Beth Harper

Just another #hyperlib Community Sites site

Planning Proposal: Artist in Residence Program

Participatory Service Proposal:
Artist in Residence, Belmar Branch
Jefferson County Public Libraries, Lakewood, Colorado

Project Description

This proposal outlines the creation of a permanent, integrated artist-in-residence program for the Belmar Branch of the Jefferson County Libraries.

Artists selected for this program will be in residence for three-month terms, during which they will:

  • Plan and execute, in collaboration with library staff, six formal multigenerational programs or events and six related passive programs
  • Assist library staff in bringing hands-on art activity components to existing programs such as storytimes, teen writing groups, intercambios, etc.
  • Plan and execute, in collaboration with library staff, two visual art exhibits or three readings or performances, as appropriate to their medium.
  • Create a body of work to be digitized to be included in a permanent, interactive digital collection of former artists in residence. This body of work may, but is not required to, include instructional, oral history, or other interpretive materials. Permanent loans or donations of one or more physical works for display in the library at the end of the residency period are appreciated but not required.
  • Create a written reflection at the end of the residency to be included in a permanent digital collection of former artists in residence. This reflection may be, but is not required to be, suitable for scholarly publication.

Preference will be given to artists whose work:

  • Reflects and celebrates the diverse community of Belmar and Lakewood.
  • Demonstrates a background in and commitment to community-based, activist, and participatory art projects.
  • Includes technology components that engage patrons in the creation process in ways that support technical literacy (videography and recording, digital design and manipulation, etc).

Action Brief Statement

An Artist in Residence program at the Belmar Branch seeks to convince low-income families that by accessing and experiencing the arts they will expand cultural literacy which will increase social and economic opportunity because access to arts and culture for communities and individuals is directly correlated to prosperity.


Bring specific, detailed, hands-on and ongoing arts participation and education into a library community.

  • Specific: artists-in-residence programs allow individual artists focused on an area of expertise to engage the community in their signature art form. This is not an overview “arts” program but a series of experiences relating to a particular artist working in a particular medium from a particular point of view.
  • Detailed: the artist-in-residence structure allows much greater breadth and depth, and exploration of more different angles of medium, process, composition, craft, cultural and historical context, and evolution than a one-time program or a series of lecture or hands-on programs with one program for each artist.
  • Hands-on: the artist will act as a facilitator, not a demonstrator. Both formal and passive programming will be engaging, experiential, and patron-focused.
  • Ongoing: This is a permanent program fully integrated into the library service model. Each artist has enough time in residence to create a body of work, build relationships with patrons and staff, and explore process in deep and varied ways.

Description of Community

Belmar is a pioneering example of mixed-use development (Briggs, 2016) built from 2001 to 2005 on the site of the former Villa Italia shopping mall, just across Wadsworth Boulevard from the city administration complex of Lakewood, Colorado, which includes the Belmar Branch of the Jefferson County Libraries system and Belmar Park of the Lakewood city park network. To the north and northwest of Belmar Park are recent middle-income housing developments, and to the south of the park are older residential neighborhoods. The immediate area around the library (the 80216 zip code, about 3600 households and 10000 residents) is young, diverse with a strong (72%) Hispanic presence, ranging wildly in income with a large low-income population, and family-oriented. (US Census Bureau, 2016a)

Beyond the Belmar area, the Belmar Library serves the city of Lakewood (population 143k), a suburb of Denver, Colorado, and shares a large service area overlap both with other Jefferson County branches and with several branches of the Denver Public Library system. Several major cross-city public transit lines terminate at Lakewood City Center, making the Belmar Branch an active destination for public transit users.

Jefferson County Libraries has recently made a strategic priority of hands-on, participatory programming with experiential education and community development components. The Belmar branch, which has tremendously strong and vital children’s programming but has not had as strong an adult programming presence historically, has recently shifted priorities into this area. This combination of service gap, opportunity, and community need situate Belmar as an ideal incubator for this type of program in the Jefferson County Libraries.

Evidence and Resources

970West Studio (Mesa County, Colorado):

The Bubbler (Madison, Wisconsin):

IdeaBox (Oak Park, Illinois):

Artist Profiles (various libraries):

Policy statements, RFPs, and artist applications (various libraries):

Arts Access, Prosperity, and the Opportunity Gap:

Mission, Guidelines, and Policy

The mission, vision, and values of JCPL are:

Vision: Jefferson County Public Library will be the essential destination where all generations connect, discover and create.

Mission: Jefferson County Public Library helps to build an educated and vibrant community by providing equal access to information and opportunities.

Values: We serve with care; everyone is welcome here. We meet you where you are, give you our full attention and strive to exceed your expectations. Our core values are Innovation, Accountability and Excellence.

Belmar is a strongly Hispanic community (72% Hispanic- or Latino-identified, 56% speak Spanish at home, 28% born outside the US) with a median income of $38k (US Census, 2016a) while Lakewood as a whole is considerably more white and affluent (US Census, 2016b). Research has shown (Avila, 2012) that Hispanic and Latino families use libraries in an intentionally multigenerational way. Belmar already has strong children’s programming, needs to connect with adult patrons to “connect, discover, and create,” and has a mandate to do that in a broad-based, horizontal, robust way. By focusing this program on multigenerational programming, the library addresses a known needs gap in a way that is responsive to how a defined priority target service population is already using the library.

Responsibility for developing and implementing policy and procedures for this program will be the role of a committee made up of the Branch Manager, branch and district Public Services Managers, and district Kids and Families Manager, with oversight from the Library Director.

Direct responsibility for recruiting, vetting, and making offers to potential artists will be the role of the Adult Services Librarian, with input from the Children’s Services Librarian, Teen Outreach Librarian, and Special Populations Librarian, and oversight from the Branch Public Services Manager, Branch Manager, and district Public Services Manager.

A number of sample policies and applications are included in the section above as a starting point for developing a set of policies, best practices, and expectations tailored for JCPL and Belmar.

Funding Considerations

The artist will be a paid contractor with the library system and the artist stipend will be allocated from the branch payroll budget as the equivalent of one 20-hour-per-week Patron Experience (PX) paralibrarian (about $1500 per month). Marketing for the program will go through the existing district marketing department and workflow.

Materials will be the artist’s responsibility, as funding requirements for materials will vary wildly depending on medium and programming design considerations. The artist is strongly encouraged to pursue funding from the many Colorado organizations that support artists in residence, and artists who have submitted applications may receive assistance from the library administration in grant applications for this purpose. JCPL will maintain a list of local funding organizations that are interested in supporting this type of programming. Some examples include:

  • The Boettcher Foundation
  • Colorado Humanities
  • Colorado Creative Industries
  • Arts for Colorado
  • Think 360 For Learning
  • Latino Community Foundation of Colorado

Action Steps & Timeline:

  • Spring 2017: Convene first committee meeting and develop visioning for the project
  • Summer 2017: Develop policy and RFP/application framework and submit funding request for 2018 budget year a 50% funding.
  • September, 2017: Finalize and approve policy and RFP/application framework; release RFP for first round.
  • December 2017: Critique and revise RFP process; release RFP for second round.
  • January 2018: 2018 funding kicks in, making stipend money available. Select first artist, begin developing programming plan.
  • March 2018: Submit PRW (marketing materials request) for first residency; submit 2019 funding request at 100% funding.
  • April, 2018: PRW approval from Marketing Department. Select second artist, begin developing programming plan.
  • May 2018: Compile report of launch process.
  • June, 2018: Submit PRW for second residency.
  • July 1, 2018: Begin first residency.
  • October 1, 2018: Begin second residency

The “plan b” allows for completely dropping the first cycle to launch the program with the first residency beginning October 1. In fact, with the timeline established, the program can be launched at any time, accommodating whatever delays may develop in the process indefinitely, if necessary. This model for rolling submissions and flexible launches of ongoing programs on an incremental delivery cycle is well established and effective for managing delays in early-stage implementation.

Staffing Considerations

In addition to the payroll designate for the artist-in-residence (AIR), this program will require some staff time. As with all programming, PX staff are encouraged to assist in programs that are of personal or professional interest to them as part of their normal off-desk duties; the Public Services Manager will work with individual PX staff to balance allocation of time for this purpose, including allowing additional hours as appropriate. At times, AIR and other programming may overlap (for example, including AIR components in pre-existing ongoing children’s and teen programming: having a writer-, poet-, or book-arts artist-in-residence work with the teen writing group, or coordinate a Wacky Wednesday STEAM program in collaboration with a staff member.) The AIR and YA Services and Outreach Librarians are also encouraged to include TAB and other volunteers.

The institutional culture of JCPL already supports staff and volunteers taking initiative in leadership and support roles in a wide variety of activities. This proposal is committed to integrating this program into the culture of the library in a continuous, holistic and horizontal way, engaging all staff, and as such the long-term goal is to work this program into the permanent budget of the branch and daily duties of the staff. Short-term grants and initiatives may be utilized to get the program off the ground (see Funding Considerations, above) but will not be relied upon in an ongoing way.


Much of the actual programming content will be delivered by the AIR.

A brief portion of the branch all-staff meetings in months preceding a change of artist will include introducing the artist, their medium and work, and the planned programming.

Staff assisting the AIR in programming will gain more in-depth knowledge of the artist, their medium and work in the course of preparing and executing the program. Any tech training required for staff relating to AIR activities will be negotiated and arranged in the program planning phase, to be executed by Staff Training personnel, personnel from other departments with a particular and relevant area of knowledge, or the AIR themselves.

Promotion & Marketing

Standard marketing, including social networking-based marketing, will go through the existing Marketing Department workflows.

The nature of the artists’ work in each residence cycle and their existing relationships with cultural institutions and communities should suggest additional directions for marketing. Some initial ideas on how to craft this should be prompted in the application; it should be further developed for each residence in the program planning phase.


Methodologies for assessment:

  • Quantitative data collection on program attendance, passive program participation, and other patron engagement metrics
  • Spot surveying of program attendees
  • AIR and staff self-assessments
  • Observational assessment of AIR and assisting staff by supervisory and peer staff
  • Participatory action research methodologies embedded in the programs (Lincoln, Lynham, and Guba, 2011)

Where do we go from here?

  • This proposal envisions the expansion of the AIR to (one or more) full-time position(s) equivalent in compensation to that of a librarian, serving multiple branches or the entire district in an outreach role.
  • There are several different ways that this program can generate rich, granular, qualitative data on the impact of access to arts education and participation. One hope for this proposal is that it will spark a broader conversation in the library community about the role of arts and cultural access in community engagement and connection, celebration of diversity, self-advocacy, and transformative creative experience.
  • The staff assisting with these programs will build both personal and professional skillsets and perspectives particular to the role of libraries as creative and collaborative spaces, and are encouraged to go on to develop other creative programming projects.
  • The Greater Denver Metro Area is a hotspot for this type of programming. With this proposal, JCPL joins Anythink, Denver Public Library, Longmont Library, and other local library systems with similar programs. Collaboration with these libraries and with the State Library and Colorado Library Consortium to model and mentor arts programs in smaller libraries and outlying areas benefits the broader region.
  • The elegance and beauty of participatory action research is in how the process and analysis of the research itself is the catalyst for transformation, and reveals possibilities that cannot be envisioned or predicted at the outset. Constant assessment and revision of program parameters will generate new possibilities. (Brydon-Miller et al, 2011)


Avila, S. (2012). Serving Latino Teens. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO.

Bergholz, K. (2012). IdeaBox.

Briggs, A. (5/6/2016). “10 years later, Belmar exceeds expectations for Lakewood growth, identity.Denver Post. Retrieved on 3/19/2016 from

Brydon-Miller, M., et al (2011). “Jazz and the banyan tree: Roots and riffs on participatory action research.” In Denzin, N. & Lincoln, Y. (eds.) The Sage handbook of qualitative research (387-400). Los Angeles : Sage.

IMLS (2017). Strengthening Networks, Sparking Change: Museums and Libraries as Community Catalysts

Lincoln, Y., Lynham, S., & Guba, E. (2011). “Paradgimatic controversies, contradictions, and emerging confluences, revisited.” In Denzin, N. & Lincoln, Y. (eds.) The Sage handbook of qualitative researh (97-128). Los Angeles : Sage.

Los Angeles Public Library. (2015). IMLS Focus: Engaging Communities.

Rainy, L. (2016). The Puzzles Librarians need to Solve.

Simon, N. (n.d.). The participatory museum.

Stephens, M. (2010). The hyperlinked school library: engage, explore, celebrate.

Stephens, M. (2012). The age of participation.

United States Census Bureau (2016). “Community Facts: 80216.” American FactFinder.

United States Census Bureau (2016). “Community Facts: Lakewood city, Colorado.American FactFinder.

DISCLAIMER: This is an abstract thought experiment for academic purposes, not a proposal under consideration, and does not reflect the priorities or actual programming initiatives of JCPL. The policies, institutional structure, and values of JCPL are expressed to the best understanding of the author in good faith. The administration of JCPL has not endorsed this proposal.

Where we live III: boundaries, connections, & transformation

[B]oth ends act as anchors and as targets…

– from the Wikipedia definition for hyperlink

I didn’t set out in this class to keep coming back to a single a cohesive and overarching metaphor in my reflection posts about the deeply personal emotional experience of librarianship within the communities we traverse and occupy; but, always, the themes emerge in the course of the writing.

I’m thinking this week about hyperlinked environments, and hyperlinks and environments and where those two concepts intersect and inform each other, which leads to information ecology, which leads to social geography, to GIS and big data in community advocacy, to the demographics of information-seeking and information community construction, to the role of information literacy in identity construction, to the precarity of subcultures and marginalized identities, to self-advocacy and allyship and leveraged privilege in social networking, to social responsibility in information professions, right down the rabbithole and I can keep on going forever because this is all wonderfully fascinating and important and relevant and connected, which takes me back to hyperlinks, and that is the point.

I talked last week about how we really only can envision library service assessment and strategic planning from within and in the context of the communities we’re in, and how breaking down the barriers between our organizations and the public we serve offers a new way of thinking about both individuals and institutions as contiguous with communities that are also made up of individuals and institutions, in terms of the traffic that crosses the boundary and the connections that are forged at boundaries.

Studying connections that form and transformation that occurs at boundaries has been the enduring and overarching fascination of my life. I wrote this short blog post just about a year ago, in response to the social networking reaction to the Istanbul and Brussels bombings.

I am studying models of information seeking in school right now, and although these theoretical models vary wildly in their details, what they all agree on is this:

The seeking, acquiring and internalizing of new knowledge is a deeply emotional, and emotionally fraught, process. We feel it, in our bodies and our souls, and there is always a point in the process that’s really scary. Every new piece of understanding has the potential to entirely upset The World As We Know It, and we keep diving into that rift anyway. Or don’t.

It is at that moment, when we’re the most vulnerable, when we hold the power to change the world in our hands, an intervention – a guiding voice, a sympathetic ear, a compelling story, a moment of silence inviting clarity, an invoked memory, an unexpected new experience – has tremendous power.

This is why I do the work that I do. Both as an artist, and as a librarian. We are nothing more than the sum total of what we’ve become anew each time we’ve dived into that rift, and we owe it to ourselves and each other to be mindful of how we shape those moments of intervention in the depths of fear.

As it happened, I wrote the post on my phone, sitting in a Starbucks, on my way from a temporary home in the Denver suburbs into the city for a day of apartment hunting.

I thought about it again this week, reflecting on liminal spaces and re-reading the Pew library user typology report and remembering the splash it made when it was first published three years ago*. A lot of that splash had to do with conversations about how to reward, support, and acknowledge high-engagement users, and how to convert low- and medium-engagement users to high-engagement users, which I thought rather missed the point at the time but couldn’t quite articulate why, but from where I am now it’s very clear: overtly privileging actual and potential high-engagement users may be an efficient disbursement of resources but it’s not compassionate.

 I do love the idea of libraries as third places – robust community spaces valued and supported by regular patronage. I do. It’s a hugely important part of what libraries do. But at this particular moment I find myself fascinated by the low- and medium-engagement users and how their library experience is fundamentally different and how we can best serve them as they are. Because – and this is something that just doesn’t get talked about as much, maybe because it reflects social processes that we have far less control over – libraries are also liminal spaces, traversed rather than occupied, in moments of change, by people we are encountering for, perhaps, the first and last time.

So many of the things that we are asked to do, that our communities clearly value (help pre-k kids prepare for school, help immigrants integrate, provide technology and literacy training, provide job search and business incubator services, providing internet access to everyone whether permanent local resident or not, support civic activism, provide acess to consumer health information and literacy, connect people to the social safety net and government services and other support) are about helping people navigate change. What happens when they succeed? They don’t need us anymore. For some people, we’re lighthouses, not navigational stars, and that is okay.

Serving lower-engagement patrons is legitimately harder. We have less to go on. We need to gather and synthesize information fast and draw effective solutions to unique problems from our body of experience with no preparation and deliver them with grace under fire. We need to be agile, knowledgable, prepared, culturally competent, humble, and engaged. Each individual patron interaction consumes more time, more resources, more knowledge, more emotional energy, more social capital than an interaction with a high-engagement patron does. And we may never get any kind of feedback about whether we had any impact at all.

But sometimes we do.

A woman passed through the line at the accounts desk today, stopped, looked at me oddly, and then said – “Oh, you! It was you who helped me. You don’t remember.” She then** recalled half an hour spent tracking down literary and film criticism resources on American Psycho, three months ago, culminating in a phone call to another branch to hold a DVD so she could make a mad dash across town before they closed. “I got an A on that assignment because of you,” she said.

“I do remember, and that’s awesome,” I said, sincerely.

I never did find out what happened with the private-agency social worker I stayed with for forty-five minutes fighting with the a local housing authority’s sketchy fax connection, trying five times before finally pushing an eighteen-page packet of documentation through at 4:45 on a Friday afternoon. “You’re getting a seventy-three-year-old chronically homeless man into his own apartment,” he told me. We talked about the rewards and challenges of a life in public service, and about this very thing – these critical transient acts of service that make transformed lives possible and are so different from ongoing client-provider relationships, these tipping points.

I often think about, but have never again seen, the woman I spent an hour and a half with composing and laying out and finishing the guest booklets for her father’s funeral.

I never find out what happens to 99% – more – of the thousands of people I’ve helped submit job applications and edit resumes and craft cover letters and complete workforce center questionnaires over the years. Or the college-aged kids who dash in throughout August and January with a Texas or Georgia or Florida drivers’ license and an ink-still-wet lease in a student neighborhood, get a library card and fax a bunch of paperwork and spend three hours hunched urgently over one of our computers and then never come back.

It’s like this every day. For every regular who I meet at the door with the Wall Street Journal or the latest CJ Box because I saw him coming, or dish about BBC procedurals and Marvel Netflix shows with, or help with printing again because she just cannot seem to wrap her brain around how to pick up her print job and she always apologizes and I always smile sympathetically, there are a dozen whose names and faces I do not know and never will. They will not come back with the same question next week. But during each of these connections, I was wholly present for those few moments, and I hope that they carry some lingering sense of what the library can be in a person’s life out into the world because I certainly do remember each and every single one, every one of them has shaped me and made me what I am, and so they are all still with me in a sense; the library is not a building or a staff or a collection but a vast web of transactions and transformations reaching out into the world, transmitting the downstream effect of those exchanges, connecting with each other and back to us until they are lost in the mist of distance and time.


*so much of this course thus far has been a very emotional process of re-reading stuff I read at a different point in my career and intellectual life, and finding new things in these readings, and remembering what I so much valued in the first place.

**potentially identifying details in anecdotes from this point forward have been changed.


Barlow, M. (2016). Smart Cities, Smarter Citizens: Connected Technology Transforms Living and WorkingSebastopol, CA: O’Reilly Media.

Berger, K. (1989) The Information Ecosystem: Putting the promise of the Information Age into perspective. In Context #23: The Ecology of Media From Storytelling to Telecommunications.

Blackman, S., and Kempson, M. (2016) The Subcultural Imagination: Theory, Research and Reflexivity in Contemporary Youth Cultures. London: Routledge.

Holman, P. (10/09/2013) The Changing News and Information Ecosystem: What Can You Do? Journalism that Matters.

Horrigan, J.B. (2015). Libraries at the crossroads.

Horrigan, J. B. (2016). Information Overload.

Morehart, P. (8/17/2016). Moving Beyond the “Third Place”: IFLA forum examines library designs that embrace the community. American Libraries.

Perrin, A. (2015). Social Media Usage: 2005-2015.

Rainie, L. (2016). Libraries and learning.

Rose, J. F. P. (2016). The well-tempered city: What modern science, ancient civilizations, and human nature teach us about the future of urban life. New York : Harper Wave.

Sharma, D. S. (2015). Using GIS to Assess Public Libraries. Public Libraries, 54(6), 19-20.

Zickuhr, K., Purcell, K., & Rainie, L. (2014). From distant admirers to library lovers-and beyond.

Zickuhr, K. (2014). Public libraries and technology: From ‘houses of knowledge’ to ‘houses of access.’

Zickuhr, K. (2014). Public libraries and the quiz-takers who love them.

Where we live II: love makes a community

When I lived in Seattle right after library school I was an AmeriCorps volunteer at Seattle Public Library and helped start the Wired for Learning program which taught tech skills to folks who needed them. In Seattle that was mostly low income folks, new immigrants and people with cognitive or physical disabilities.

My feeling was that I’d do that for a few years, then everyone would have learned the stuff and then we could move on to more sophisticated topics […] Then I moved to the east coast which was a bit behind the west coast and to Vermont specifically which is in what I call a tech shadow [“offline and proud of it”] and to this day I’m still teaching “my first email” classes. I am not complaining, I love this work, but the sort of people who need a “my first email” class are different than they were, and the sort of other tech questions people have are different than they used to be.

– Jessamyn West, 21st Century Digital Divide

This quote really struck me.

In this week’s reading, there were some truly beautiful, innovative, engaging, resource-intensive spaces and service concepts that are inspiring and exciting and thought-provoking but don’t really speak to my experience, and also some elegantly simple, deeply compassionate, hyperlocal exemplars that really, really do. And I think – hey, if we ever have a chance to work in an Oak Park or an Anythink or a TrioTretton and participate directly in a convergence of opportunity and vision that has a fundamental, tectonic impact on how the profession views itself and what’s possible in libraries we should totally do it, but the reality is that most of us, for most of our careers, are going to work in organizations that are small, understaffed, underbudgeted, beholden to higher authorities outside the library profession, enmeshed in institutional culture that has developed over time and is inherently resistant to transformation, and trying to serve many differing, often conflicting, and sometimes outright mutually irreconcilable needs of diverse communities as best we can. And that reality can be daunting, but it’s what we signed up for.

So how do we turn challenges into opportunities? By loving the one we’re with.

I think this is easy to lose sight of. I know I have, at times. Fourteen months ago, I left my job of twelve years at a small rural library – and for the last five years, my partner (later fiance) and I were two-thirds of the senior management team.  (He was the assistant director and sysadmin; I was the entire tech services department and also circ shift supervisor.) That library and that community was just a huge part of my life for a very long time. I raised my kids there, I literally wrote my undergraduate capstone project on community development, I served on tourism and economic development boards and the LiveWell committee and various other groups. By the time I left, I was pretty burned out. This week I’ve been working on my performance review at the end of my first year at a very different library, and reflecting on both of these places, and now, with a little emotional distance from it, I’m remembering everything I learned in that first job and what lessons from it I’ve brought into my new job, and what I keep coming back to is love.

I said in the last reflection post that “[w]e are our patrons. We are in the community” and I want to focus on that statement and dig into it a little more.

little libraries practicing hyperlocality

What do I mean when I say “love the one we’re with”?

We start with awareness. We can’t serve a community we don’t know. I don’t think it’s necessary to live in the communities where we work – I don’t, currently, though I did for a long time – but we need to be knowledgeable and conversant, we need to be paying attention, we need to ask nuanced questions.

I’m talking about little things – “where’s the nearest mailbox/ATM/Starbucks?” which are questions we catch all the time, and timely things – “what’s happening at the park next door this weekend? What happened at the board meeting where the school district was supposed to talk about cutting gifted & talented programs?” and the things that are big and scary and desperately important on a personal scale – “can you help me figure out how to get to the homeless shelter in the next town where I have a bed for the night?” and on a community scale – “what does sanctuary city status mean? What impact does it have? If we lose that federal funding, what does that actually mean for us?” And a lot of these question can be answered with a thirty-second Google search, but there’s a qualitative difference between that and knowing this stuff off the cuff because we’ve already taken the time to learn it, and what the difference conveys to patrons is competence.

From awareness comes engagement. We reach out. We take an active interest. We use local businesses, we walk around the neighborhood a little, we participate in community groups, we read the local paper and follow the local social media outlets, we have conversations with people that don’t necessarily relate directly to library services and we speak with authority and competence and we listen with humility, and when we get to that point we start hearing things we wouldn’t otherwise, partly because we’re in the right place at the right time (and you’ve got to get out of the building and out of formal stakeholder contexts sometimes for that to happen) and partly because we are building trust.

From engagement comes a pragmatic, holistic, and well-balanced understanding of the community, and that takes time, and it can’t be only one person or one small group of people. And this is where I’ve seen library administrations really struggle with community engagement: either – one one hand – misapplying lessons and ideas from other places, shoehorning premixed solutions into superficially similar problems because they do not have a sufficiently comprehensive understanding of their actual patrons and stakeholders, or – on the other hand – getting bogged down and discouraged by perceived limitations, falling into that’ll-never-work-here and we’ve-always-done-it-that-way thinking. They get hung up on high performance on standardized metrics while complaining about how those performance benchmarks are unattainable instead of interrogating how those metrics are (and aren’t) locally relevant. They assign one person or one small team – or hire an outside team – to do a needs assessment, and get a view from a certain angle, and run a marketing campaign to explain to the public how they’re going to do this thing, and here, look at the data on the impact of this type of initiative in other communities, and then when early excitement and positive response dies off quickly or fails to generate at all, they might never try anything ambitious again.

There’s a middle path.

There’s a difference between imposing an idea of what we think a community should be and imagining what it could be within the framework of seeing and appreciating and accepting it as it is with humour and affectionate pragmatism, and the latter requires respect for histories and identities and the reality of the lived experience of people whose narratives are not necessarily the narratives we identify with, and how all of those things intersect.

More voices at the table mean an enriched and varied lived experience, inside and outside the institution. A robust and engaged staff that participates in a wide variety of different subsets of the community will, if they trust the leadership, if they feel like they have a voice, will bring their own stories and the stories of their neighbors and the patrons they interact with and the people and institutions and values they care about into the dialogue, and they will go out of their way to connect people who need to be talking to each other, and they will go out into the community and be enthusiastic, empowered library ambassadors in ways that one outreach librarian can never be.

To conceive of ambitious and transformative projects that will gain buy-in because they’re relevant and valuable, to build that buy-in over time, to invite dialogue in a way that makes people believe we mean it, to bring a genuine sense of affection and concern to formal planning and informal exchange of ideas, to let go of what isn’t working and learn from it, to take pride in our accomplishments and also take joy in the accomplishments that aren’t ours, to be responsive and compassionate in times of crisis (and at all times), to know and choose which hill to die on, all of that takes time and work and individual and institutional commitment and is ongoing and incremental and it takes a desire to do that work grounded in affection and investment, which is basically fundamental relationship-building.

Formal tools like needs assessments and strategic plans and advocacy partnerships and (digital and traditional) marketing campaigns are absolutely necessary, and they’re absolutely not sufficient. They are most useful in a context of and on a foundation of caring. We are information professionals, and gathering and synthesizing information is part of our expertise, but love tells us what to do with that information.


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Kim, S. (2014). …and the kitchen sink.

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Oak Park Public Library (2017). The Idea Box.

Oak Park Public Library. (n.d.). IdeaBox Collections.

Pewrainangi, S. (2014). A beautiful obsession.

Stolls, A. (2015). The Healing power of libraries.

Schmidt, A. (2016). Asking the Right Questions.

Warnick, M. (2016). This is where you belong: The art and science of loving the place you live. New York: Viking.

West, J. (2014). 21st century digital divide.

Consent of the Networked

Consent of the networked : the world-wide struggle for Internet freedom / Rebecca MacKinnon
Publisher: New York : Basic Books, [2013] Paperback edition (with updated foreword and new afterword)

Internet freedom has many possible meanings. It can mean freedom through the Internet: the use of the Internet by citizens to achieve freedom from political oppression. It can mean freedom for  the Internet: noninterference in the Internet’s networks and platforms by governments or other entities. It can mean freedom within the Internet: individuals speaking and interacting in this virtual space have the same right to virtual free expression and assembly as they have to the physical pre-Internet equivalents. It cam mean freedom to connect to the Internet: any attempt to prevent citizens from accessing it is a violation of their right to free expression and assembly. Finally, “Internet freedom” can mean freedom of the Internet: free and open architecture and governance, which means that the people and organizations who use computer code to determine its technical standards, as well as those who use legal code to regulate what can and cannot be done within and through the Internet, all share the common goal of keeping the Internet open, free, and globally interconnected so that all netizens are free not only to use it, but also to participate in shaping it themselves. (p. 186)

Rebecca MacKinnon is Director of the Ranking Digital Rights project at the New America Foundation’s Open Technology Institute and a co-founder of Global Voices. At the time of writing, she was a board member of the Global Network Initiative, and a former head of the Beijing and Tokyo bureaus of CNN.

Written in the immediate aftermath of Arab Spring, this book is largely shaped by those events and by MacKinnon’s background; much of the focus is on events and issues in the Muslim world and in China and elsewhere in Asia, on issues facing democracies in Western Europe and the English-speaking world, and on the impact of the Anglo-American dominance over both the administration and culture of the Internet and the policies of American companies upon the rest of the world.

It’s always, of course, interesting to read an important and cutting-edge book on technology and culture that is a few years out of date; time and perspective further articulate trends and reveal patterns in the work that further inform its interpretation. And everything about 2016 and 2017 thus far reinforces: the issues MacKinnon tackles here are even more relevant, timely, urgent, and fraught than they were four years ago.

Surveillance and Censorship

In his introduction to the English translation of Ma Boyong’s influential short story “City of Silence” (2005; tr. 2011) in Invisible Planets (2016), Ken Liu writes, “Given the political background, it may be almost irresistible to read the story purely as a satire of China’s government. I think it’s better to resist that temptation.” He’s right, on both counts. More than a single-layered critique of a particular regime, the story – about the inexorable creep of unchecked expanding censorship to an inevitable, horrifying conclusion – is a broader examination of how surveillance and censorship go hand in hand, and how systems of surveillance and censorship are inherently unstable and contain within them the conditions for dissent and resistance which are in turn subject to ever-more-brutal repression.

A case study that is threaded throughout the book is Google’s 2010 decision to shut down its four-year experiment in operations within China. Google discovered – and, later, Yahoo! and other companies have learned in their interactions there – that it is impossible to do business in a surveillance state and avoid being morally and functionally complicit in the act of surveillance and censorship.

But the most troubling trends, MacKinnon writes, are taking place in democracies.

The very nature of Internet companies – the throughput and accumulation of vast amounts of user data, the lack of regulatory oversight and tremendous latitude of corporations – creates the conditions for passive surveillance, and shifting to an active surveillance footing is neither logistically nor legally difficult.  The understandable and rational desire to impose some form of rule of law on both intellectual property crimes and individual-on-individual harrassment and abuse are directly at odds with the full implications of a free and open Internet in a world where politically dissident speech is classed as a crime in some jurisdictions, and the system of checks and balances to address that inherent conflict do not yet exist.

Corporate Accountability and Governance

“What we are witnessing now,” [Simon Chesterman] writes, is the emergence of a new social contract, in which individuals give the state (and, frequently, many other actors) power over information in exchange for security and the convenience of living in the modern world.” (pp. 80-81, quoting from One Nation, Under Surveillance)

Chesterman’s quote begs a question: how can those checks and balances be developed when that social contract is still far from fully articulated?

Much of what we have now is what we have because it just grew that way. ICANN is a hodgepodge and far too Anglocentric, but far better than any alternative that’s ever been seriously proposed. Google’s “don’t be evil” is catchy and broadly useful as a guideline, but not a comprehensive and resilient standard for corporate governance. No one expected Facebook or Twitter to become the global, profoundly influential phenomena they have, with, in some ways, power equivalent to states (“If [Facebook] really were a country, it would  be the world’s third largest, after India and China.”)

And if these companies hold the power of states over their “residents,” then, frankly, they’re dictatorships. Mark Zuckerberg’s tone-deaf and deeply privileged personal ethos of radical transparency, imposed as it is on Facebook’s three quarters of a billion users, has profound real-world impact on those whose choices are 1.) take genuine risks with their personal safety by attaching their real names to political and cultural dissidence; 2.) run the risk of identities built through hard work and great effort being erased unilaterally and without warning; or 3.) not participating at all in a profoundly powerful platform for free expression.

There’s a compelling argument to be made that that’s as it should be – it’s a private company! And government, in both democratic and nondemocratic states has been persistently terrible at regulating any aspect of the Internet with anything resembling justice. But no private company in the history of the world has had the impact on either the day-to-day lives of individuals or the shaping of global commerce and governance that Facebook, or Twitter, or Google, or Yahoo!, have, and at that scale, what does corporate responsibility even look like?

MacKinnon struggles with this question throughout the book, coming to no good answers, but digging in with depth and nuance. She tackles issues that were emerging in 2013 and are exploding today: the breakdown of net neutrality, propaganda, manipulated confirmation bias, and other assaults on rational free exchange, which may, in the end, prove as powerful as active censorship and outright corporate complicity in human rights violations.

The problem is that our ability to organize and speak out is shaped – often quite subtly – by the Internet service providers, email services, mobile devices, and social networking services. If our communications and acess to information are manipulated in ways we are not aware of, and if these companies relationships with government are opaque, our ability to understand how power is being exercised over us, and our ability to hold that power to account, will be eroded in a more subtle and insidious manner than Orwell ever imagined. (p. 6)

The only answers, she suggests, lie in a distributed model of governance that we all, every one of us, take an active part in understanding, building, maintaining, and defending.

Test post

In lieu of content, a goofball dog.

Where we live.

About a week after I got the offer for my current job, and ten days or so before I started, I went to my future workplace and walked in the front door. I did not tell anyone who I was or why I was there.  I just puttered around, getting a sense of the place and how it felt to be a patron there, how intuitive it was, how welcoming. Where people clustered, and for what purposes.  What self-services were available, and how navigational information was arranged, and how readily staff made themselves visible and available to help. What I saw pleased me a lot. It was so obviously a space that had been designed and built before the paradigm shift, that had adapted and changed and was continuing to adapt, and that gave me hope.

I began working in public libraries in 2004, just as the wave was breaking on Web 2.0/Library 2.0 (Casey & Savastinuk, 2007). Everyone I worked with was from “before” and their experience of this was fundamentally different than mine. I never unlearned the old way. Because I was new, I was intensely aware that I knew nothing, so I embraced the unknown and the cascade of constant change, it was not disruptive or disorienting to me, it was just where I lived.

I was aware of that in part because I was an ethnography student. It was weird and fascinating to watch: participant-observer to the end of an old world and the birth of a new, constantly studying what was happening around me and how my colleagues were reacting to it.  Everything is changing! Yes. When does it stop? Do you see it stopping? It’s exhausting! Yep. How can we possibly learn all of this new technology? We can’t. It’s okay. We learn the patterns, the trends, the emergent needs, and how to stay one step ahead of the curve. We learn what we can, and we learn to make peace with what we don’t know. And anyway, it’s not actually about the tech, it’s about the connections the tech makes. The emerging ways of connecting people to people, and people to Story.

My experience at JCPL was a strange echo of this: my hiring cohort came in as a direct result of a major reorganization from a traditional-hierarchy institution to a horizontally integrated, team-management-based, participatory organizational model, a change articulated in a strategic plan called the Blue Dot Document, so there is a “before Blue Dot/after Blue Dot” division in the institutional culture of JCPL, and a mass of retirements as the “before Blue Dot” people who are not adapting self-select out. It’s a big organization, and a document doesn’t transform a culture overnight (especially when the document is about moving away from top-down dictates), but the culture shifts as people respond, interact, reach across, connect. Disruption becomes transformation. Smart managers – and our managers are very smart – cultivate this transformation, support it, strengthen emerging pathways. Change is where we live.

As Searls and Weinberger point out, it’s now been fifteen years. We’ve found our sea legs. The radical has become mainstream; a generation of professionals are accustomed to this. And we’re stagnating. A new ILS, a new self-service feature, a new web-based reference service, a new device (Wifi hotspots, anyone?), it’s just part of the routine. We’re all in classes and webinars all the time. We speak the language of SWOT analysis and Design Thinking and rapid prototyping and deconstructing barriers to access, and those are important things, but with repetition and internalization they lose some of their punch.

When technological agility and user-centric service models themselves become routine, where are we going? What is change for? If continuous improvement is the new culture of libraries, what are we improving? And why?

When we’re closed off to concepts without examining them fully, or without exploring the frameworks in which they exist, we’re unlikely truly to innovate or create any radically meaningful experiences.

And that question takes me back to my roots in the social sciences.

What I’m seeing implied but not explicated in these pieces – the next step I think we need to tackle – is a reframing of the idea of expertise and ownership. We fight to be recognized as experts, as professionals, as we should. Hey, why are we in graduate school anyway?

Expertise is necessary but not sufficient.

What I think gets lost in conversations about how to serve patrons is: our users, our patrons, are the experts of their own experience. And we are them. We are our patrons. We are in the community. We are creators and consumers of popular culture. We are privileged and marginalized and complicated individuals. We are participants. Which means we are also the experts of our own experience, and we bring that experience into our work. What I’ve seen unfortunately a lot of is people in leadership roles who give lip service to that idea but do not understand it.

We are the medium… caring – mattering – is the motive force.

Giving patrons freedom over their own holds queue is one thing, but it’s still framed as giving them something that was ours. Delegating. It’s natural to feel like we’re giving something up – something we’ve worked very hard for. And it’s the wrong message to send; it does devalue our very important work. (If machines and clerks and the patrons themselves can do the work, again, why are we in grad school?) Because – we know this, we just need to be really good at communicating it – checking out books and weeding from a checklist (or even designing the checklist) and formatting in Microsoft Word isn’t the work, and it never was. The work has always been making a connection, an exchange, a conversation. Always. And we can’t do that if we hold ourselves apart.

Nineteen. Thirty. One. The work has always been about connection.

When we talk about participatory service models, it cannot be about “letting” patrons participate in (some aspects of) their own library experience. If we’re talking about centering human experience then we’re talking about letting librarians be humans first, playing and discovering, making mistakes, getting messy, asking questions (and not being afraid to say “I don’t know”), shaping our institutions to be open to and informed by the passions, experiences, needs, and expertise of everyone in the community that we are participants in creating (but do not own). We need to break down othering, because us and them is not helping.

So we’re learning how to be experts without being gatekeepers, and that means letting go of some ego, letting go of holding ourselves apart. Shifting the locus of ownership . Traffic crosses blurring boundaries in both directions, and magic happens at the boundaries.

Buckland, M. (1992). Redesigning library services: A manifesto.

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

Denning, S. (2015). Do We Need Libraries?

Searls, D. & Weinberger, D. (2015). New Clues.

Weinberger, D. (2001). The hyperlinked organization.

Stephens, M. (2016) Open to Change.

Schmidt, A. (2014). Exploring context.

Booth, M. (2013). People and UTS Library.


The first post is always weird. It gets easier in the flow, right? Here goes.

Hi, I’m Beth!

I live in beautiful, the historic City Park West neighborhood of central Denver, right off of lower east Colfax Avenue,  which is its own pop culture phenomenon – both Main Street USA and  The Wickedest Street In America.

I work as a paraprofessional public service associate at the very large and busy Belmar Branch of the Jefferson County Libraries, a system that serves ‘burbs, satellite cities, and rural communities in the western foothills of the Front Range. We do a little bit of everything, but my interest and focus is on adult services and programming and patron education.

Last summer, I got to take point on Belmar’s
contribution to a Lakewood-wide arts event.
We decided to create large line drawings
for our 84 feet of picture windows
and invite the community to use
window crayons to color
and embellish the drawings.
The result was beyond
what anyone expected.

I’ve been working in libraries for thirteen years, and a Michael Stephens fan for almost that long. (Really! Tame the Web, which was at that time very new, was one of the first blogs I found when I started desperately reading everything I could get my hands on, as a brand-new and very lost tech services clerk. ) For most of that time, I worked in a small, rural library 200 miles from the action in Denver, and professional social networking was a lifeline. But life is busy, we get complacent, and at a certain point it’s easy to fall out of the practice of active exploration. I’m active on a bunch of library Facebook groups, I read blogs, but it’s been the same Facebook groups and blogs for a couple of years now, and I’ve more or less quit following Twitter, and I just haven’t had time to stir up my information routine. I’m looking forward to that in this class!

Belmar with its goofy ’90s architecture book-shaped roof, the Colorado Firefighters’ Memorial in the foreground.

My undergrad background is in ethnography and fine arts. I love the social sciences and hope to return to scholarship in that field, via library science; I’m interested in the human experience of reading and pop culture consumption and libraries as communities, and I’m very interested in librarians as participants in those communities and in  pop culture consumption, as experts yes, but also as peers, as individuals with intersectional privilege and our own representation needs and a lot of knowledge and compassion and love to bring to our interactions with patrons who may or may not share our particular experience and passions.

Denver Art Museum on the left, Denver Public Library on the right, on the way to Civic Center on a rainy day.

I am an artist and photographer. I am a queer-identified mom of two queer kids. I am the widow of a disabled vet who has spent most of my life in the company of soldiers and vets. I am a writer. I am a third-generation immigrant from a small former Soviet republic and I am one of the last generation of Cold War babies. I am a lifelong speculative fiction nerd.  I am a California transplant to the Intermountain West, with a New England liberal arts undergraduate education and a decade of living poor in the South. All of these things influence my life every day and shape every interaction I bring to my neighbors, colleagues, patrons, and classmates.

I’m really, genuinely interested in getting to know all of you.

Do you know the rest of this quote?

© 2017 Beth Harper

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