[A context book post]
Libraries have traditionally been safe havens for introverts. Perusing seemingly endless bookshelves in the quiet, contemplative atmosphere of the local library elicits feelings of comfort and home. But the library is changing. Collaborative spaces channeling the New Groupthink mentality are being installed in all forms of libraries—see San Jose Public Library (Chant, 2016) and Los Angeles Public Library (Mack, 2013). Youth and children’s spaces are becoming quiet-free areas (Matthews, 2010), allowing young people to express themselves more freely and loudly. Introverts love quiet. Introverts need quiet. The idea of walking through the library to the sounds of children chatting or teens playing music may instinctually illicit feelings of exhaustion and discomfort. But it doesn’t have to be. Libraries are capable of meeting the needs of introverts and extroverts alike, of creating space for quiet and collaboration, of encouraging contemplation and innovation. In Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, Susan Cain breaks down just how this can be accomplished.
The hyperlinked library model is challenging libraries to refocus the ways in which they channel energy, allocate resources, and structure systems. These changes promote user collaboration and community engagement. These changes are great and necessary. These changes are also fueled by a sense of urgency in response to the notion that “libraries everywhere are under threat” (Denning, 2015, p. 1). The seemingly archaic traditions of quiet and solitude that have historically defined the library experience are being replaced with makerspaces, community rooms, and New Groupthink. This new focus changes the atmosphere of the library:
Of course, with all these new activities come new spatial requirements. Library buildings must incorporate a wide variety of furniture arrangements, lighting designs, acoustical conditions, etc., to accommodate multiple sensory registers, modes of working, postures and more. Librarians are now acknowledging—and designing for, rather than designing out—activities that make noise and can occasionally be a bit messy. (Mattern, 2014, p. 14)
The current trend revising library infrastructure mirrors that of corporate America, where businesses are increasingly transitioning to open, collaborative spaces:
Today’s employees inhabit open office plans, in which no one has a room of his or her own, the only walls are the ones holding up the building, and senior executives operate from the center of the boundary-less floor along with everyone else. (Cain, 2012, p. 76)
The “New Groupthink” trend is motivated by the belief that more heads are better than one, that the loudest voices have the best ideas, and that extroversion and leadership go hand-in-hand. Cain calls this trend the “extrovert ideal” and contends that it has enthralled America, allowing confidence and boldness to outshine thoughtfulness and thoroughness. In this system, the charismatic extrovert wins the promotion over the more qualified introvert and the shy student’s grade is lowered due to her lack of verbal participation in class. This, Cain argues, is not ideal. Instead, she campaigns for the cultivation of environments that allow introverts to thrive without demonizing extroverts in the process. Why? Because “there’s a less obvious yet surprisingly obvious explanation for introverts’ creative advantage—an explanation that everyone can learn from: introverts prefer to work independently, and solitude can be a catalyst to innovation” (Cain, 2012, p. 74). Introverts have a greater ability to sit with a problem longer, in quiet contemplation, until a viable solution is reached. The quiet and solitude feed their creativity and foster innovation in the process, the very innovation libraries are trying to achieve through those elements of the hyperlinked library model that improve connectivity and teamwork.
So, how can libraries foster the group environment—filled with makerspaces and New Groupthink atmospheres—without sacrificing space and quiet for introverts? Cain suggests creating those spaces necessary for group collaboration and noise and those spaces necessary for quiet and contemplation but keeping them far enough away from each other that both remain effective. Cain also proposes libraries encourage quiet brainstorming prior to group work (2012, p. 266). This would allow introverts to gather their thoughts and form ideas in their comfortable environment prior to joining the collaborative group space so they may feel confident in joining the conversation.
Additionally, Cain (2012) disputes the validity of the New Groupthink ideologies of the “Internet’s role in promoting face-to-face group work” and that “the rise of the World Wide Web . . . lent both cool and gravitas to the idea of collaboration,” instead insisting “the early Web was a medium that enabled bands of often introverted individualists . . . to come together to subvert and transcend the usual ways of problem-solving” (pp. 78-79). This is not to say that group work and the Internet should be avoided, but rather “we’re so impressed by the power of online collaboration that we’ve come to overvalue all group work at the expense of solo thought” (Cain, 2012, p. 89). The point is that libraries must find a middle ground; engage the strengths of each side, in partnership, in order to fuel innovation and generate positive engagement.
When examining this juxtaposition between introverts and extroverts in the context of engagement and collaboration between the library and its user, the question becomes this: how do libraries engage all users and encourage collaboration on both sides of the personality spectrum? Libraries can provide virtual resources that nurture the creativity and innovation of their more introverted users, create group spaces in the library to encourage the collaboration of their more extroverted users, and coalesce the two through programming designed to merge both communities. Furthermore, libraries can introduce multiple outlets for information and channels for connection and feedback, catering to users with varying comfort levels. This can be achieved through participatory service activities such as library blogs and social media campaigns (Casey, 2011). In providing options that allow users to engage on their own terms, libraries can meet the needs of all types of users and, ultimately, better serve their communities.
As Schneider (2006) so astutely noted, “you cannot change the user, but you can transform the user experience to meet the user. Meet people where they are—not where you want them to be.”
This is the future of the library.
Cain, S. (2012). Quiet: The power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking. Broadway Books.
Casey, M. (2011, October 20). Revisiting participatory service in trying times. Tame the Web. https://tametheweb.com/2011/10/20/revisiting-participatory-service-in-trying-times-a-ttw-guest-post-by-michael-casey/
Chant, I. (2016, October 26). User-designed libraries: Design4Impact. Library Journal. https://www.libraryjournal.com/?detailStory=user-designed-libraries-design4impact
Denning, S. (2015, April 28). Do we need libraries? Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/stevedenning/2015/04/28/do-we-need-libraries/?linkId=13831539&utm_campaign=ForbesTech&utm_channel=Technology&utm_medium=social&utm_source=TWITTER&sh=758339116cd7
Mack, C. (2013, February 17). Crowdsourced design: Why Los Angeles is asking the public to create the library of the future. Good. https://www.good.is/articles/crowdsourced-design-why-los-angeles-is-asking-the-public-to-create-the-library-of-the-future
Mattern, S. (2014). Library as Infrastructure. Places Journal. https://doi.org/10.22269/140609
Matthews, B. (2010, June 21). Unquiet library has high-schoolers geeked. American Libraries Magazine. https://americanlibrariesmagazine.org/2010/06/21/unquiet-library-has-high-schoolers-geeked/
Schneider, K. (2006, June 3). The user is not broken. Free Range Librarian. http://freerangelibrarian.com/2006/06/03/the-user-is-not-broken-a-meme-masquerading-as-a-manifesto/