Feeling the Tribal Beat in Seth Godin’s “Tribes”

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Mickel says “Thumbs up!”

When choosing the subject for my book report, I looked at an area that I felt was a weakness in discussing the implementation of Library 2.0 in many of my classes so far in LIS School. I noticed that when ideas are brought to actual libraries, the ideas are often taken in with reservation, and are sometimes even ignored. The concept of evangelism is something I wanted to look at, and what it takes to evangelize Library 2.0 to the everyday library: what was the foundation for becoming a good “marketer” of this important theory?

In Casey and Savastinuk’s 2007 text, Chapter 7 is devoted entirely to getting everyone in the library on board with Library 2.0 changes. Convincing others to buy in are discussed in terms of circulation numbers and statistics, strategic plans, constant change, and coming to consensus on long-term goals. But all these focus on exterior activities, the tools of evangelism. What are the internal attributes of the evangelist?

After reviewing excerpts for the books in our book report list, I realized that Seth Godin’s Tribes would be a good selection. Its hook is “We Need You to Lead Us.” It seemed to me that the key concept of the book – a word not mentioned in Chapter 7 of Casey and Savastinuk’s text – was leadership.

Godin’s book is clear and concise, yet reads like a dream. There are no chapters, just fluid words, sentences and thoughts, some a few lines long, others intricate in presentation. With any other author, it could come off as new agey or self-important, but Godin keeps the thoughts simple and entertaining.  It’s rare to have an “a-ha” moment in a book: Tribes is littered with them!

Godin defines a tribe as a group of people connected to each other through a leader and an idea (Godin, 2008).  Great leaders are able to create a movement by empowering the tribe to communicate effectively not only with the leader, but also with other members of the tribe. We’ve read in the Lankes (2007) text that current libraries will rely upon conversation for knowledge creation and transforming the library into the participatory library. Godin takes conversation one step further for the leader by emphasizing knowing the perfect moment to back away and let the tribe work its magic. Imagine evangelizing Library 2.0 participatory services and then backing off to let your followers evangelize to others! That’s leadership.

To Godin, heretics are the new leaders because they incite change by challenging the status quo. Leaders are contrasted to managers in that managers have employees and create widgets, while leaders have followers and create change. Challenging the status quo gives the heretic leader the chance to be remarkable because the marketplace now rewards innovation instead of the same old thing. Changing things means pushing the envelope and requires a level of bravery, since people are afraid of criticism and blame (Godin, 2008). But most of all, heretics must believe and have faith in their ideas, because no one will believe if they don’t.

A great example of the heretic leaders of a modern-day library are the librarians running The Unquiet Library in Creekview High School in Georgia (Matthews, 2010). All of the above definitions of heretic apply to them for running such a non-traditional yet fantastically successful school library. Library leaders take risk and believe in their ideas, and encourage others to follow and believe in the face of failure and criticism. Leaders also make use of initiative, described by Godin as the hardest thing to do as a leader. Initiative is also very rare: just look at how many Unquiet Libraries there are out there.

But the most important job of the leader is simple: to care and support the movement. Godin points out that “caring is the key emotion at the center of a tribe.” (Godin, 2008, p. 125). When leaders make decisions based on their committed vision, they bring hope and optimism for a desired outcome. Godin says that “being charismatic doesn’t make you a leader. Being a leader makes you charismatic.” (p. 127).

In Stephens’ATTW White Paper (2011), he makes the same case for caring: in fact, it is the final thought and an important piece of what he considers to be the defining element of the Hyperlinked Library Model. Appealing and encouraging the heart of users through many creative channels will help us build towards the Participatory Model. Godin has a thing to say about this too:

“The challenge for the leader is to help your tribe sing, whatever form that song takes.” (Godin, 2008, p. 124)

That’s the answer to evangelism. Leadership. Being a heretic and creating a tribe of followers who believe in a movement that I believe in. That gives me pause the next time a library staff person pooh-poohs my report, work or suggestion. Did I believe enough in my project to vocalize it to the status quo enforcers? Did I push the envelope, or break through the criticism and blame? Was I more concerned with the number of pages in my report or the number of followers in my uprising?

Did I have a vision?

It’s like Godin says: “Leaders have nothing in common, except for the decision to lead.” (p. 145) I would recommend this inspiring book for any LIS Student to read prior to beginning their librarian career! To whet your appetite for Tribes, I created a slideshow video mash-up of quotes from the book. I hope you enjoy it!



Casey, M. E., & Savastinuk, L. C. (2007). Library 2.0: A guide to participatory library service. Medford, N.J: Information Today.

Godin, S. (2008). Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us. New York: Penguin Group.

Lankes, R. D., Silverstein, J., Nicholson, S., & Marshall, T. (2007). Participatory networks: The library as conversation. Information Technology and Libraries, 26(4), 17-33. Retrieved from http://quartz.syr.edu/rdlankes/Publications/Journals/COLISFinal-v7.pdf

Mathews, B. (2010, June). The unquiet library. American Libraries. Retrieved from  http://www.ilovelibraries.org/articles/featuredstories/unquietlibrarian

Stephens, M. (2011). The hyperlinked library. Retrieved from http://dl.dropbox.com/u/239835/StephensHyperlinkedLibrary2011.pdf



Mickel is an MLIS and the creator of Library Currents. His inspiration for the blog was the SJSU course "The Hyperlinked Library" taught by Dr. Michael Stephens, a course that is also a worldwide MOOC. If you wish to contact him, feel free to write to Mickel Paris at librarycurrents1@aol.com.


  1. Judi E

    September 23, 2012 at 10:10 pm

    Right on, libraries need more heretics! You express your thoughts well. I particularly like “reads like a dream”. And your video mashup is fabulous; besides being thoroughly engaging, it provides a great snapshot of what “Tribes” is all about!

    • Mickel Paris

      September 26, 2012 at 4:30 pm

      Thank you, it was fun making the video, my first time doing that sort of thing! 🙂

  2. Beth Morrill

    September 24, 2012 at 12:12 am

    I like the way you incorporated other readings into your review of Tribes. I was also drawn by the title ” We need you to lead us” and thought that Godin made a great case for the qualities needed in leaders. Well done.

    • Mickel Paris

      September 26, 2012 at 4:31 pm

      I never heard of Seth Godin before, and the title also grabbed me. He is a marketing wiz for sure!

  3. Franklin Oliveira

    September 24, 2012 at 7:26 am

    If tribe leaders had things in common, they wouldn’t be heretics. Heretical leaders make the division of tribes eternal. For my take on the matter, visit my blog!

    • Mickel Paris

      September 26, 2012 at 4:31 pm

      Thanks, I’ll take a look at your writings as well!

  4. Pamela Hawks

    September 24, 2012 at 6:07 pm

    Absolutely love the mash-up! Thanks for an insightful report.

    This book sounds fascinating. Last spring when I was studying management in libraries, we had some deep discussions about leadership. One thing many people agreed on was that leadership has evolved from the old “heroic” conception of what makes a good leader (usually a bunch of innate qualities… you either have it or you don’t kind of thing) to one of empathetic leadership… which sounds a lot like what Godin is saying when he mentions caring. High emotional intelligence seems to be a must have if you want to engage with others… both fellow workers and who you are trying to serve.

  5. Mickel Paris

    September 26, 2012 at 4:33 pm

    Interesting how this book helped me to look at things from a choice perspective instead of heroic. I always believed charisma came from a gift. Choosing leadership is the way to charisma, according to Godin, and I’ll have to try that out! I like the idea of emotional intelligence, more great stuff to look into!

  6. Jessica

    September 27, 2012 at 12:32 am


    Your report and slide show inspires me to get this book! Thank you for pointing out its fluidity with its lack of chapters and such. And I admire your perseverance when you come up with “radical” ideas and how other staff bristles – I suppose that means that you are on the right track. Have you come up with similar experiences with professors in this program?

  7. Mickel Paris

    September 27, 2012 at 12:45 am

    Thank you for the good comments! I haven’t come across too many professors who are opposed to new ideas or Library 2.0. It’s evangelizing the ideas to those in the Library field who are entrenched in the old ways who may show resistence. This book has helped me gain confidence in supporting my ideas. It really helps you see the big picture.

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