Hyperlinked Communities

“we are not only banning skateboards, we [are] excluding a community of skateboarders.”

Christian Lauersen, 2018

My takeaway from the reading, lectures, and videos regarding hyperlinked communities was summed up in Dr. Stephens’s lecture (as it should be):

“make sure that anyone and everyone that is a part of our constituency may find something that will engage them, will excite them, will teach them something, or whatever it might be”

Lauersen (2018) emphasizes the importance of inclusion in the library, both for the staff and the community. And diversity, he says, is not the same as inclusion. Being inclusive is not as simple as having a diverse staff or inviting diverse people to the library. So while diversity may not lead to inclusion, I think it we can think of it more as inclusion leads to diversity. When we build inclusive spaces and networks, people feel welcomed, and you will see diversity there. I use the terms spaces to mean both physical spaces (architecture, furnishing, decorations, etc.) as well as online spaces (websites, blogs, message boards, etc.).

One of the stumbling blocks for creating inclusive spaces is bias. Both Lauersen (2018) and boyd (2016) describe the importance of acknowledging and understanding bias in ourselves and in our technologies. Biases come in every variety, and everyone has them, because we are human. Some biases are learned from personal experiences, but some are learned from our culture. These cultural biases are even more insidious because they can infect our supposedly neutral, un-opinionated software.

“When the data you input is biased, what you get out is just as biased. These systems learn the biases in our society, and they spit them back out at us.”

danah boyd

It’s also important to recognize that the bias we must contend with is not only the bias in ourselves and the library. The people we are trying to reach also have biases, and we may need to overcome those as well. Again, cultural biases are implicit and can be difficult to recognize. But we must also contend with personal biases that may come from experiences. Biases can form much more quickly and strongly from negative reactions than from positive ones.

For example, there is a corner near my home where I cross the street often. One night, as I was crossing with my dog, a car turning left onto the street that I thought should have seen us nearly ran us over (or so that was how I perceived it). Ever since that one negative experience, I cross the street at that corner with an abundance of caution. This one experience has affected my behavior going forward.

So as we try to reach out and created a hyperlinked community, we must understand that some people may have biases against libraries, or certain library branches, or even just government services, based on negative experiences they have had in the past. We need to build trust with the community, and focusing on inclusion will be one of the bridges that connects us.

In The Heart of Librarianship, Stephens (2016) asks us, “Who in your community could benefit from access, services, assistance?” and says, “Find them. Go to them, ask them what they want and need.” This, along with the message from the lecture about reaching “ALL users,” led me to think of which kinds of people are least easy to reach. I realized that (in my opinion at least) the most difficult people are not the ones who don’t understand how the library can help them, but are the people who don’t have time to spend with the library. There are lots of examples put forth by Stephens, Lauersen, and others about the kinds of spaces, events, activities, art projects, technologies, etc. that libraries can lean into to create engagement with the library. Most of these kinds of examples assume that the people in the community have time that they can divert towards engaging with library activities, they just haven’t realized it yet. But what about people who don’t have time to spend going to cool library events or interactive art exhibits? How can we reach the people who just don’t have time to use the library?

I thought about the line from Stephens’s Libraries in Balance post, “What would make their lives easier?” (2017). How can the library’s experiences and services become so seamlessly integrated into the lives of people who don’t otherwise have the opportunity to be reached by the library? Often in the US, the people with the least time to spare don’t have the luxury of finding more time. People in poverty are often struggling to take care of their jobs and families and don’t have the financial or time budget to make time for the library. So how can we bring the library to them most effectively, when they are people who have the potential to benefit so much from our services? We often can’t even rely on internet technology in these cases.

I don’t have the answers yet, but I did start brainstorming solutions. Could libraries offer all-digital library cards, that can be signed up for online and used exclusively online? This would help serve people who have internet access but don’t have the time to even come to the library for a card. What library services don’t even need a card to use? Can we bring the library to places like groceries or corner stores? To public transit? Where can we meet people who are already occupied or on the move, so that we can truly try to reach all users?

boyd, d. (2016). What World Are We Building? Retrieved from https://points.datasociety.net/what-world-are-we-building-9978495dd9ad
Lauersen, C. (2018). Do you want to dance? Inclusion and belonging in libraries and beyond. Retrieved from https://christianlauersen.net/2018/06/07/inclusion-and-belonging-in-libraries-and-beyond/
Stephens, M. T. (2016). The heart of librarianship : Attentive, positive, and purposeful change. ALA Editions.
Stephens, M. (2017). Libraries in Balance. Retrieved from https://www.libraryjournal.com/?detailStory=libraries-in-balance-office-hours

One Response

  1. All of your brainstorming is spot on – I heart the idea of the library at the grocery store! This absolutely the way to think. I’d throw into the mix asking libraries that circulate wifi access points to develop a way to get them to folks who don’t have time to get to the library to pick them up!

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