Hyperlinked Libraries, Org Charts & the Human Voice: Ten Years of the Cluetrain Manifesto

bookcover50. Today, the org chart is hyperlinked, not hierarchical. Respect for hands-on knowledge wins over respect for abstract authority.

Today, bloggers from all over the world are responding to the 95 points of the Cluetrain Manifesto, which is ten years old: “Cluetrainplus10 is a project to celebrate the 10 year anniversary of the manifesto. On Tuesday April 28, 95 bloggers around the world will each write a blog post on one of the 95 theses.”

I chose #50, above, as one I might comment on because it speaks to the model I’ve been working on in my talks “The Hyperlinked Library” and because it makes me question how we staff and manage our libraries. In fact, it also speaks to LIS education.

Way back in 2006 (years ago in Internet time), I wrote about the Cluetrain often. I was usually commenting on using The Cluetrain Manifesto in my teaching at Dominican and in presentations. I’m still using my “Cluetrain slides” in long versions of “The Hyperlinked Library.”  Looking at the worn volume next to me, it strikes me as funny and brilliant that ten years ago Levine, Locke, Searles and Weinberger locked on to a perfect vision of the future – of where we were headed because of the Internet. The impact on business rings so true these days. And words like transparency, conversation, community, communication and the like were here long before a line up of bloggers at CIL. Flipping through the pages, with multi-colored highlights and scribbled notes to self (oh Lord, can my students even read what I write on their papers?), it strikes me how much this book has influenced my path and lead me to folks like Rheingold, Godin and further works by Weinberger.

The emphasis in the Cluetrain on being human sticks with me as well. “The human voice sounds human.” Stories and storytelling are extensions of this. Sharing is part as well. These things create connections and brings people closer.  Godin says in Tribes that people WANT to belong. People want to connect. I want to hear the story of the lady sitting next to me having tea at Hermit’s Rest at Grand Canyon who strikes up conversation. Turns out her son, who joins us, is director of the Sedona Public Library. The world is tiny, sometimes flat and is full of human stories and human connections.


Thesis #50 has been with me for sometime too. A post I revisited for this anniversary is one of mine at ALA TechSource called “The Hyperlinked Organization: Radical Transparency, Crummy Meetings & Micromanagement” where I urged librarians to do this:

Flatten that Chart Folks

One of my favorite quotes from this chapter is “The company org chart… is a map of whom to avoid.” I worked in the public library a long time and soon realized who you went to in order to get things done and who could take care of something that needed to be fixed. Sometimes, we adapt and seek out those people, and then when they transfer or leave the organization, everyone realizes all the knowledge went out the door with them. 

The best libraries will flatten their organizational charts, break down the layers of “permission” and “channels” to get things done, and look for ways to streamline processes, procedures, and the dreaded policies. These libraries will also have a plan for succession management and knowledge transfer—and not just use these terms as buzzwords to hide behind.

I’m anxious to see more libraries flatten the chart and move toward a more team-based structure. In the model, people might work out of a certain area – reference, technology – but might move to teams or groups, or even locations, as projects demand. The pyramid shape of the org chart would be different – probably still pointy because someone has to ultimately be in charge – but do we really need layers and layers of managers, coordinators, and director positions between our front liners and the decision makers. In this model – very much related to what Michael Casey and I have done in “The Transparent Library” – admin types are hands-on involved not just issuing edicts from an office somewhere in the library. 

networkedconversationsCommunication flows up and down, via all the methods you’ve seen discussed here and in our literature, including good old face to face. Conversations flows in and out of the library space, involving all staff, users, non-users and everyone else. Meetings WORK, they don’t just exist to give the higher ups something to do. Admit it to yourself only: have you ever let the meeting drone on because it’s almost 5pm?

And – experts and specialists thrive and work hand in hand with librarians. They learn from each other via knowledge exchange and planning. Alan Gray of the Darien library wrote a TTW guest post, including this insight into the library’s structure: “We need great people to make our library a success — we just don’t have any preconditions about who they are, or what degree they do or do not have, just what they stand for, and what they can do.”

What scares me is my JOB is to teach people to be librarians – to get the degree so they can go off and work in libraries. Job security is good right? Libraries without librarians is a scary proposition for many of us!  The model – and I think Darien is a good example of it in the field – has space for all not just librarians. We’ll need coders, marketing gurus, customer service stars and business managers, not just a bunch of folks who went to library school. 

Does this de-value the degree? I think not. Librarians will carry the core values and ethics of the profession. They will convey the mission of what we’ve done in libraries forever to all: staff, user, supporters, governing bodies. But they will also understand that nothing stays the same and innovation should be part of this library’s mission. What’s been called “my mantra” I guess is truly that: Learn to Learn, Adapt to Change, Scan the Horizon, Be Curious, & Bring your Heart with You.

So I guess part of the charge is also back on me – to teach the best I can, to point out the changes in our world since the Cluetrain was published, and to work with my colleagues in LIS edu to change curriculum to create more nimble, flexible learning environments for the librarians who will guide projects and manage collections in this model library.

But the charge is also on you, dear readers. What can you do today to start flattening and changing the chart? What can you do via your long range plan to realign services and people to better serve the interests and needs of your communities?

If you haven’t read The Cluetrain Manifesto – take a look. Or re-read it in 2009 with a new lens. Use it for staff book discussion or your strategic plan. LIS Students, please read it before you graduate. I’m counting on you.


Further Reading:

The Cluetrain is Leaving the Station: A TTW Guest Post by Kay Jacobson

Into a New World of Librarianship

TTW posts tagged Cluetrain 

TechSource Post

Screenshots from “The Hyperlinked Library”  Creative Commons License

The Hyperlinked Library by Michael Stephens is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.