Linking People: Supporting Our Most Vulnerable

As I ponder the question Professor Stephens left us at the end of the Module 5 lecture: Who needs community and support and how do we reach them? (Stephens, 2019), I can’t help but reflect on my time spent at the Public Defender’s Office working with people who had mental health issues, who lived in poverty or were homeless, who were ostracized, those with addiction issues, in crisis, those with a rough past or present who needed someone to help them, to listen to them, to treat them like humans. Most often, it was the respectful listening that helped me earn a rapport with many of our clients, truly listening and responding without judgement. This is also what librarians do: listen and help patrons without judgement and treat their communities with respect. While reading Lauersen (2018), I was once again reminded of the implicit biases everyone carries with them and how these biases can segregate and isolate people. We need to be mindful of these biases in order to move past them and include those that need to feel included. Those people, Lauersen (2018) wrote, need to be asked to dance.

To answer the first question posited by Professor Stephens, it is these groups with the social stigmas or those that are at risk who need community and support. Stigmas can be isolating, and isolated groups are vulnerable groups. Klinenberg (2018) emphasized the importance of community on our most vulnerable populations like teens in poor neighborhoods with no safe spaces or elderly people with no one to look after them. I would also include other isolated populations such as those with mental illness, homeless populations, and those living in crime-stricken areas. Klinenberg (2018) insists that that inclusion of others, especially those living in isolation, exposes people to others who are different from themselves. This diversity creates strong community bonds and the library is a perfect place to do that.

The Orange County Library System employs a social worker to help vulnerable populations in their area.

The issue remains, however: how do we reach them? The theme of this module is a hyperlinked community and, as Stephens (2019) said, people are hyperlinks too. Outreach services may get the ball rolling on reaching the vulnerable populations. Reaching out to community leaders of neighborhoods who need more support, mental health services, homeless shelters, even perhaps jails or prison libraries and asking them what the library can do to support those who need it would be a start. Maybe those recently released from jail need a career workshop or a technology workshop to help them learn new skills and help bridge the digital divide. Maybe teens who are isolated or at risk need access to safe spaces such as a creativity lab, music club, or poetry slam group to keep them engaged in learning, create an outlet for frustrations, or to help them make friends and create their own support system. The path a library needs to take may not be clear and there is not a one-size-fits-all for programming, but reaching out and linking the library to those who work with vulnerable populations every day is a first step.

BONUS! Something to Listen to:

On an episode of This American Life, in Growing-Shelf Awareness, a segment of The Room of Requirement, Stephanie Foo (2018) recounts her experience as a homeless child not realizing she was homeless due to the public library: https://www.thisamericanlife.org/664/the-room-of-requirement/act-three-4

This podcast emphasizes the importance of including our vulnerable populations, such as the homeless, in our libraries and what it can mean to actually include those who are normally ostracized in our communities.

References

Foo, S. (2018, December 28). The Room of Requirement Act Three: Growing Shelf-Awareness. Retrieved from https://www.thisamericanlife.org/

Klinenberg, E. (2018). Palaces for the people: How social infrastructure can help fight inequality, polarization, and the decline of civic life. New York, NY: Crown.

Lauersen, C. (2018). Do you want to dance? Inclusion and belonging in libraries and beyond. The Library Lab. [Web blog]. Retrieved from https://christianlauersen.net/2018/06/07/inclusion-and-belonging-in-libraries-and-beyond/

oclsvideos. (2018, August 24). Library Social Worker. [Video File]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DjwKD378XQY

Stephens, M. (2019). The hyperlinked library: Hyperlinked communities. [Video lecture]. Retrieved from https://sjsu-ischool.hosted.panopto.com/Panopto/Pages/Viewer.aspx?id=bdb39d41-e4a7-4b33-9da4-aab40117c7e8

The Hyperlinked Library as Social Infrastructure

Like a fish that doesn’t realize it’s surrounded by the very thing it needs to survive: water, we may not even notice the very life-giving infrastructure that we are immersed in until it is threatened or depleted. Eric Klinenberg implores readers to take another look at the importance of the social fabric of our communities. In his book Palaces for the People: How Social Infrastructure Can Help Fight Inequality, Polarization, and the Decline of Civic Life, Klinenberg (2018) takes a close look at how, what he calls social infrastructure, has the power to make or break the future of our communities.

Cover of Palaces for the People by Eric Klinenberg.

From the very beginning of the book, in which Klinenberg takes the reader to 1995 Chicago in which a major heatwave killed a record number of citizens (pp. 1-7) to the final chapter in which Klinenberg looks at the devastating numbers of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Sandy, and Katrina (pp. 177-207) the message remains the same: communities with strong ties that have relief spaces during disasters have a greater chance of survival and communities that have spaces where diverse types of people can congregate feel happier and are healthier. In addition to social fabric helping communities to survive and thrive, Klinenberg also attributes lower crime rates to the revitalization of abandoned lots and houses into green social spaces (pp 125-139), as well as to places like the library where people are treated with respect and dignity and are given the responsibility of civility (p. 45).

The Library

The most written about theme throughout Klinenberg’s book is the importance of coming together for the sake of the community. It is about the positive forces of caring and creating bonds that make a society healthy, protect the vulnerable, keep crime rates down, and keeps people alive. In many of the chapters, it is the library that helps to facilitate these community bonds. The library connects people with information and with other patrons who may otherwise be isolated or vulnerable such as new mothers (pp. 34-37), teens with no other safe spaces (pp. 44-46), and the elderly (pp. 133-134).

The library helps many more than just these specific groups, though, and it is oftentimes a starting zone for recreational programs, learning, and even after-school childcare. The hyperlinked library can be even more of a community hub when connected to the rest of the community spaces in a town or city. By strengthening the bonds and community ties through outreach and program development, the hyperlinked library can build strong roots, strengthen the social fabric, and connect people in ways that have the potential to save the lives of those who are touched by library programming.

Eric Klinenberg’s Talks at Google for Palaces for the People.

Community Spaces Bridge the Divide

Klinenberg’s ideas are very compelling and give way to an idea that any space, whether it be the library, a park, a dam, an empty lot, church, café, or barbershop, can be more than what it seems. Through the use of these spaces and, in the context of this class, the library, a community can be networked in such a way that we can mend the divisiveness presently tearing our social fabric apart and look to each other for support.

Like Klinenberg’s interviewee Michael MacDonald, head of Global Health Initiatives in Washington D.C., so eloquently put “It’s the fragile, agile networks that make a difference in situations like [Hurricane Sandy]. It’s the horizontal relationships like the ones we’re building that create security on the ground, not the hierarchical institutions” (pp. 193-194). It is the sprawling networks, the caring and bringing together of people from all backgrounds to help one another that can help turn society’s trajectory around. By treating others with dignity, respect, and caring for one another on small scales, like proposed in Stephens (2019) when speaking about horizontal staff structure, to large scales, like community recreational spaces for all, the reaching outward as opposed to reaching upward is what makes a difference.

References

Klinenberg, E. (2018). Palaces for the people: How social infrastructure can help fight inequality, polarization, and the decline of civic life. New York, NY: Crown.

Stephens, M. (2019). The hyperlinked library: Exploring the model. [Video lecture]. Retrieved from https://sjsu-ischool.hosted.panopto.com/Panopto/Pages/Viewer.aspx?id=a0569381-4d66-4e0a-a7fa-aab3010a8f3e

Talks at Google. (2019, February 5). Eric Klinenberg: “Palaces for the people” | Talks at Google. [Video file]. Retreived from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HJIYhSA84Sc

<a href=“community”>Library</a>

As luck would have it, I actually stumbled into this class by chance! Another class I had planned on taking was not going to be offered this semester, so I was perusing the course catalog and thought “Hmm, the hyperlinked library sounds really interesting” even though I had hardly a clue what it could be. Based on the foundational readings and the hyperlinked library model, however, I feel very excited about not just this class, but my own future in LIS, my community’s future, and the future of libraries in general!

This week, as I was reading and taking notes, I began to see the pattern of libraries as hubs hyperlinked throughout a community. As we move out of the age of TV and consumption and into an age of sharing and creating, libraries should offer connection and creation over consumption. Libraries should no longer be seen as just storage spaces for knowledge and information when they can be interactive and engaging!

Wordcloud of text from New Clues by Searls and Weinberger.
Wordcloud created from Searls and Weinberger’s (2015) New Clues (CC0 license).

When I first think of hyperlinking, I think of the Internet. The Internet, as Searls and Weinberger (2015) wrote “is an impossibly large, semi-persistent realm of items discoverable in their dense interconnections” and “every thing and every connection on the Web was created by some one of us expressing an interest and an assumption about how those small pieces go together” (The web is a wide world). This is the power of hyperlinking. On the Internet, hyperlinking forges connections between subjects, thoughts, ideas, and people that might otherwise never have been connected. It creates communities, shows people how to navigate the rough terrain of learning something new, of grief, of disasters. It helps people find common ground, find common interests, learn something new, go down rabbit holes and explore. This is the type of hyperlinking the library should want to do. Not necessarily only on the Internet, but within their own communities and with their own users and potential users.

TED Talk: How libraries change lives about the significance of the library as a multifaceted community builder by Ciara Eastell.

The library as a hyperlinked world can be practiced on the Internet, as suggested by Searls and Weinberger (2015), but the power lies in hyperlinking as a concept as opposed to hyperlinking as a medium. The library can link between library departments, between city and state departments, with other businesses, and with community leaders. Most importantly, through these channels, libraries can connect people with: the library, programs, information, and with other people. The important aspect is the connection. A library should look more like a network (of hyperlinks!) than like a pyramid (Stephens, 2019). As Shirky (2010) in Cognitive Surplus posited, we are moving into a future of collective intelligence and creation. The library can facilitate that future. It can be a hub of creation, exploration, and connection.

References

Searls, D. & Weinberger, D. (2015, January 8). New clues. [Webpage] Retrieved from http://blog.9while9.com/manifesto-anthology/2015newclues.html

Shirky, C. (2010). Cognitive surplus: creativity and generosity in a connected age. New York, NY: Penguin Group.

Stephens, M. (2019). The hyperlinked library: Exploring the model. [Video lecture]. Retrieved from https://sjsu-ischool.hosted.panopto.com/Panopto/Pages/Viewer.aspx?id=a0569381-4d66-4e0a-a7fa-aab3010a8f3e

TEDx Talks. (2019, June 13). How libraries change lives| Ciara Eastell | TEDxExeter. [Video]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tvt-lHZBUwU