Beth Harper

Just another #hyperlib Community Sites site

Virtual Symposium

Insights and Reflections slideshow (viewed best at fullscreen)


[Slide 1] This semester has been so intensely, deeply nostalgic for me. I’ve talked about this in blog posts some, but I wanted to revisit it in this final artifact, to poke at it a little and think about the value of that.

  • Image: Conference attendee standing outside Aurora Public Library.
  • Caption: Colorado Association of Libraries Spring Paralibrarian Conference, 2007.

[Slide 2] We get busy, in the field, day in day out, and something gets lost. It’s so important to stop and reflect from time to time.

  • Image: Library building and trees, park bench in the foreground.
  • Caption: Belmar Branch Library from Belmar Park, 2017.

[Slide 3] I’m constantly drawing on everything I’ve ever done and seen and learned, even if it’s not at the surface. It’s helpful to go back and recall, reflect, re-read, re-egage. Synthesize new learning with old. The metaphor is the library itself: sometimes it doesn’t take re-reading a book to remember the lessons taken from it and put them into a new context, it just needs looking up at the shelf and seeing that it’s there.

  • Image: Closeup of Yellow Blue Tibia by Adam Roberts (2009).
  • Caption: Treasures in the stacks, Belmar, 2016.

[Slide 4] In undergrad, one of my units was on synthesizing and internalizing knowledge by navigating between different modes of discovery, and I did a lot of journaling, and I made little 4×4” mixed media art pieces drawing out some of the most powerful takeaways from the journaling.  I still have those pieces, and I still find them valuable as critical and ethical points of celestial navigation.

  • Image: Detail of an outdoor metal sculpture holding a pool of rainwater.
  • Caption: Library sculpture garden after a rainstorm, Spanish Peaks Library District, 2011.

[Slide 5] So I thought it would be fun and useful to do something similar with this project, but with a digital artifact.

  • Image: Glass wall etched with an image of a tree and text. Each leaf of the tree is a bubble with a donor’s name.
  • Caption: Donor wall, Alachua County Library, Gainesville FL, 2009. Quote: “The only true equalizers in the world are books; the only treasure-house open to all comers is a library; the only wealth which will not decay is knowledge; the only jewel which you can carry beyond the grave is wisdom.” –  J. A. Langford

[Slide 6] Each slide combines, not a summary but a single new insight, piece of knowledge, source, or direction of inquiry from the semester’s work with an old photograph from some point in my life in libraries, reminding me of a time when I was engaging some of the same ideas in a different way.

  • Image: Girl in traditional Mexican dance costume, dancing, indoors.
  • Caption: Dancers, SPLD, 2011.

[Slide 7] I hope to look back on these assemblages in years to come as touchstones, helping me to keep my feet on the path when I lose track of where I am.

  • Image: Window with a pink and yellow flower drawn in window crayon.
  • Caption: Inspire Arts! Belmar, 2016.

[Slide 8] Disruption is a central professional value. Trying new things, challenging the status quo, taking radical chances, interrogating our own practice.

  • Image: Man drumming, garden chess pieces on a window sill in the background.
  • Caption:Making some noise,  SPLD, 2009.

[Slide 9] We’ve been asking these questions for a long time. We, collectively, are pretty good about it, but we tend to forget. We get better by doing better.

  • Image: Man and woman talking, other people in the background, documents on easels in the background, in an art gallery.
  • Caption: SPLD bond issue passage party and rebranding community forum, 2008.

[Slide 10] If continuous improvement is the new culture of libraries, what are we improving? And why? (Denning, 2015)

Expertise is necessary but not sufficient.

  • Image: Smiling construction worker looking around a corner in an unfinished building.
  • Caption: Construction in the new SPLD building, 2009.

[Slide 11] The user is not broken. Your system is broken until proven otherwise. (Schneider, 2006) Re-read “The user is not broken” and “The user is (still) not broken” (Kenney, 2014) every year. Or as often as needed, till etched on brain.

  • Image: Three teenagers on sprawling in the grass, library building in the background.
  • Caption: Teens on the SPLD lawn, 2012.

[Slide 12] The more we embed digital and self-service (and digital self-service) functions, the more we cross the digital/physical boundary, and that puts a special responsibility to be proactive and respectful [with patrons’ data] on us. [This is about a lot more than data.].

  • Image: Library worker at computer, library children’s area in the background with a woman and two children at another computer.
  • Caption: Open workspace and staff/patron boundary, SPLD, 2012.

[Slide 13] We start with awareness. From awareness comes engagement. 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. More voices at the table mean an enriched and varied lived experience, inside and outside the institution.

  • Image: Teenage boy, sitting on the floor in front of library shelves, surrounded by open boxes of books, looking up at the photographer.
  • Caption: Teen volunteers shelving in the new building, SPLD, 2009.

[Slide 14] [A]ll 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.

  • Image: Sign (“Vote Yes on 2a!” and a cartoon of a library on the verge of exploding, with books falling out of the windows) on a trailer behind a pickup truck in a parade.
  • Caption: SPLD expansion campaign float, Homecoming Parade, 2007.

[Slide 15] [O]vertly privileging actual and potential high-engagement users may be an efficient disbursement of resources but it’s not compassionate. 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.

  • Image: Deer crossing the lawn in front of a library building.
  • Caption: An unanticipated use of the library, SPLD, 2011.

[Slide 16] What do we mean when we say “we meet you where you are” (JCPL, 2014)? Who are we saying it to? Do we mean it? What ethical action does that statement demand?

Dig deeper into concepts of information ecologies.

  • Image: Group of program attendees talking in a library space, mostly older women, one young girl in the background.
  • Caption: Local history author talk, SPLD, 2007.

[Slide 17] Strategic planning – yes, even tech planning – is not about the tech, it’s about leveraging tech resources (and people resources, and cultural resources, and other resources) to achieve the manifestation of new ideas, to reach beyond where we are and do something ambitious. Planning is the hard slogging boring work by which imagination emerges victorious over the status quo.

  • Image: Two seniors at laptops on a row of mobile tables with papers and notes, a younger woman assisting them, lawn chess pieces on the windowsill in the background.
  • Caption: Computer classes in SPLD’s new BTOP computer lab, 2012.

[Slide 18] Words matter. Semiotics matter. “Branding” and “visioning” and “identity” are tragically overused and watered-down buzzwords, but stripped down to their essential function, they are tremendously powerful: they are the process of forming an institutional culture and a practice around shared values.

  • Image: Groups of teens and tweens around two pickup trucks, under trees in fall foliage.
  • Caption: Library kids, homecoming float, 2012.

[Slide 19] [W]hen I look closely at both the accelerating, flattening, automating trends and the human-centered, collaborative, engaging, analog trends – what I find is the commonalities between them articulating and clarifying our purpose and our role.

  • Image: Young man and small child playing lawn chess, indoors, glass-paned door and lawn beyond in the background.
  • Caption: Tiny child, giant chessboard, SPLD, 2009.

[Slide 20] [I]f we are serious about connecting people to knowledge, it also has to be skill-based and experience-based and community-based knowledge,  and we’re making those connections in creative and innovative ways.

  • Image: Two teen or tween girls, decorating cakes.
  • Caption: Cake decorating in the library, SPLD, 2010.

[Slide 21] [W]e can’t be institutions that support and advocate for our patrons’ individual agency without being workplaces that do the same for our staff.

  • Image: Sparsely appointed workspace, with many open boxes of books and a laptop.
  • Caption: New office, 2009.

[Slide 22] [L]ibraries do not have to invent their own future. But we do have to create an environment in which the rest of the world can make everything out of libraries that can be imagined. (Weinberger, 2014)

  • Image: Two women and a young girl around a tabletop loom, one other loom in the foreground, tapestries in the background.
  • Caption: Pueblo Handweavers’ Guild at the SPLD Grand Opening, 2009.

[Slide 23] Interoperability is EVERYTHING. Understanding and being open to the possibilities and varieties of user experience offered by always-on culture is EVERYTHING. Bazaar, not cathedral. Again (and again), not just talking about the tech.

  • Image: Woman walking a dog on a path in a park, with trees, mountains, and low clouds in the background.
  • Caption: Belmar Park and incoming storm over the Front Range, from Belmar’s open computer lab, 2017.

[Slide 24] Simply by existing, libraries activate narrative. If we think about learning in terms of internalizing, transforming, and enacting narrative, then: the connection between the idea of libraries as sites of narrative possibility, and the infinity of the human capacity for learning manifests. We interrogate. We manipulate and play. We converse. We create. That’s what learning is.

  • Image: Dr. Seuss Horton stuffed toy in front of a green sign (“Read Along”).
  • Caption: Horton, SPLD, 2010.

[Slide 25] Cultivating a love for formal education, valuing it, making it accessible, making a literate and broadly informed citizenry a cultural priority, is part of cultivating an environment for individual learning. Learning how to learn is a process, and not a solitary one.

  • Image: Woman with a document in her hand talking to a group off-camera, one seated man in the background, tables with gardening books on display behind him.
  • Caption: Master Gardener program cooperation with the CU Extension Service, SPLD, 2009.

[Slide 26] When humans interact with one another, they do not merely experience the same event; they also know that they are experiencing the same event. And this knowledge that they are sharing their attention changes more than the nature of the experience; it also changes what they do and what they’re able to accomplish in conjunction with others. (Sloman and Fernbach, 2017).

  • Image: Two women drumming, looking up at the drumming instructor off-camera, laughing and smiling.
  • Caption: Discovering music, SPLD, 2010.

[Slide 27] The essence of practice is that it’s ongoing, it’s immersive, it’s personal. Processing is part of the work. I need to be reminded of this constantly.

  • Image: Layers of weathered stickers, reading “Denver Art Museum” and “I Voted [checkmark]” on an unidentifiable surface.
  • Caption: found assemblage, Denver Art Museum, 2016.

[Slide 28] The tidal metaphor for practice (“in the sense of being both cyclic and back-and-forth, ebb and flow, transecting and occupying and navigating boundaries”).

  • Image: Detail of a textile art piece depicting abstract forms suggesting mountains and smoky skies.
  • Caption: Practicing vulnerability and visibility by hanging my art in the library, Taos Fires (2011, fabric and mixed media), SPLD, 2011.

[Slide 29] There’s something quite surreal about looking at five thousand photos spanning a decade and more in a single marathon sitting. Puts things into perspective. Take a widow’s advice: take the pictures. Capture those moments. At the end of your career, at the end of your life, you will not think, “wow, I wasted a lot of time taking pictures.” I promise.

  • Image: Man in a leather jacket standing in front of a glass-fronted building with a partially visible Convention Center sign.
  • Caption: Me and John at ALA Midwinter, 2009.

[Slide 30] Wow, we were doing such amazing, radical stuff in 2009 and 2010. What happened to us? Did we get lazy? Did we get timid? Or just tired?

Remember. Remember. Remember.

  • Image: Windsurfing longboard, shot from above, library space in the background.
  • Caption: That one time we had a boat in the library for the summer, SPLD, 2010.

[Slide 31] Caring — mattering — is the motive force (Searls, D. & Weinberger, D. , 2015).

  • Image: Three boys playing in the mud. One is drizzling mud on the head of another, who is laughing and shrugging.
  • Caption: Youth Advisory Group party, 2008.

[Slide 32]

Meme. Pile of books, superimposed with the quote “It is what you read when you don’t have to that determines who you will be when you can’t help it.” – Oscar Wilde. No caption.






Where we live VI: Practice

Toodling around in the Denver Art Museum between lunch and work yesterday (I work 4-8pm on Thursdays) I realized – right now, I have time. To slow down, to pay attention, to explore. I always feel under such tremendous pressure to use my time well, and right now, this is using my time well – getting to know my new city, getting rested, spending my time on the bus and train getting caught up on all the reading I haven’t done in the last few years. Thinking and processing. Refilling the well. This is important. I’ll cycle back around to the part of my life where I don’t have time, where I’m working sixteen-hour days or traveling or writing like mad or full up on commitments and projects, and I want to have not wasted these days, I want to have this time to look back on and draw from.

April 15, 2016

I feel like I am endlessly careening from one thing to the next. Due dates. Midterms. Finals. Deadlines. Programming cycles. Periodic reviews. Projects. The next book the next goal the next task the next thing – and then I am reminded (often, as now, as I’m approaching but not quite at the end of something big, and preparing in the back of my mind for the next whatever) that processing is part of the work

Reflection on one hand  – critical examination of the work or the content and our personal response to it, placing it within a larger theoretical context, unpacking and deconstructing – and creative practice on the other – doing something with the work or the content, being something more than a passive recipient or observer, integrating it into an ongoing practice, creating new knowledge, sharing, teaching – these are the tools of engagement.

Engagement is challenging. It doesn’t allow stagnation: what we engage with changes us, and a culture and practice of engagement is a culture and practice of constant adaptation, reexamination, and chaos.

An engaged, reflective practice is pragmatic. It deals in what is, in radical self-honesty, in embracing a willingness to make mistakes and learn from them, in looking at uncomfortable truths, in tearing down problematic, fossilized practices. It’s relational and contextual, and it deals in relationships and contexts as they are, not as we assume them to  be or wish they were; it doesn’t tolerate complacency or denial or presumption.

Pragmatism is – I cannot say this often enough, or emphasize it strongly enough – pragmatism is loving and compassionate. I’ve touched on this several times in this series in specific contexts:  talking about liminal spaces and low-engagement patrons, talking about grounding ambitious vision in situational reality. But there’s a broader narrative underlying those specific examples, and part of reflective practice is connecting and specific and complex realities to broader narratives, privileging personal lived experience over theory and continually interrogating and crafting theory to be more responsive to lived experience.

I think that people sometimes think of pragmatism as cold and unforgiving, but there’s profound compassion in saying, implicitly or explicitly, I see you. I’m not forcing my own worldview or viewpoints or expectations on you, I am trying to understand, I am paying attention. It’s just as true when we say that to ourselves as when we say it to someone else.

There’s something unselfish about it, a quality of humility, a willingness to participate in a set of collective values, and thereby have a voice in continually interrogating and negotiating those values that is part of a community of peers. This kind of full-on, critique-grounded, self-reflective participation makes us better workers and better community members and in turn actually makes us more assertive and sure of ourselves and better at self-promotion and visibility. When the goal of sharing is not self-aggrandization or ego-boosting but contributing something of genuine value to a broader conversation, it feels unselfconscious and people respond positively to it.

And in so doing we raise up the conversation, and the work, and make connections, and engage with new ideas, and integrate them into our own practice, and nurture our own inquisitive nature, and explore and experiment and share and create, because being engaged makes us want to, and so we are immersed constantly in this flow that is tidal, in the sense of being both cyclic and back-and-forth, ebb and flow, transecting and occupying and navigating boundaries.

The essence of practice is that it’s ongoing, it’s immersive, it’s personal. Playing tourist is not practice. Punching the clock is not practice. (It’s quite possible to provide really fairly decent customer service without going deeper, and I have some colleagues I’m very fond of who do exactly this, but they’re not librarians.) Reading the professional literature dutifully and uncritically (come on, you know librarians who do this, we all do) is not practice, going to a couple of conferences a year is not practice. We can be more than that.

This series has been a process of working through and laying out a personal manifesto, tying together some ideas I’ve been chewing on for many years, some that I’ve talked about at length in the past and some I’ve only come to an understanding of in the course of this reading and writing and interaction with my classmates, completely new concepts and approaches (some of which resonate deeply with what I already believe and some I found really challenging and difficult, and spent quite a bit of time grappling with), views and values that have evolved over the course and over my career and will of course continue to evolve because that is the point.

It sounds hard and scary. It is. It wouldn’t be so incredibly rewarding if it weren’t.


Director’s Brief: Learning Management Systems for Internal Staff Development in a Large Public Library


To select and deploy a learning management system (LMS) on the JCPL intranet to coordinate system-wide staff mandated training and self-directed professional development materials, workflows, and communications.

Executive Summary

Self-directed e-learning is a major trend that public libraries must support. Staff are, much as patrons are, engaged individuals with varied interests, and a modern participatory library recognizes and supports this.

Staff training is a tremendously important and ongoing component of library administration, and the Jefferson County Libraries provides excellent formal training, but the integration of both this formal training and self-directed staff learning into other administrative workflows (i.e. staff performance reviewing) at the Jefferson County Libraries is fragmented and disorganized.

The emergence of learning management systems as internal staff professional development tools in academic libraries suggests a direction for developing these skillsets and practices while simultaneously streamlining and managing the vastly varied ways that staff currently access both mandated and elective professional development opportunities. This paper outlines the possibilities, advantages and challenges of an LMS implementation in a large multibranch public library and provides resources for initial evaluation and selection of current LMS solutions on the market.


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

JCPL, as an institution, understands that our staff are as much a part of our community as our patrons are, and that a library cannot deliver values-based service to the public without also practicing those same values internally. To that end, the staff development team provides superb ongoing formal in-house staff training, and JCPL staff have access to many external formal professional development opportunities and self-directed professional development and healthy lifestyle tools and content resources.

This paper proposes a next step: tying all of these valuable but disparate resources together, along with workflows for the staff development team and supervisors and administration to coordinate training content and track outcomes; for staff members to access content; to collaborate and share work; and to create their own self-directed learning environments, manage their learning history and portfolios, self-assess and set personal goals; and for collaborative and individualized, engaged professional learning in the libraries to emerge as a context for connection and relationship-building across our large, geographically disparate, diverse institutional community.

Learning Management Systems in the Public Library

A learning management system (hereafter LMS) is an integrated learning environment management software package. At its core, the LMS performs three tasks:

  • Management of the learner population
  • Delivery of educational content
  • Management of instructor workflows. (Ellis, 2009)

The LMS brings all learning artifacts into a single interface, where both learners and instructors/supervisors can configure, collaborate, document, track, and assess. These systems have been in use in higher education since the early 1990s and have expanded exponentially in the last ten years (Oxagile, 2016a) and are at the heart of the “learn everywhere” movement.

Open learning is transforming both formal higher education and the self-development landscape. According to a cluster of recent Pew Research Center reports, access to technology correlates strongly positively to lifelong learning engagement; two-thirds of employed Americans have pursued employment-related learning, and 65% of those accessed that learning either in a library or on the internet (2016a); and US public library computer users using library tech resources to take an online course or complete an online certification increased from 17% in 2015 to 26% in 2016 (2016b).

Increasingly, libraries recognize (Macnaughton and Medinsky, 2015; IFLA, 2016) that familiarity with the basic standards of LMS and online learning environments need to be a core competency of public-facing library staff today in the same way that competence in desktop productivity software was a core competency ten years ago (and, of course, still is). Not only are we seeing increases in the number of patrons using our tech resources to access learning environments not associated with the library, we’re providing (and marketing, and supporting) e-learning environments ourselves: among JCPL’s most popular electronic resources are Mango Languages and

As Macnaughton and Medinsky point out, a highly effective way to create that staff competence around e-learning environments is to use an LMS internally for staff training. This is an emerging trend and what relatively little research is available is centered on academic libraries using the same LMS that the school uses for general instruction (Macnaughton and Medinsky, 2015; Bell, 2016) in order to rapidly build competence that staff can then use to assist students. But there are advantages and opportunities for this technology in public libraries as well, and JCPL is well-situated to be an early adopter and exemplar.

It is essential to demonstrate to library staff the value of on-demand training through an online course. The benefit for all staff is the flexibility to learn anytime, anywhere. This learning can take place at an individualized pace and can be self-regulated. More significantly, the Library course provides an opportunity for staff to learn in a format similar to RDC students, which can promote empathy and improve learner-centred service.

Macnaughton and Medinsky, 2015

LMS in the Workplace

Although there is not much existing research on the LMS as an internal staff training tool in libraries, there is more practitioner material on internal training use in enterprise environments, where as many as ¾ of large companies may be using LMS platforms for onboarding, compliance, internal training, and skills certification (Ellis, 2009; Oxagile, 2016b).

JCPL has some characteristics in common with those organizations. With a staff of over 250 distributed over more than a dozen worksites, a staff development team tasked with overseeing ongoing formal training, and an institutional commitment to staff engagement and self-improvement, JCPL has a real need for a comprehensive, efficient, agile, centralized tool for coordinating and managing staff learning activities.

Currently, we do not have that.

  • Registration for mandated face-to-face staff training is handled through the same server-side application that handles public events in the libraries, EventKeeper, which is not interoperable with Outlook, the library’s primary communications tool.
  • Delivery of content related to face-to-face training (prep documents and homework) is the responsibility of the individual instructor, and is done via simple email distribution lists.
  • This is also the case for required-reading procedural updates, staff meeting prep materials, and other supervisor-generated content.
  • There is no mechanism for distributing mandated asynchronous digital training content.
  • There is no mechanism for documenting elective professional development activities pursued by staff, such as webinars and digital conferences.
  • There is no mechanism for staff to create personal portfolios to document learning and work achievements, although doing so is a required component of performance reviewing.

Versatility and Agility

The inherent structure of the LMS contains the ability to do all of this, and suggests a wide array of uses beyond formal training as well. Some possibilities include:

  • Permanent and ad-hoc group collaboration: program planning, committee work, and other team projects benefit from the robust virtual work environment toolkits designed for classroom group projects. The LMS allows people to join and leave teams while the total archived work of the team is unaffected (and also allows former members of teams to retain their personal files and communications from that work).
  • Staff content creation and distribution: there is no sharp line between instructors and students in this environment, nor should there be. Supervisors themselves pursue professional development while overseeing the professional development of the staff they oversee; front-line staff create best practices and tutorials that can benefit everyone. The features of LMS make possible the flattening of content-distribution hierarchies; everyone has the capability to be both teacher and student in multiple simultaneous contexts.
  • Sandbox testing of patron services, and content: we exist in a permanent development landscape, and that means permanent beta. At any given time, staff are evaluating something that patrons will see in the future, whether it’s a website feature, a patron education module, or a new service or subscription. The LMS environment makes it possible to both widely distribute opportunities for staff to participate in testing and evaluation of these resources, and for administration to easily track, recognize, and reward that staff participation.
  • Organizational communications: all-staff, all-branch, all-department, and team-specific communications currently distributed through Outlook and archived on the fileserver can be distributed through the LMS, scheduled, tracked for access, and made more interactive and participatory. Time-critical all-unit communications (i.e. the photocopier is down! Two-hour snow day delay!) can be tagged for push alerts within a single system that allows users to decide for themselves how to receive those alerts.

In an information organization, the line between work and learning blurs; we’re all learning all the time, and that learning is part of the work, and the work generates opportunities for learning. In an organization as large and distributed as JCPL, it’s easy for that learning to become fragmented. Centralizing all of these activities creates opportunities to connect individual and team learning in fertile

Selection, Implementation, Challenges

The Oxagile white paper (2016b) provides a very helpful list of seven questions to explore in evaluating LMS options:

1. What are our primary business objectives?
2. What is our budget?
3. What will our return on investment be?
4. Which features to we require?
5. Will our LMS compliant with industry standards?
6. What is the total true cost of ownership?
7. What are the risks of a proprietary solution?

In this regard, LMS are not that different from any other major software implementation, such as that of a LIS or OPAC discovery layer. This is familiar territory for library administration and IT staff. Macnaughton and Medinsky (2015) further provide a useful evaluation matrix comparing and contrasting free, open-source, and enterprise LMS solutions from a library-specific perspective.

Cost is of course a serious consideration for a tax-funded organization. There are a number of LMS solutions with no license fee, but all LMS have implementation operational costs (Oxagile, 2016b) of in areas of both financial cost and time/expertise/personnel resource cost, and these need to be considered.

The open source LMS landscape is rapidly changing, and there are some significant trending issues. Google Classroom is preparing for true open access, but is not yet available, and may impact Open edX in unpredictable ways. There is an entire emerging industry of LMSs based on WordPress and Drupal content management platforms (Ingwersen, 2016). Interoperability is where open source thrives, and beginning to evaluate these tools now puts us in a good position to take advantage of cutting-edge developments in the field.


There is no roadmap for implementation of a LMS as an internal staff development environment in public libraries; it’s a new enough concept that no one who’s doing it has yet published on it. JCPL is ideally suited to prove the usefulness of this tool in this environment, but to do so, we would need to draw on the experience of academic libraries and corporations, who use these systems in slightly different ways. Bringing our staff together for centralized, documentable, and supported, collaborative, learner-centered and individualized staff learning supports our core values of innovation, accountability, and excellence.

Director’s Brief .pdf





Where we live: the pulse and the flow

So what do people want from us? They want help doing things, rather than finding things.

Brian Kenney, “Where Reference Fits in the Modern Library”

Infinite learning.

Infinite learning.

This is actually a really hard topic for me to write about, because it’s so personal, so close to my heart. I don’t know where to start. It’s like talking about breathing.

Infinite learning is more than lifelong learning. Lifelong learning is where the mainstream core of the profession is now:

….All purposeful learning activity, whether formal or informal, undertaken on an ongoing basis with the aim of improving knowledge, skills and competence.

Definition of the EU Employment and Labour Market Committee, as quoted in the White Paper on Adult Education, Department of Education and Science, 2000

Okay, that’s a start. That’s a market-and-public-policy definition, a skills definition, a prove-your-ROI definition. And that is where we as institutions to some extent have to operate, the language into which we have to translate, but let’s not mistake it for the real world.


It is August of 2000, and my new neighborhood library has just opened, half the distance from home of the old branch, which puts it within walking distance of home for my six- and almost-four-year old children. So we walk to the library. We went on opening day too, which was exciting – there were balloon animals and ice cream – but never even got inside. Today it’s quieter. It’s hot – summer in the south hot – and there’s a shaded indoor/outdoor alcove before the entrance where we catch our breath before going in and getting smacked by the air conditioning.

It’s the standard layout of branch libraries everywhere, adult stacks to the right, children’s area to the left, circulation desk straight ahead, which is familiar and therefore comfortable, but it’s also beautiful, full of real wood and stone and natural light and rich color, low open shelves and long lines of sight. We turn to the left to head to the kids’ area, and – I remember this like it is yesterday – there are huge oak wardrobe doors. Twenty-foot-tall oak wardrobe doors. They’re open, and on the walls beyond and around and carved into them there is imagery from The Chronicles of Narnia, and beyond that is an open airy outdoor enclosed garden storytime pavilion. And there is a lamppost. Of course there has to be a lampost. Because it’s not Narnia without Lantern Waste.

And for just a moment I am seven years old again, I am inside, literally inside my favorite books in all the world, the books that created for me a world of magic and possibility and endless discovery. The books that taught me that opening a door or asking a question or going on a journey may be hard but never has to be scary.

And I am there inside that space with my children, with whom I’ve begun to share these books. And I think, this was made by someone who loves stories. As I love them, as Clive Staples Lewis loved them, as the ancient mythmakers of Ireland and Wales and Greece upon whose visions he built his stories loved them.

The designers of that space could not have known how that particular imagery would hit me, though certainly they knew that there are a lot of people with a lot of love for those books. They created a possibility and then set it loose in the world to take on a life of its own.

I’ve talked over the course of these weeks about libraries as sites and agents of change, as community spaces, as liminal spaces, and as connectors. These are all different ways of saying the same thing: as physical spaces, as cultural institutions beyond the limits of our spaces, and as a deeper philosophical concept, libraries exist at the site of possibility. Simply by existing, libraries activate narrative.

[Y]ou and I leave our fingerprints, and sometimes bite marks, on the messages we pass. We tell people why we’re sending it. We argue with it. We add a joke. We chop off the part we don’t like. We make these messages our own.

– Searls & Weinberger, New Clues, #21

If we think about learning in terms of internalizing, transforming, and enacting narrative, then: the connection between the idea of libraries as sites of narrative possibility, and the infinity of the human capacity for learning manifests. Then the transformational power of libraries becomes apparent, and it’s breathtaking.

Infinite learning is generative.

If it seems like children typically have more fun in the library than adults do, it’s probably true. Where are all the art supplies in the library? In the Children’s Department, of course! And who’s waiting to get on a public computer to print out tax forms? Adults.

Ally Blumenfeld, Paterson Free Library, New Jersey.

Cognitive psychology has come so far in the last fifty years; we now understand that learning is never just about passively taking in information that we are exposed to, but about engaging with it, interpreting it, and doing something with it. We interrogate. We manipulate and play. We converse. We create. That’s what learning is.

Of course we’ve known this for a long time, if we care to stop and listen to our own stories.

Infinite learning is immersive.

Learning is not separate from life. It’s moving from moment to moment integrating every new challenge. Learning is constant; change is constant. We learn by doing and we’re always doing. People have a need to do stuff, and if we don’t have the capacity to do the thing we need to do, we build capacity, by puzzling it out, or asking for help, or finding the tools, and usually, by doing several of those things, all at once, in a recursive, incremental, complex, messy, dynamic process of just doing the thing.

We don’t always do a good job at describing or understanding or celebrating that process as learning; Western civilization heavily privileges the very narrow and specific kind of learning that takes place in a limited-context and power-dynamic-loaded conversation between a teacher and students in a classroom (and which is absolutely necessary for certain things: see below). But we’re getting better at it.

Infinite learning is ecological.

[T] he old adage “teach a man to fish and feed him for a lifetime” is limited because this assumes that there will always be unlimited fish and no changes to the concept and mechanisms of fishing.

– Michael Stephens, Learning Everywhere: A Roadmap

Cultivating the environment for learning creates the capacity to cultivate more learning. Ecology is a useful metaphor for participatory action, research, and education; human systems are living systems, in the physical world, constrained and manifested by physical realities. We achieve more by celebrating and exploring that than by working against that. All the fun metaphors for learning are agricultural metaphors: we dig in, we get our hands dirty, we cross-pollinate, we fertilize, we ruminate, we grow.

Infinite learning is transformative.

Because learning is iterative and grounded, because learning creates the capacity for more learning, because learning is happening all the time, because learning is a creative process, transformation is inherent in learning. Definitionally, every single thing we learn changes us,  in large and small and powerful and unexpected ways. Which is hard and scary, which is why I talk about compassion all the time; but it’s also wonderful, and if as information professionals we can help mediate moments to make the wonderful outweigh the scary then we are making the world a better place one interaction at a time.

Infinite learning is self-aware.

From what I’ve said above, it might seem like learning isn’t work; it just happens. That’s not true, of course. I mean, sometimes it does; even the most disengaged and unselfaware person is constantly integrating new experiences, but the more intentionality we bring to the process, the more discovery happens, the more narrative happens, internally and transactionally.

Cultivating a love for formal education, valuing it, making it accessible, making a literate and broadly informed citizenry a cultural priority, is part of cultivating an environment for individual learning. Learning how to learn is a process, and not a solitary one. The Great Conversation cannot exist without places for conversations to happen.

[E]ducation is the silver bullet. Education is everything. We don’t need little changes, we need gigantic, monumental changes. Schools should be palaces. The competition for the best teachers should be fierce. They should be making six-figure salaries. Schools should be incredibly expensive for government and absolutely free of charge to its citizens, just like national defense.

– Sam Seaborn, The West Wing, Six Meetings Before Lunch” (2000)

I often think about how people who spend their lives’ work immersed in a thing have such a profoundly different experience of it than those of us who skim the surface. A professional athlete or dancer has a different understanding of physicality and embodied awareness than I as a very occasional runner and dancer have.

As librarians we’re immersed in information and information transactions all the time. (And this is different from being immersed in instruction as teachers are). That affects how we view information, and discovery, and learning; of course it does, how could it not? That perspective is what we offer. You know where you want to go, but I know this road. Let me help.

Infinite learning is transdisciplinary and intersectional.

If there’s anything we’re trying to do in this library and the library world, it is to build a learning culture. The achievement gaps are getting bigger, the access questions are getting bigger, but the most important thing is…the creation of an imaginative world for children and…adults that opens their minds to the world.
– Crosby Kemper, Kansas City Public Library, via IMLS Focus

And again, learning is iterative. The more self-aware we become, the more we interrogate our own experience and bias and perspective; the more we know about varied fields of knowledge and modes of experience, the more we synthesize across them; the more complex our understanding of the world is, the more complex the world seems. Endlessly. We challenge ourselves constantly to do better, while redefining what “better” looks like.

Rebecca McCorkindale via the Library as Incubator Project, 2017.

Infinite learning is communal.

Humans have an ability that no other machine or animal cognitive system does: Humans can share their attention with someone else. When humans interact with one another, they do not merely experience the same event; they also know that they are experiencing the same event And this knowledge that they are sharing their attention changes more than the nature of the experience; it also changes what they do and what they’re able to accomplish in conjunction with others.

Sharing attention is a crucial step on the road to being a full collaborator in a group sharing cognitive labor, in a community of knowledge. […] The knowledge is not just distributed; it is shared. Once knowledge is shared in this way, we can share intentionality; we can jointly pursue a common goal. A basic human talent is to share intentions with others so that we accomplish things collaboratively.

– Stephen Sloman and Philip Fernbach, The Knowledge Illusion: Why We Never Think Alone (emphasis original) (p. 115)

Sloman and Fernbach (who are both working cognitive psychology researchers; this is not pop science journalism) offer an absolutely lovely, thorough, accessible, fascinating exploration of the idea that what we think we know is in fact a constant dance of mediation, triggered partial memory and stored memory and shared expertise across our bodies, our physical and digital environments, and our social sphere. We have secondary access to so much more knowledge than we have primary recall for: in effect, we are constantly re-learning the same stuff, meeting it anew, interacting with it in new ways. We share, delegate, and exchange cognitive labor and intentionality all the time.

This post isn’t perscriptive. I’m not going to talk about what to do with this idea, this idea of libraries as communal, intersectional, transformational, ecological, immersive engines of creation and learning and dialogue. There are a gazillion examples of what libraries around the world are already doing, in the links in this and previous posts in the series. This is intended to be aspirational, inspirational, and thought-provoking. This is what we can be. How we get there is particular to each library, community, and individual, and it is in doing the thing that we discover what we can do.



Where we live: grounded, but with one eye on the horizon

“When you press the pause button on a machine, it stops. But when you press the pause button on human beings they start… You start to reflect, you start to rethink your assumptions, you start to reimagine what is possible…”

And it is not just knowledge that is improved by pausing. So too, is the ability to build trust, “to form deeper and better connections, not just fast ones, with other human beings.” – Thomas Friedman (2017, pp 3-4), quoting Dov Seidman.

I just finished reading two thought-provoking books, made all the more interesting because I read them back-to-back and in the context of the last few weeks’ class readings, on similar themes: Thomas Friedman’s Thank You for Being Late: An Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations (and isn’t that an interesting and provocative subtitle!) and David Sax’s The Revenge of the Analog: Real Things and Why They Matter (likewise!)

Friedman’s premise, building on his previous work: everything is flattening, everything is accelerating, everything is moving to the cloud, everyone has the opportunity to adapt to and thrive in this perpetual whitewater, but not everyone will.

Sax’s premise: everything Friedman says is true, but there’s a also parallel countertrend, shaping and shaped by the digitization and acceleration of everything. An intentional slowing down, a revaluing of the tangible.

Refining algorithms refine. It’s what they do; it’s their purpose and function. Aggregate data aggregates. Passive surveillance surveys. And smart systems get smarter, more granular, more responsive, more connected, more versatile. And this is good: smart, efficient systems are less wasteful, more sustainable, and the world needs that.

But the unintended consequence of that is: as predictive analytics get better and better about solving our problems before we’re aware of them and predicting what we want to buy, consume, and interact with, as push technologies deliver (deliver what? everything!) with ever more smooth facility, there’s less room for inefficiencies. But inefficiency is where the magic happens. And we need that. Human beings need tangible, imperfect, serendipitous, complex interactions and connections, for building mental maps of the social world, which is, in essence what makes us human in the first place.

(And sometimes it is the physicality of processes at human scales that’s more efficient, in ways that are fundamentally different from machine-efficiency, directly because of that serendipity and imperfection: designers have rediscovered the power of sketching in rapid prototyping, a small print run magazine can still be sold for more than it costs to produce, and physical film and sound recordings capture expressive content that ever-increasingly complex and expensive digital postproduction software still struggles to imitate.)

How do we enable “luck”?
How do we establish communities
that thrive on the unexpected?

– IFLA Trends Report

Both the Horizon Report and the IFLA Trends Report (which explicitly references the principle of perpetual whitewater) deal with the idea of balancing change management and core library principles: planning for open access and new media, integrating user-centered design and horizontal organization, are essential, but they’re the how, not the what. The what hasn’t changed: literacy, information navigation, and equitable access; conceptual and physical spaces for learning, self-actualization, and community-building. The environment in which libraries operate has changed and is in a state of constant change and adaptation and redefinition, and the prospect of keeping ahead of that can be daunting and exhausting, but when I look closely at all of these trends – both the accelerating, flattening, automating trends and the human-centered, collaborative, engaging, analog trends – what I find is the commonalities between them articulating and clarifying our purpose and our role.

And that’s basically always been true, hasn’t it? We continually move our own goalpost; we create our own  challenges; and with each iteration of professional practice, the better we understand what is at the center of what we do, the better we get at it. We’re still figuring out that “all people” means “all people,” and we have a tremendous amount of work to do, but we have a clearer understanding than we did in 1993 or 1961. We’re still testing the limits and possibilities of what it means to be a physical space in an information environment, we’re experimenting creatively, including embracing the ability to fail. We’re realizing that if we are serious about connecting people to knowledge, it also has to be skill-based and experience-based and community-based knowledge,  and we’re making those connections in creative and innovative ways. We’re accepting that we can’t be institutions that support and advocate for our patrons’ individual agency without being workplaces that do the same for our staff, and we’re rising to that challenge.

All of these things are obvious when we center fundamental professional values; what gets in the way is just noise.


ALA (1996). Library Bill of Rights.

ALA (1993). Access to Library Resources and Services Regardless of Sex, Gender Identity, Gender Expression, or Sexual Orientation: An Interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights.

ALA (1993). Economic Barriers to Information Access: An Interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights.

23 Mobile Things

Anythink Tank (Clearinghouse of Internal Documents)

Anythink Staff Manifesto

Deloitte (2016).How do today’s students use mobiles? [UK Study].

Lamb, A. (2016). History of Libraries: Contemporary Libraries, 1960s.

Enis, M. (2015). Meet the tabletarians: Mobile services.

Friedman, T. L. (2016). Thank you for being late: An optimist’s guide to thriving in the age of accelerations. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA) (2016). IFLA Trends Report.

Holmquist, Jan (2016). Open Libraries.

Hood, G. (2014). 5 Ways Colorado Libraries Are Going Beyond Books.

Lipsey, R. F. & Madera, F. (2015). 100 Great Ideas for the Future of Libraries.

New Media Consortium. (2017). NMC Horizon Report > 2017 Library Edition.

Raine, L. (2016). Puzzles Librarians need to Solve.

S., M. (2014). Come see what’s cooking: Announcing our new Culinary Literacy Center!

Sax, D. (2016). The revenge of analog: Real things and why they matter. New York : PublicAffairs, 2016.

Weinberger, D. (2014). Let the Future Go.

Wickner, A. (2015). Designing Library Spaces.


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.


Canavesio, V. (2009). Biblioburro – the donkey library.

Casden, J., Nutt, M., Lown, C., & Davidson, B. (2013). My #HuntLibrary: Using Instagram to crowdsource the story of a new library.

Havens, A. (2013). From community to technology…and back again: Part 1.

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

Long, A. Galston, C. Kelsen Huber, E. and Johnson, K. (2012). Community reference: Making libraries indispensable in a new way.

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.

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In lieu of content, a goofball dog.

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