Former ALA President, Loida Garcia-Febo (2018), tugged at my heartstrings with this statement in the American Libraries Magazine article, “Serving with Love”: “Service steeped in humanism, compassion and understanding should be the cornerstone of what we do, and why we do it, for all members of our communities, including the underserved” (para 5). This is such a beautiful, noble intention with which to approach the work of librarianship. Now, more than ever, our librarianship in the Information Age and in the Attention Economy needs to focus on our shared humanity.
Think about it: Web 2.0 and Library 2.0 are about what us humans are doing with and through technology to, ultimately, connect to each other. Web 2.0 brought hyperlinks–the connection between information as a dialogue between users–to the mainstream consciousness. Library 2.0–with the embracing of technology’s tools alongside user input to move the work of librarianship forward–gave rise to the concept of the hyperlinked library. As Michael Stephens (2021) has reminded us: “hyperlinks are people, too” (Hyperlinked Communities lecture). “It’s about engagement,” Stephens lectured, “how we share with each other and connect with each other” (Hyperlinked Communities lecture). Our hyperlinked libraries are the heart of their communities, connecting us to information, ideas and each other.
I like the idea of taking the connected conversations of Web 2.0 and combining that with the community of Library 2.0 to drop the idea of hyperlinked communities directly into our humanness–our, as Glennon Doyle calls it, “brutiful” (brutal and beautiful) experience of being a complicated human. Stephens (2021) offered Peter Block’s definition of communities as “human systems given form by conversations that build relatedness” (Hyperlinked Communities lecture). Hyperlinked communities, therefore, are complicated brutiful humans in complex and extraordinary human systems with the ability to accomplish just about anything together.
There is something about the word and the concept of community that makes me feel the tenderness of our shared humanity. I remember first feeling that familiar heart swell toward tears while I was sweating on the risers with my friends during our elementary school chorus performances: The many voices becoming one new voice, the act of participating together to give birth to a new awareness, a new experience, a new thing that transcends individuality. Every Olympics, every concert, every storytime, I well up as the energy of community uplifts my heart. To think of the limitless potential of hyperlinked communities, in-person or virtual, opening up space for humans all around the globe to communicate, connect and accomplish makes me swoon.
Libraries can and do hold this space for these hyperlinked communities. Librarians today facilitate this connectedness with the “compassion and understanding” evoked by Garcia-Febo (2018, para 5). But what of those underserved? Garcia-Febo (2018) asked. Stephens (2021) asked it like this: “How might we engage with communities? Who do you want to reach? Who isn’t being reached? How do we reach them? How do we get them to participate?” (Hyperlinked Communities lecture). And how do we traverse the Digital Divide?
Jessamyn West (2014) talked about how the Digital Divide is creating bigger chasms between those online and those who opt out for whatever reason (affordability, access, know-how, choice and so forth). She wrote, “Serving those who are hardest to serve is part of WHAT WE DO but it’s getting tougher as the less-hardest are finally getting online” (Digital Divide Human & Social section, para 13). She redefined the Digital Divide as more concrete issues centering around usability and empowerment; she calls them the “Usability Divide” and the “Empowerment Divide” (Digital Divide Usability & Empowerment, paras 2 & 3), categorizations that can help reconceptualize outreach efforts that could be more effective at reaching the unreachable.
West (2014) made a point that stopped me and made me rethink the privilege I have to opt out of our hyperlinked world. She wrote: “people need to be realistic that their decision to opt out comes with social costs” in the way of “connectedness” and “civic engagement” (Digital Divide & Libraries, paras 13 & 15). She encouraged librarians to entice those who opt out by positioning activity online as “an interactive tool where we can make ourselves heard, express ourselves and find other people like us”, a place where people learn to “to be citizens, to be interactive, to be part of the information economy, to participating in a democracy” (Digital Divide & Libraries, paras 18 & 16). In other words, our activity in hyperlinked communities is where, as Doyle (2021) has said, we can learn “to human”, to embody, enact and practice what it means to be a complicated human in today’s complex society. This sounds to me like the essence of humanism and I cannot think of a better institution to facilitate this connectivity than the library.
Maybe one answer is to take participatory services out to where those hard to reach citizens reside, to create mobile (in the literal sense) hyperlinked communities: a library in a van with books, laptops and printers, and information literacy tutors or maybe a maker lab; pop-up programs based on areas of interest from a community scan such as true crime book club, quilting bees, square dancing 101 or break dancing for seniors or kawaii club for teens; walkie-talkie reference services; Wifi hot spot weekends… The possibilities are limitless when humans human together with compassion and understanding. Anything is possible when it is our shared humanity that is the link.
Doyle, G. (2021). All the Feels: Can we experience our emotions–not as good or bad–but as information to guide us? We Can Do Hard Things [podcast]. http://wecandohardthingspodcast.com/
Garcia-Febo, L. (2018). Serving with Love. American Libraries Magazine. https://americanlibrariesmagazine.org/2018/11/01/serving-with-love/
Stephens, M. (2021). Hyperlinked Communities [lecture]. https://287.hyperlib.sjsu.edu/module-5-hyperlinked-communities/
West, J. (2014). 21st Century Digital Divide. http://www.librarian.net/talks/rlc14/