Reflection on Hyperlinked Communities

It’s understandable that not everyone is thrilled about how trendy it has become to have a 3-D printer at the library. Mattern (2014) wonders, “What knowledge is produced when I churn out, say, a keychain on a MakerBot?” (Library as Technological-Intellectual Infrastructure section, para. 9). Mattern (2014) also asks, “Can an institution whose technical and physical infrastructure is governed by the pursuit of innovation also fulfill its obligations as a social infrastructure serving the disenfranchised?” (Reading Across the Infrastructural Ecology section, para. 1). This is more or less the same point as the unnamed student at the beginning of Stephen’s (2017) article. Libraries pursuing the latest technology and also serving vulnerable communities can seem like they don’t fit very well together.

Stephens (2017) writes that technology offerings are part of the library’s services to the vulnerable. Being literate in certain technologies has become a necessary part of daily life, and some people depend on the library to help them reach the threshold of technological know-how, which includes becoming familiar with new technology (Stephens, 2017). West (2014) makes a similar point about the digital divide: helping people get online is helping them do so much more than just surf the web.

Mattern (2014) worries that libraries should be less like startups and more like libraries. If we worry too much about pursuing the latest trends we might lose makes libraries special. I would argue that libraries have been serving vulnerable communities for a long time, and 3-D printers are not going to change that. Stephens (2017) writes that innovation in libraries should include being kind to our users in innovative ways. This is a key difference between a library and a startup. My own library has recently done away with late fees entirely (Saarinen, 2019), and also started offering WiFi hotspots for people to check out (Sonoma County Library, n.d.). I can say first-hand that both are very popular, especially among library users who need a little kindness in their lives right now.

Here is a video about the hotspots in Spanish.

References

Mattern, S. (2014). Library as infrastructure. Retrieved from https://placesjournal.org/article/library-as-infrastructure/?cn-reloaded=1

Saarinen, R. (2019). Library to eliminate fines for 80,000 patrons. Retrieved from https://sonomalibrary.org/blogs/news/library-to-eliminate-fines-for-80000-patrons

Sonoma County Library. (n.d.). SonomaFi – WiFi hotspots. Retrieved from https://sonomalibrary.org/sonomafi

sonomalibrary. (2019, April 11). SonomaFi español [Video file]. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/34OeEHH88sU

Stephens, M. (2017). Libraries in balance. Library Journal. Retrieved from https://www.libraryjournal.com/?detailStory=libraries-in-balance-office-hours

West, J. (2014). 21st century digital divide. Retrieved from http://www.librarian.net/talks/rlc14/

Palaces for the People: Context Book Review

Klinenberg (2018) argues that a community’s social infrastructure–“the physical places and organizations that shape the way people interact” (p. 5)—can be a matter of life or death for its residents. Due to climate change, catastrophes such as heatwaves, floods, and hurricanes are becoming more common (Klinenberg, 2018, p. 186). These events can bring communities to the brink of collapse. The connections that social infrastructure foster makes a community more resilient to these disasters, just as the absence of these connections leads to people being isolated, making that community more vulnerable as a whole (Klinenberg, 2018). Klinenberg writes:

When social infrastructure is robust, it fosters contact, mutual support, and collaboration among friends and neighbors; when degraded it inhibits social activity, leaving families and individuals to fend for themselves. Social infrastructure is crucially important, because local, face-to face interactions—at the school, the playground, and the corner diner—are the building blocks of all public life. (Klinenberg, 2018, p. 5)

However, social infrastructure is more than just disaster planning; it also helps communities dealing with problems such as aging populations, inequality, and ethnic divisions (Klinenberg, 2018, p. 7). 

Libraries, of course, are a vital part of social infrastructure, because they are places where people make relationships with each other, and, importantly, they are open to all (Klinenberg, 2018, p. 37). While Klinenberg includes some touching stories of people discovering their love of reading and learning at the library, from a social infrastructure point of view, one of the library’s most important functions is providing a physical space for people to interact with fellow community members they wouldn’t normally interact with (Klinenberg, 2018, pp. 37-38). Groups that are often subtly (or not so subtly) shown they are unwelcome in commercial “third places” are welcome at the library: the elderly, teens, the poor, and those experiencing homelessness (Klinenberg, 2018). Leferink (2018) makes a similar argument for the importance of physical gathering spaces, writing that they shape who we are as communities.

Mattern (2014) writes that libraries are a network of different infrastructures. In other words, libraries do a lot of things. In fact, they may do too many things, and how they balance everything that is asked of them with the funding available is something for librarians to wrestle with (Mattern, 2014). Klinenberg (2018) and Mattern (2014) both make the point that the library does a lot for a lot of different people, and that they do, and should do, unexpected things. Klinenberg’s point of view can be freeing, because he essentially argues that the only thing a library must do is to keep bringing the community to the library, which will bring them to each other. Libraries tend to focus on literacy and learning, because they have always done those well, and people still want those things. However, there is almost nothing that libraries could not potentially do, and Klinenberg discusses many ways that communities strengthen themselves, all of which libraries can be a part of if their community needs them to be. This includes, but is not limited to, calming green spaces, community gardens,  working together to physically revitalize a neighborhood, being a staging area for disaster relief, providing space for coffee shops, providing space for cafes, being a work space, being a gathering place, being a place for relaxation, and hosting video game sports leagues (Klinenberg, 2018).

Each library will have to decide for itself how to balance its many roles within the community. Casey and Savastinuk (2007) write that we must look outward. That means paying attention to the community. What services each library will provide depends on what individual communities need. Access is important as well. Stephens (2016) points out that breaking down barriers to accessing the library is key to keeping the public’s interest (p. 80). It is also important for the health of those communities, whether they now it or not. As vulnerable communities become even more vulnerable, access to libraries, and the social infrastructure they are a part of, is essential.

This palace for the people, a former Carnegie Library, is now an Apple Store. This is is a step in the wrong direction, unless Apple plans to offer services that everyone can enjoy.

References

Casey, M. E., & Savastinuk, L. C. (2007). Library 2.0: A guide to participatory library service [PDF file]. Medford, N.J: Information Today. Retrieved from https://287.hyperlib.sjsu.edu/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/Library2.0Text.pdf

Devaney, R. (n.d.). Carnegie library [JPEG file]. Retrieved from https://georgetowner.com/articles/2019/05/09/apple-store-moves-into-former-carnegie-library/

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.

Leferink, S. (2018, January 24). To keep people happy…keep some books [Blog post]. Retrieved from http://www.oclc.org/blog/main/to-keep-people-happy-keep-some-books/

Mattern, S. (2014). Library as infrastructure. Retrieved from https://placesjournal.org/article/library-as-infrastructure/?cn-reloaded=1

Stephens, M. (2016). The heart of librarianship: Attentive, positive, and purposeful change [PDF file]. Chicago, IL: ALA Editions. Retrieved from https://www.dropbox.com/s/awarqt5rdxcmzet/9780838914649.pdf?dl=0#

Reflection on the Foundational Readings

The foundational readings are from 1992, 2007, and 2012. You could say that a lot has changed since even the most recent one was written, but what they write about libraries still applies today. Part of the reason for this is that even though it is fashionable for libraries to claim to embrace change, for a lot of them, change has been slow in coming.

We all know Dokk1 is doing great, but what about my local library?

Buckland (1992) writes that from the late 1800s up until the 1970s there was relatively little need to seriously reexamine library services, and certainly little need to reexamine what libraries were for (Foundations of Library Service section, para. 8).  There is reason to now, but as Casey and Savastinuk (2007) point out, libraries tend to resist change even as they lose the interest of their users. I don’t think we have lost the interest of as many users as they feared, but it’s been thirteen years since that was written, and Stephens (2020) argues that people still think libraries are all about books. If they do, it is our fault.

I don’t always agree with everything that Mathews (2012) writes. If libraries copy the business world too much they might lose what makes them libraries. Change has to purposeful, and we need to decide what that the goal of those changes is going to be (Casey and Savastinuk, 2007). If we can take what is good, and leave the bad, then fine. Mathews (2012) is certainly right that libraries could use some big ideas. Using technology to do what libraries have always done, but better, is a part of change that libraries have embraced, but that is only part of what they need to do. Libraries need some big ideas, and at the same time they also need to hold on to what makes them libraries. That’s not going to be easy, but I think librarians are up to it. 

Rerferences

Buckland, M. (1992). Redesigning library services: A manifesto [PDF file]. Chicago, IL: American Library Association. Retrieved from https://digitalassets.lib.berkeley.edu/sunsite/Redesigning%20Library%20Services_%20A%20Manifesto%20(HTML).pdf

Casey, M. E., & Savastinuk, L. C. (2007). Library 2.0: A guide to participatory library service [PDF file]. Medford, N.J: Information Today. Retrieved from https://287.hyperlib.sjsu.edu/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/Library2.0Text.pdf

Mathews, B. (2012). Think like a startup: A white paper to inspire library entrepreneurialism. Retrieved from https://vtechworks.lib.vt.edu/bitstream/handle/10919/18649/Think%20like%20a%20STARTUP.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y

Mørk, A. (n.d.). Dokk1 VisitAarhus [JPEG image]. Retrieved from https://www.visitaarhus.com/aarhus/plan-your-trip/dokk1-gdk1077504

Stephens, M. (2020). Hyperlinked library model [Panopto video]. Retrieved from https://sjsu-ischool.hosted.panopto.com/Panopto/Pages/Viewer.aspx?id=a0569381-4d66-4e0a-a7fa-aab3010a8f3e