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

Hello, Classmates!

What’s up, party people? My name is Britt and this is my second to last semester at the iSchool. After this semester, I just have 289 and I’ll be graduating in May, as long as everything goes to plan! (Ahhhh so excited!) I have an undergraduate degree in Philosophy and a paralegal certificate. I worked as a paralegal at a Public Defender’s office for a while, where I met some of the most amazing and caring people and learned a lot about some of the more underserved and marginalized populations of my community. It was an amazing opportunity and has really shifted my views and focus in life. I am looking forward to using my experience understanding and helping others as I move forward in my career.

Here at the iSchool, I have moved in a more technology focused direction and hope to work in data librarianship. I’ve not only been taking the classes through the school, but have been complementing my skill set by learning coding and data analysis through online classes and tutorials that I found for free. Isn’t the Internet a beautiful thing? Open source, crowd source, free tutorials, people who want to teach others for free and others who compile lists of free resources have helped me so much over the years. It honestly warms my heart to know there are so many amazing people out there sharing information for good (and helps me shift my focus away from the more shady areas of the Internet). If you are ever curious, I have compiled some of the resources I’ve personally used most often on my e-resume website under Resources.

On a more personal note, I have recently moved from sunny California to Pennsylvania and am feeling a bit ambivalent about the upcoming winter. I have never lived anywhere it snows in the wintertime (hello, two seasons of Cali’s central valley: “kinda cold but a hoodie should do” and “I guess I live in an oven now”). It’s exciting, but I have hardly any idea what to expect and am a little scared I might end up like Jack Nicholson at the end of The Shining. In any case, I’ll continue hoping I don’t freeze to death before graduation and invest in some very warm socks and lots and lots of layers.

In my free time, I do enjoy learning about almost anything. I often find myself spending hours and hours down online rabbit holes. I love to read historical fiction, fantasy, and sci-fi mostly. I also wholeheartedly enjoy playing video games and meeting new people online (but also meeting new people offline), playing tabletop board games with friends, painting (canvas, minis, and hoping to get in to digital), yoga, and chilling with my two rescue animals, Buddy the dog and Mister the cat.

A photo of a brown dog named Buddy.A black cat with yellow eyes named Mister.

Lastly, I want to say I really look forward to working with you all in this class and I am so stoked to be learning about hyperlinked libraries and all about new technologies and ways to apply them. I hope you all had a wonderful summer and continue to have a super rad fall. Cheers!