The Hyperlinked Library Model

As luck would have it, my purchase of a smartphone and accompanying 2 Gig data plan coincided with registering for this course. I truly believe that I could not have fully appreciated the writings and central themes highlighted in this course if it wasn’t for my phone.  Yes, the course provides vivid examples of what it looks like to interact with a hyperlinked world, but my own personal shift from a regular cell phone to a smartphone, which basically amounts to a tiny, all-powerful highly mobile computer,  has helped me feel, at a gut level, what it means to be connected to exactly who I want, when I want, where I want, and how I want. It’s revolutionary. And I’m never going back.

Of course, I was already “connected” with my old phone  (it even did text messaging! ) but there’s ‘connected’ and then there’s connected.  I am now both consumer and creator of information, on the go, in real time.  Armed with twitter, feedly, foursquare, gps, e-mail, and the internet over the 4G network, I finally feel like the master of my domain.

This is why I am able to understand at a deeper level why people are no longer happy to just receive information blindly from various ‘authorities’- be it professors, the media, commercial push marketing campaigns, bogus company newsletters, or the library.  Crucially, we also want to be creating our own  information and sharing content in ways that are personally meaningful.  We have always done that-  it’s the part that makes us human- but now we are creating and sharing at such a speed and depth as to make it an entirely new and altogether different phenomenon.  I imagine that, for many of us (excepting early adopters like @wderman) this burning  desire to ‘participate’  remained undiscovered until we casually, perhaps even accidentally, stumbled onto the web: looking for a software workaround, searching far and wide for classic car parts, uncontrollably sharing  pictures of our new babies and pets with the whole wide world.  This led us down a deep rabbit hole. Curiouser and curiouser!  Down there, everything is connected to something else; there are no dead ends.  And now, the distinction between “down there” and “up here” has become so fuzzy.

The web has changed the way we connect and the level of connection we expect.  Weinberger (2001) has a fair bit to say about this.  Using seven defining characteristics of the web (hyperlinked, decentralized, allows people to work outside of ‘work’ hours, open-access, data-rich, culture of experimentation, and abundance of connection), he convincingly maps out a metamorphosis of the modern workplace. Since anybody in the organization can (theoretically) find out everything about everything online, it can be said that the web has subverted the top-down flow of information that was keeping everybody ‘in their place’ and which provided the very superstructure on which the organization rested. The web has also helped people connect informally with others, both within and outside of the company, to get things done. This also supports a shift in centralized power. Of course, nobody is working in a completely flat organization and we are not yet living in a landscape free of power clusters. In fact, the gap between those who know how to find good information and those those who do not, is growing wide (more on this later).  Nevertheless, ubiquitous connection, the reliance on collective intelligence, and the shedding of formality has given rise to a preference for authenticity and a culture of experimentation, two concepts incongruous with the traditional workplace. This ain’t your mamma’s company-  that place is gone, and it ain’t never comin’ back.

So, now we have a growing number of regular people*, like me, demanding continuous computing with their fancy phones; a sea of employees who are increasingly becoming unmoored from staff hierarchies, and the widespread sentiment that the web (i.e., the place that used to be ‘down there’ which we now realize is ‘up here’) is undermining what it means to be an expert. What does that mean for the future of libraries?

One of these days I’m going to have a concise answer for that and, oh, will it be a happy day. Until then, I will resort to listing keystone concepts. (That’s my new favorite thing to say when people don’t really ‘get’ where I’m coming from: “It’s conceptual!” I say, just a little too quickly, a little too high-pitched):

  • Libraries will have to be where the people are; that is, online, in airports, at the farmer’s market, or in the case of the Biblioburro– on the back of a donkey. (C’mon…the bookmobile is so-five-minutes-ago!)

  • Libraries will have to be transparent. This involves implementing user-driven programs and policies. Ask. Listen. Implement. The library of the future will be in perpetual beta and both the employees and the users will dig it.

  • In a similar vein, libraries will have to be authentic. Public libraries with four walls will thrive on local collections and programs that bring the community together based on the real needs and wants of its local constituency. Programs like The Agora at DOK reek of authenticity because they are so personal, as does the gardening program at the library where @judypoe works.  Even inviting patrons to add tags to the catalog fits here.

  • Libraries will need to be fun. Before we learned to think of learning as something solitary, quiet and sober, our 5-year old selves innately understood that learning was all about trying new things, and also making funny farting noises inside your elbow. (I know this because I have one of these creatures at home).  The Unquiet Library is a brilliant example of the learning-is-fun idea. Following the shift from a ‘culture of perfect’ toward a ‘culture of play’ (Stephens, 2011) will mean that makerspaces, library concerts, gaming, and endeavors like the Transformation Lab will become the baseline initiatives that all libraries will try to emulate and improve upon.

*Did I ever tell you about that homeless guy at one of the nearby intersections? It was a windy day and he was having trouble keeping his “Please Help” cardboard sign up; mostly because he was so busy surfing the internet on his touch screen phone. Poor guy, it really does take two hands to hold up those signs properly.


Stephens, M. (2011, February). The hyperlinked library [White paper]. Tame The Web (TTW). Retrieved from

Weinberger, D. (2001). The hyperlinked organization. In C. Locke, R. Levine, D. Searls, & D. Weinberger, The cluetrain manifesto: The end of business as usual (115-159). New York: Basic Books.



4 thoughts on “The Hyperlinked Library Model

  1. Great post, and thank you for the callout. Would you believe it, but this early adopter actually didn’t get a smartphone until last October. While I love being connected and exploring, I also like being able to disconnect when I want to. I resent the “always-on” expectation that so many people seem to have now. In my opinion, that makes sense for businesses (I want my library always on!) but not for individuals. I guess I just have to learn to power the darn thing off when I want to. Really! It’s OK to turn it off! (I tell myself.)

  2. Your keystone concepts resonate with me – you said in some succinct paragraphs what it takes me the WHOLE SEMESTER to say! 🙂 The use of the word “authentic” is notable. It includes everything you mention and I’d argue an even higher level of engagement within the community. That might mean being out and about and present where needed. For example, a librarian might attend city meetings to participate with all the tools of the trade: laptop or tablet, databases, information…

  3. 1. Parts of your post made me laugh out loud. Seriously.
    2. I love your summary of concepts from this module (you got it all in there – I wrote and wrote and took pictures and still I don’t think I managed to get it all across as well you did!).
    3. I love the biblioburro! Someone sent me that video a while back and I am glad to see I’m not the only one who appreciates it.
    4. You are making me understand why I may need a smart phone after all….

  4. Thanks all, for your comments.
    1. Wendy: turn your phone off!
    2. Michael: I love the idea of a librarian at city meetings. I’m following various city outlets/officials on twitter and I can imagine that would be useful to libraries. In fact, I think I found the city people’s twitter feed by looking at who my local library is following.
    3. Matthea: get a smart phone – it’s fun!

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