Book Review | Tribes

Thought I’d pass along my 2009 review of Godin’s “Tribes”. Eh, why not?

In his book Tribes, Seth Godin observes that the need to belong is an inherent part of human nature. However, many Americans spend their days in work environments where they have no sense of community and operate with the assumption that they have no power. They are willing participants in the static persistence of  what Godin calls “the factory.” The author’s purpose in writing Tribes is to to empower the reader by placing upon him the onus of change and responsibility for making change by embracing a leadership role. Geographical limits have been eliminated by the Internet, creating endless possibilities for people to become leaders and limitless potential for “tribes” (people with common interests or whom are brought together by a specific cause) to connect and make change. Godin asserts that all tribes require a leader. “You can’t have a tribe without a leader–and you can’t be a leader without a tribe.” Library students and staff are charged with applying these concepts to the changing landscape of information science. Where some may feel they have no control or that the library may be losing ground to electronic and web technologies, Godin emphatically challenges us to accept the changes happening around us, assume the role of leader, and begin to do things differently. He cites the ruin of the music industry as a case for breaking from the factory–that the industry had no leaders to foresee and make change or to bring consumers together as a tribe. The industry didn’t care about music; it didn’t care about tribes; and it paid the price for its ignorance.

Godin observes that “people will only follow and believe in and grow a company if it offers something new.” It is this theory that change encourages growth which permeates some LIS classrooms and proactive libraries. People want to follow, and they are most likely to follow a leader who challenges the factory, or the status quo. This Godin calls the “Cult of the Heretic”–the crowd of people in the real or web community who find and follow the person trying to make change. Whereas Godin insists that we are all leaders, I would contest that we are not leaders until we lead. The majority are content with following someone they trust. Librarians and communities will follow the person who is willing to junk the status quo: make changes in staff, space, service, and policy.

Godin also reaffirms what we often hear and read about Library 2.0, that tribes and communities are not so much about technologies as they are about people. Godin illustrates the power of social networks, specifically Twitter, to bring leaders and followers together to form and cultivate tribes, but that the technology is useless without the inherent need of human beings to perceive flaws, seek progress, and find belonging. In fact, there are many concepts packed into this little book–too many to address in this blog–that merit exploration and may be applicable to many areas of life. Some of the concepts are broad or difficult for the “sheepwalking” branch librarian to imagine. Many librarians work with tied hands and may be inspired but unable to make change from the inside–they may have to leave and work from the outside in. Still, I would recommend the book to anyone who senses stagnation in their environment.


About Steven V. Kaszynski
librarian, editor, contributor

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