The hyperlinked library model is, above-all, user-driven and the one element that makes this all possible is participation. I’m not talking about participation in the sense that ‘it’s everyone’s library – all are welcome’, but rather that everyone is welcome to participate, literally – in planning services, in evaluating services, and by being present and actively engaging with the library community. As Casey (2011) points out, this is waaay beyond “public input.” It’s not even about blogs or Facebook or other social media tools, UNLESS, those tools are engaging patrons in a bi-directional flow of information. It’s about a conversation, not an announcement.
So, we have the LA Public Library crowdsourcing the design of their new facility , libraries offering display space for people’s personal collections, libraries providing digital storytelling tools and maker spaces, tool lending, teen festivals, seed-saving, garden-creating programs- you name it, somewhere somebody had a good idea and it became a reality…at the library. @joleneck said it so perfectly: “If we build it…they may not come. If they build it, they are already there!”
Lightweight Library Programming
In reality, however, we can’t go implementing every idea that gets dreamed up. That’s why I appreciated Harris’ (2006) point about using “lightweight library programming”. Go easy; try it out; don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Have fun with it. Adapt and recover. Harris’ thinking aligns with Mathew’s Think Like A Startup ideas, but is a bit gentler, a skosh less less adventurous. Yet, anything sounds possible with this concept of “lightweight” – it takes the edge of trying something new.
Perhaps he’s also warning us not to throw the baby out with the bathwater. We don’t necessarily need a wholesale replacement of all services and systems. Find out what is already working and leave it alone. Similarly, the library doesn’t need to provide all the pieces to the puzzle, or shoulder all of the costs of a new program. Harris’ (2006) conceptualization of the library as a platform instead of sole provider, means that the library provides the space, and even more crucially, the impetus, for the program, but the rest of the community- patrons and partners- can and should bring something to the table. Remember, the magic comes from community participation. Just as the ‘sage on the stage’ model of education is faltering, business hierarchies are being blown flat, and authority structures of all kinds are morphing, so too should the library evolve away from being primarily a provider of free content; of operating with a top-down information flow. Escaping that unwinnable situation means reinventing libraries into what Stephens (2011) calls “community based space focused on helping people.”
Harris (2006) also talked about libraries being “above the level of a single patron” (paragraph 18). Here, he urges libraries to meet community needs in a way that doesn’t impact what was already working for the majority of patrons. This really hits home with me, considering what went down here today at the library. I decided to study at a nearby library because I had heard that it had some neat features, such as a living ‘green’ roof, a teen room, and interesting commons area. And it did. It also had a big hullabaloo. That is, everyone there today experienced a frightening situation. An elderly man left the library and was accosted by a young, and obviously mentally ill, patron who followed him out, shouting profanities and stopping just short of physically abusing him. The screaming insults were heard throughout the library. Mothers pulled their children close. I grabbed my belongings and looked around for an emergency exit. It was not unrealistic to expect gunshots. In the end, nobody was (physically) hurt, but everyone was shook up. That poor old man will probably never set foot in the library again.
So, I kind of hate to bring up this subject when we were so nicely cruising along, but it fits. What are the limits of ‘helping people’? A consistent portion of public library patrons are mentally ill, many of whom are homeless and wind up at the library to escape the streets. These are full-fledged members of our community. We cannot close our doors to them, nor can most of us, turn a blind eye to the situation. To the extent that they are disruptive, problematic patrons prevent libraries from being above the level of a single patron, so to speak. But we cannot pick and choose our patrons- that’s what country clubs are for- so we must come up with a community-wide fix, or at least a patch. In any event, I don’t think libraries can be saddled with too much social work. In the context of ‘service before content’ (Schmidt, 2010) wherein the value of a library is tied to its ability to positively impact the community as a whole, dealing with the homeless-in-the-library problem feels a bit like an unfunded mandate. And not the only one. It is well known that the public library is turning into the unofficial point of access for an increasing array of eGovernment services (Bertot, Jaeger, Langa & McClure, 2006). In 2011, Libraries Connect Communities reported that that 96.6% of libraries helped patrons apply for or access eGovernment services (as cited in Bertot & Jaeger, 2012, p. 32). As early as 2006, Bertot and Jaeger found that government agencies were referring people to the public library for both access and assistance, wherein libraries were increasingly becoming facilitators of eGovernment. Perhaps this is our rightful role- to come in where the government left off, but we can’t do it for free.
Bertot, J.C., Jaeger, P.T., Langa, L.A., McClure, C.R. (2006). Public access computing and internet access in libraries: The role of public libraries in e-government and emergency situations. First Monday (Online), 11(9)
Bertot, J., Jaeger, O., & Sarin L. (2012) Forbes Folly. American Libraries, 43(9/10), 30-33.
Casey, M. (2011, October 20). Revisiting participatory service in trying times [Web log post]. Tame The Web (TTW). Retrieved from http://tametheweb.com/2011/10/20/revisiting-participatory-service-in-trying-times-a-ttw-guest-post-by-michael-casey/
Harris, C. (2006, January 10). SL2.0: Synthesis 2.0 [Web log post]. Infomancy. Retrieved from ” href=”http://schoolof.info/infomancy/?p=129″>http://schoolof.info/infomancy/?p=129
Schmidt, A. (2010, October 25). Services before content [Web log post].Walking Paper (Reprinted from Library Journal, June 11, 2010). Retrieved from ” href=”http://www.walkingpaper.org/2925″>http://www.walkingpaper.org/2925
\Stephens, M. (2011, April 15). Stuck in the past [Web log post]. Tame The Web (TTW). Retrieved from http://lj.libraryjournal.com/2011/04/opinion/michael-stephens/stuck-in-the-past-office-hours/
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