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Hyperlinked Environments

Photo by Kadir Celep on Unsplash

Every time I get on a museum’s website, I stare at it and think: “I want to learn all of the things”. I always forget how much information is on these sites, how much I can learn about the collection from my personal computer. Of course, I’m the traditional audience, I’d visit every museum , library, or archive everywhere I traveled if my family would let me. So, being allowed to view a collection–even if its only parts of it–online is very in-line with my information consuming habits. Still, I forget these places exist and fall down the YouTube rabbit hole instead.

So, how do information professionals fight this?

Being a hyperlinked organization is part of the solution.

Of course, tuning into social media is integral–if we’re going to get stuck in the YouTube rabbit hole anyways, then we at least have the option of falling down a museum or archive’s channel? For example, Lowell Observatory holds a regular livestream titled “Cosmic Coffee” that uses YouTube as its platform for the video and chatting with viewers. During one of these sessions,  they interviewed the observatory’s archivist, thereby introducing their users to another part of their organization. The archivist’s willingness to participate and give a video tour in the archive was a great example of two specific tenants of hyperlinked libraries/organizations (Stephens):

“The most powerful information services to date are probably found in the palm of everyone’s hand.”

AND

“Hyperlinking subverts existing organizational structures.”

The required-reading article, “How A 145-Year-Old Art Museum Stays Relevant In The Smartphone Age” by Titlow, was also excellent in showing how to approach hyperlinking and classic “what if” fears Prof Stephens has discussed in his lectures.

“They were worried: If you show the art online, then why would people come to the museum?” says Sreenivasan. The new site lets people download high-resolution images and use them for free in non-commercial work. “Shouldn’t they be crappy pictures? I believe that the more you show, the more people will want to come.”

I actually laughed when I read this, because it’s something that, if I didn’t know better, I might have wondered myself. But I’ve been to museums. I’ve been to the Louvre and the British Museum, and some of the Smithsonian’s. And let me tell you one thing: If I had known more about the collections before I visited, I would have had an even more amazing experience. I don’t speak French, and I was not a lover of art at almost 18 years old when I visited the Louvre. I didn’t speak French (which was what most of the info plaques were written in)–and didn’t know how amazing and helpful an English audio tour would have been until it was too late. I was unbelievably jet lagged, and all I wanted to do in the most famous museum in the world was to sit down.

My brother (then-11 yrs old) passed out behind a statue of Artemis/Diana. When told he had to stay awake to look at all the beautiful artwork he said, “But we just passed a perfectly beautiful bench.”

My best friend, however, was passionate about art and bouncing off the walls with excitement. The difference was she knew what she was looking at, and I did not. I still had some amazing experiences at the Louvre. The most memorable–which I unfortunately don’t have photo of–was that the edges of the marble staircases had been walked on so much they were curling downwards in places. And in fact, I believe it was somewhere between the Louvre and the end of the British Museum that the first seeds wanting to be an information professional were planted.

What I regret to this day is not knowing what was available to me before I visited. I would have been more excited during my visit if I had known the history and significance of the art and artifacts. If I could have interacted with displays and collections before visiting, it would have made me want to go (if I wasn’t already) or more excited about going. Seeing how the Met is interacting with its patrons and reaching out to touch people beyond their walls, is a beautiful example of reaching “all users, not just those who come through our doors” (Stephens). This is such an important tenant of the hyperlinked organization, because some people may not be able to enter the walls of the information organization physically or they may never have thought they belonged there if the organization had not made the effort to approach the person where he was.

References:

Stephens, M. (2020). The Hyperlinked Library: Exploring the model. https://sjsu-ischool.hosted.panopto.com/Panopto/Pages/Viewer.aspx?id=a0569381-4d66-4e0a-a7fa-aab3010a8f3e

Titlow, J. (2016). How A 145-Year-Old Art Museum Stays Relevant In The Smartphone Age.

Reflection Post #1: The Hyperlinked Library Model

Even before taking this class, the concept of the hyperlinked library gave me some anxiety. I’m a creature who upholds traditional values and is incredibly change adverse. I like structure, order, and rules. However, I also like being given the freedom to make judgement calls. I’m curious, enjoy exploring in the learning sense, and am often found asking (sometimes demanding) to know “why?”. I don’t shy away from hunting down answers or sitting with a piece of technology until I know how to make it work for me–and often the patron sitting next to me. I’ve asked myself several times, am I capable of buying into this model? It gives me a lot of anxiety. But it also has so much beautiful potential. I don’t mind the library being loud and full of life–I actually love the chaotic energy that comes from the concept of the “unquiet library“. But I’m also introverted and often find myself in desperate need to unplug from digital and social expectations. I find myself in the camp that while digital technology/the internet has opened so many doors it also creates many complications that simply wouldn’t exist if we didn’t rely so heavily on it (I write this as I’m knee deep in a troubleshooting drama of what feels like Shakespearean proportions for my very new laptop, so I may be a little biased right now).

Technology is great…when it works.

Bobby Darnell

Stephens (2006) mentions that “perpetual beta works well for the library’s Web presence” (pg. 8). I think this concept is what gives me some of the most anxiety, the inability to learn a skill and keep it: I fear Beta Burnout. These fears can probably be assuaged with better understanding–as is often the case with the unknown–and also a different perspective. Being in perpetual beta allows us to evaluate mistakes and implement new decisions faster instead of suffering with poor decisions for a long time. Stephen goes on to encourage that “ease of use, user involvement, and easily added/reconfigured pieces” be part of the beta process and evaluation of whether the system is working. This shows a common idea of the hyperlinked library model: user feedback is important for the hyperlinked library, and we can respond to feedback better while in beta mode as well.

Beyond simply changing my perspective and learning more, two things gave me comfort while going through the require reading. First, Buckley mentions that “we can expect, and should plan for, any real library service to be a blend: part Automated Library and part Electronic Library” (pg. 10). So often change is depicted as absolute and unavoidable (the e-reader is going to take away print books forever and there’s nothing you can do about it, haha!) instead of moldable and forgiving. I believe we see patrons want a little bit of everything–that combination between Automated and Electronic that Buckley predicted. I haven’t met a single person who argues that a card catalog is preferable to an online catalog, but I’m told almost weekly by patrons they’re “so glad we still have real books”–and sometimes those patrons are also avid digital users.

Books are the quietest and most constant of friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counselors, and the most patient of teachers.

Charles W. Eliot

This harkens back to Leferink’s article “To keep people happy…keep some books“. This article is the second thing that made me more comfortable about the hyperlinked library. Because the hyperlinked library focuses so much on user experience, users are invited into discussions instead of left to wonder if things they love will be removed (and I have to routinely remind myself that while I am a library staff member, I’m also a patron, a user, and my voice as such matters as much as my voice as staff).

Leferink covers the importance of nature as well as giving credit to the fact that physical space is still important: “People long for community and places to go for solace, comfort, reflection, and joy”. For some people some people that’s a busy, social environment–whether physical or digital. For others it is not. At one time the library was only for the quiet learner. Now it is much more than that, and I think that the hyperlinked library is in the position to balance reflective solace and a strong sense of place with the chaotic messiness that is life and community.

Resources:

Leferink, S. (2018). To keep people happy … keep some books. Next.

Mathews, B. (2010). The unquiet library has high-schoolers geeked. American Libraries.

Stephens, M. (2006). Into a new world of librarianship: Sharpen these skills for Librarian 2.0. Next Space: The OCLC Newsletter, No. 2, pg. 8.

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