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:

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.


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

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

oclsvideos. (2018, August 24). Library Social Worker. [Video File]. Retrieved from

Stephens, M. (2019). The hyperlinked library: Hyperlinked communities. [Video lecture]. Retrieved from

<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.


Searls, D. & Weinberger, D. (2015, January 8). New clues. [Webpage] Retrieved from

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

TEDx Talks. (2019, June 13). How libraries change lives| Ciara Eastell | TEDxExeter. [Video]. Retrieved from