Flashmobs in libraries

Foto: rbmedia / Photocase

Much is talked about library users diving deep into digital social networks, but does it have an impact on the real library? Usually not, apart from users hacking vigorously at library computer keyboards. In this issue I will not write on libraries using social networking, but on libraries abused by social networking …

Recently, the Library Journal kindly made us aware on a new social movement taking place in libraries: Flashmobs. [1] According to Wikipedia a flash mob or flashmob is “a large group of people who assemble suddenly in a public place, perform an unusual action for a brief time, and then quickly disperse. The term flashmob is generally applied only to gatherings organized via telecommunications, social media, or viral emails”. [2]

You may all know about pillow fight flashmobs in public places: In social networks such as Facebook, young urban people conspire in meeting at a certain time for the desired performance. Flashmobs make take place at traffic junctions, underground stations, or … surprise, surprise … at medical libraries. What will the mob do there? Sometimes they hold „silent dance parties“ in order not to disturb the peace in the library. At the Carleton College library they gathered at an appointed time and place, and dance (silently) with headphones, listening to music synchronized to a starting signal. [3] They just looking for fun, enjoying themselves, making just these sort of things, which are prohibited by these stubborn librarians: noise, music, singing, dancing to ghetto blasters (on desks), sweating in crazy dresses, e.g. all kind of nonsense! Afterwards it was put on YouTube.

What is the motivation for flashmobs? Quite often, stress is mentioned, especially in the exam weeks. The extended library opening hours made long nights of learning possible – stress may be bottled up. Looking for an outlet, the library is a perfectly suited victim: Firstly, as professors do, they force people to learn, learn, learn. And secondly, librarians are always saying “shshsh…”!

Libraries and stress prevention
Libraries are not the bad guys, they have a lot to offer in terms of stress prevention:

  • Usually they have sweets & coffee automated machines, as well as plenty of text books, even e-books which you could say is the best learning environment one could by for money. The staff is well trained to be polite and competent, but not pushy.
  • Some libraries do a lot more: for example, the Branch Library of Medicine, Münster, has a rest room, equipped with couches on which students may have a nap. [4]
  • The Medical Library of the University of Queensland, Brisbane, provides flexible furniture which can be transformed by users from “group furniture” to “individual furniture”. In a way, students can create their own library, suitable for their needs. The library defined different user groups, and offered special designed spaces for each: spaces for extroverts, spaces for voyeurs, for introverts, etc pp. Since refurbishment took place, library usage has doubled. [5]
  • The Alvin Sherman Library, Fort Lauderdale, offered sophisticated services to help their students relax while preparing for final exams: There was a ‘Zen Zone’, where students received free services such as yoga, guided meditation and massages. Other services included tutoring, reference help, resume help and a gaming room. [6]
  • Would it be a good idea to offer a “stress prevention library disco” too? Really, I don’t know.

What should libraries learn from flashmobs?

1. Security Issues
Flashmobs are not altogether safe. Large gatherings of people have their own dynamics; as with football stadiums, railings may crash, and mass panics may arise. For example, take a look at the flashmob arranged by US students in libraries: Hundreds if not thousands students gather “to have a flash mob rave on the night before finals … to help relieve all the stress”. [7, 8] You could become anxious for students and libraries as well. I’m quite ambivalent how to react: do you:

  • Get the police?
  • Trigger the fire alarm?
  • Make an evacuation call?
  • Just sit there and try to relax as it will end soon either way?

I hope that something like this will never happen at my library…

2. Marketing
On the other hand, flashmobs are ingenious tools for activating people. Maybe the library could use some of the underlying viral techniques for marketing their services. Think on services which badly need attraction, on polls, on demonstrations, on every kind of action where the library needs support by many people (not necessary users). Flashmobs (or Smartmobs) could be used for gathering interest, for getting attention, for kick off services. A beautiful example of such a flashmob is the one done by the students of the medical faculty of the Charité Berlin for celebrating the extension of opening hours of the Central Medical Library [9]. Why is it that libraries do not use the fascinating combination of videos, crowds, and music more often for marketing purposes? Wouldn’t it be great to be for once just an incredible cool library?

1. Josh Hadro: “As Finals Approach, Students De-Stress at Library Dance Parties” Library Journal, 10. Dec. 2009 [URL: http://www.libraryjournal.com/article/CA6711077.html]
2. Wikipedia: “Flash Mob” [URL: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flash_mob]
3. Casey Wolf/seedubbayou: “Stress at Carleton College” 3. Dec. 2009 [URL: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rKhDmAAiE0E]
4. Branch Library of Medicine, Münster: “Mal Ausruhen vom Lernen? Der neue Ruheraum macht’s möglich!“ 23. June 2009 [URL: http://www.uni-muenster.de/ZBMed/aktuelles/1560]
5. Heather Todd: “Library spaces – new theatres of learning: a case study” Presentation at the EAHIL Conference in Helsinki, 26. June 2008 [URL: http://eahil2008.blogspot.com/2008/06/thursday-plenary-session.html]
6. Annarely Rodriguez: “Library Helps Students Relax During „Crunch Time“ In: The Current Newsletter 19(26) 14. Apr. 2009. page 5 [URL: http://issuu.com/thecurrent/docs/volume_19_issue_26_web_site]
7. skyrepsol: “JMU East Campus Library flash mob rave (Complete highlights)” 7. Dec. 2009 [URL: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cdfmO8iurCE]
8. cackalacky789: UNC Chapel Hill UL Flash Mob Rave 9. Dec. 2008 [URL: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ruEMaDZWRcs]
9. PublicFSI: “Länger ist besser – Flashmob” 18. June 2009 [URL: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4TYyeHfm4_M, not available any more]

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