As much as my former pinch-rolled, acid-washed-jeans-tucked-into-my-white-tube-socks, big-haired young-self hates to admit it: We are in an 80s resurgence. All the mom jeans. All the neon. All the eyeglass frames taking up at least half of faces. It has me singing along with Olivia Newton John’s Let’s Get Physical but with a slight tweak of the lyrics. Sing it with me: “Let’s get mooo-bile… mooo-bile, I wanna get mooo-bile. Let’s get mooo-bile. Let me hear your smartphone talk… smartphone talk, let me hear your tablet talk…”
And now this song will be stuck in your head for the next week. You are so welcome.
Stephens (2021) pointed out in our Choose Your Own Adventure module how Pew predicted in 2008 that by last year, the infamous 2020, “the mobile device would be the primary connection tool to the internet for most people in the world” (Mobile Information Environments). According to datareportal.com, as of October 2021, there are “5.29 billion unique mobile phone users” out of roughly 8 billion people around the world and of those, “4.88 billion internet users” with “90.9% of those users accessing the internet via their mobile devices” (https://datareportal.com/global-digital-overview). This means there are so many library outreach and engagement opportunities present in the mobile environment, through a library’s local web presence (read: its website, chat and text reference services and just about everything as the pandemic taught us), and through the conversations happening on social media platforms like Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat and through online programming via YouTube and Facebook. All of these mobile happenings and artifacts can pull users in, connect the community to the library and serve as marketing materials, almost like a portfolio, and eventually even a time capsule. The possibilities seem endless when paired with the creativity and ingenuity of librarians. Check out Helene Blowers’ self-paced online course 23 mobile things for libraries for inspiration.
Reaching out to the community
As Stephens (2021) said of libraries, “the coolest things we have should be the things we put in the palm of people’s hands”, ideally accessed on the devices people already have in their hands, seemingly at all times. Makes sense, right? Until the pandemic made all of the world pivot, it seemed easier said than done to funnel all of the library’s magic into a handheld device. Doing so now is essential to connect patrons to information, ideas and each other.
Stephens (2021) framed his conversation on the mobile information environment with these questions: “How can the library always be within reach? How can librarians always be within reach?” (Mobile Information Environments). Taking advantage of the mobility of mobile devices is one of the surest ways. It has the potential to make libraries, and librarians, transportable (and of course, as always, transformative), through devices, across the internet and directly, literally and figuratively, into their patron’s community. I love this idea of “structured wandering into the deep recesses of customer space and activity” (Pace & Casey, 2018, p. 34). To do so at this point feels organic and seamless. Casey and Stephens (2020) pointed out that “the infrastructure is now in place and we should use it to reach deeper into the daily life of our community” (Staying Connected, para 1). Build it and they will come! Maybe it should be: Go there, and they will show up. A library’s staff has to be willing to dive deep, sometimes beyond the comfort zone of the library’s four walls and way beyond the reference desk. Pace and Casey (2018) acknowledged that staff buy-in and willingness is key: “Creating a truly community-oriented library requires a community where librarians are partners and players in a multitude of organizations and efforts” (p. 33). It is the librarians that will be building the scaffold of outreach and connectedness. It is the librarians who will use the mobile information environments to create hyperlinked communities and hyperlinked environments as needed. And they are needed: Inside the library, outside the library, in physical neighborhoods, in virtual spaces. It is librarians who will make the library mobile.
Listen: change is constant
Pace and Casey (2018) pointed out that when their library system was undergoing a massive technological upgrade to modernize their facilities and respond to changing community needs, “the biggest change was carried by the library staff. … Communication, and especially, listening, was the key” (p. 33).
I am curious about how we can leverage the mobile information environment to really listen, to take the temperature of the community in a spontaneous and ongoing way. Sure there is the dialogue via social media, and all libraries need to devote the necessary capital and time to make those conversations points thrive, but what if libraries got physical with their environmental scan? I am thinking about a tablet-like wall in the library lobby or on a wall of a bus stop shelter or as a virtual bulletin board at the local grocery store. I envision that these survey walls will, in real time, collate the data gleaned from captured input. I imagine these survey walls will update and shift, update and shift, posing different questions at different times of day: 9-10 AM for parents of school-aged children, midday for seniors, after school for teens, evenings for the 20- and 30-somethings. What if the library partnered with local PR or tech firms to sponsor the creation of these living surveys? Or what if tablet-toting librarians, our community’s empowering change agents, hit the streets, the retail centers, and the community events with one simple question for passersby: How could the library to change to better serve you?
Make way for grief
Change. It’s the buzzword of life, the only constant. In his Sunday talk during our class chat, Michael Casey touched on something that I think is vital in our changed post-pandemic world where we have all been washed away in a river of loss and grief. With change comes mourning. No matter how big or small the change. That grief needs to be acknowledge (Harvard Business Review unpacks our pandemic grief here). Libraries have the potential to make space for grief and mourning, especially as part of a live, continual survey by saying “we see your loss”. Instead of “Tell Us What Makes You Happy at the Library” (Stephens, 2016), maybe the virtual tablet wall can solicit “Tell Us What You Miss”. Or maybe a local mental health professional partner can design a workshop around grief and loss in our community (while at the same time promoting mental health and service information) through the library’s channels, in person or online. And perhaps, from the mourning can come transformation and imagination, that can be ignited by the community conversation in virtual (or hybrid) town halls and in these living serendipitous surveys.
I am confident we can find a way to give space to grief while embracing change. And perhaps we can learn to tip the scale from change anxiety to change excitement. Librarians can lead the way by reaching out and into our communities, in person or virtually. To unleash the potential of community connectivity and community conversation facilitated by mobile information environments, librarians will just have to get physical, or, at the very least, mobile.
Casey, M. & Stephens, M. (2020). Getting Personal. Information Today, Inc. https://www.infotoday.com/OnlineSearcher/Articles/The-Searchers-Viewpoint/Getting-Personal-Meeting-Your-Community-141782.shtml
Pace, C. & Casey, M. (2018). Innovation Revolution at Gwinnett County Library. Public Libraries, 57(3). https://drive.google.com/file/d/1P29op_Sm6CK-CelUrsTZsfhQ8aRESwWZ/view
Stephens, M. (2021). Mobile Information Environments [Lecture]. https://287.hyperlib.sjsu.edu/course-modules/mobile-information-environments/
Stephens, M. (2016). A Visit to Gwinnett County Libraries [Lecture]. https://287.hyperlib.sjsu.edu/blog/gwinnett-county-public-libraries-visit/#comment-1919