouses. Whether or not they’re the best situated to help link individuals with information, people are more frequently self-servicing via places like Google. Where libraries can and do make a difference is in providing space, technology, and resources for innovation and collaboration. The Hyperlinked Library model shifts the emphasis from its materials to its services. The library itselfserves as a link between individuals, ideas, and resources. As Cain describes the Silicon Valley city of Cupertino, California, she states, “The library is to Cupertino what the mall or soccer field is to other towns: un unofficial center of village life.” (Cain 183).
Consider Apple Computers, cofounded by Steve Jobs and Stephen Wozniak. As related by Cain, he attended a meeting of a group called the Homebrew Computer Club in the garage of his colleague, Gordon French, on the evening of March 5, 1975. He reported that although he said very little, he found inspiration in being around like-minded people. “As he’ll later recall in his memoir, iWoz… Wozniak is also excited to be surrounded by kindred spirits. To the Homebrew crowd, computers are a tool for social justice, and he feels the same way… that night he goes home and sketches his first design for a personal computer, with a keyboard and a screen just like the kind we use today. Three months later he builds a prototype of that machine. And ten months after that he and Steve Jobs cofound Apple Computer.” (Cain 72). This example so perfectly illustrates the type of critical function that the Hyperlinked Library can serve. Imagine if they had access to resources, meeting space, and even caffeine at the time of these meetings. Aaron Schmidt refers to this in his article, “Services Before Content”, where he states, “Does it really matter that people can’t stream the latest blockbuster from a library? No. I’d much rather see them making their own movies at the library and exhibiting them there, too.” (Schmidt).
Not every great idea or physical execution of that idea requires physical collaboration. Libraries provide computer access, where people can use modern tools such as social media, message boards, and other community tools to work together. As Michael Casey and Laura Savastinuk discuss in their book, Library 2.0, modern advances in participatory tools such as blogs, customer reviews on websites, etc. allow interaction and participation in new ways (Casey 75).
The Bottom Line
There is a market for libraries. This will require stretching of past perceptions, reinvesting and reprioritizing within institutions, and truly challenging the purpose behind service and cultural institutions. Just as libraries have been seen as nothing more than a place to find books, introverts have been seen as nothing more than quiet, antisocial, and unsuccessful. The unique intersections of the challenges and evolutions of these groups can provide new opportunities for connection, collaboration, and innovation. The endgame of the Hyperlinked Library is to help people… by providing resources, by providing spaces, by linking people and ideas together. In this way, the library can truly serve as an unofficial center of village life.
Cain, S. (2012). Quiet: The power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking (First ed.).
Casey, M., & Savastinuk, L. (2007). Library 2.0: A guide to participatory library service. Medford: Information Today.
Schmidt, A. (2010). Services before content. Library Journal, 135(12), 22.
Stephens, M. (2016). The heart of librarianship: Attentive, positive, and purposeful change. Chicago: American Library Association.