flash mob: a large public gathering at which people perform an unusual or seemingly random act and then disperse. Can be used to raise awareness of a cause, to showcase talent, or simply to build community in a fun way.
In the past few years, I’ve become a whole-hearted Flash Mob lover. Whether it’s participating in them, watching them on YouTube, or organizing them myself, I can’t get enough of Flash Mobs. There’s something amazing about a group of fun-loving strangers getting together to make a scene. The more I think about it, the more I think that Flash Mobs have a place in (or around) libraries. They just have to be designed, advertised, and hosted in the proper way. Here are my tips for success: the What, Where, Who, Why, and How of Flash Mobs.
What? There’s more than just one type of Flash Mob, each with their own set of challenges and advantages:
- Dance Flash Mob. This is definitely the most common type, in which a large number of people sneakily spread out in a public area, wait for the musical cue, and then preform a carefully choreographed dance. This type of Flash Mob is great for the audience, fun for the performers, but a lot of work for the organizers. Perhaps a partnership with a local dance studio could help overcome the planning obstacle. The Seattle Theatre Group regularly dances in public areas around Seattle (including the library!)
- Mp3 Flash Mob. This is my personal favourite. A group of people download the same mp3 file, and meet in a public place at the agreed upon time. On the count of 3, each participant presses play at the same time, and follows the instructions in the mp3. Participants may be instructed through large scale team games (massive rock paper scissors), fast-paced competitions (who can high five the most strangers in one minute), or ridiculous public displays (act like you’re a robot for 30 seconds).Getting participants for this type of Flash Mob is fairly easy – they don’t need any special performance skills, only a willingness to participate and access to headphones and an mp3 playing device. Creating the mp3 file is easier than you might think! Simply write a script, record a voice, and use a free audio creating program (such as Audacity) to edit music and sound effects into the audio. Check out this example of an mp3 I created for a Climate Change Awareness Flash Mob.
- Freeze Flash Mobs. Similar to the Dance Flash Mob, but instead of performing a dance, a large group of people wait for the cue, and then simply freeze in spot for 1-2 minutes. This type of mob is extremely easy to plan and implement, however unless there is a good reason for the mob, onlookers may be very confused. The Freeze Flash Mob works best if used to raise awareness for a cause (noted by the drop of a poster, pamphlets, or t-shirts), and if participants are encouraged to wear similar clothing (or costumes!)
- Event Flash Mobs. Any sized group of people get together in a public place and participate in an out-of-the-ordinary event. Any attention drawing, fun-inspired event will do: a concert on the bus (this one was very easy to organize), a pillow fight in the city square (this one was very fun to participate in), slow motion shopping, synchronized swimming in a public fountain…the possibilities are endless. This is a great type of Flash Mob for libraries, because you can design the event to specifically meet the interests in your community.
Who? Your most likely group of excitable and manageable participants is teenagers and 20somethings. If the community has enough enthusiastic and interested young people, a Teen Services Librarians could work with them to plan and implement a unique Flash Mob. Also, existing groups in the community (A Capella groups, dance clubs, choirs, or theatre companies) may be more than willing to participate, or even plan a Mob, just to get their name out there and do what they love.
Where? Depending on the type of Flash Mob (i.e. the level of disruption caused), it could be hosted in the library foyer, outside the library, at a local park, in the city square, or even on the bus. Of course, in some cases specific permissions may need to be granted. Depending on the level of surprise, you may even want to do a press release to local newspapers and radio stations.
How? Advertise. You’ll definitely need to use social media to get the word out there, and to keep everything organized. If you want to maintain a surprise factor, create an “invite-only” event on Facebook. Otherwise, make it public and send it out on all platforms. Make sure you have someone ready to photograph and video tape the event. The resulting documentation usually reaches even more people than the original performance itself.
Why? Flash Mobs are a way to bring people together – by giving both the participants and the onlookers something to talk about. These events can be a great way to get people talking about the library, to raise awareness of library services, and to bring people into the library (even if it’s just to practice dance moves!)
Examples of Flash Mobs in Libraries:
- Beautiful surprise singing in a French library
- Bollywood Class showcases dance moves in a library flash mob
- Dance party in the middle of a college library
- Marriage proposal flash mob in the public library
- Flash STOMP performance in the Seattle Public Library
If libraries truly are shedding their reputation as dusty, silent reading rooms and transforming into new spaces – innovative, loud, dynamic, community spaces – then Flash Mobs fit in perfectly. What do you think? Do Flash Mobs have a place in public libraries?