Getting a new library – Participatory Service and Transparency

The readings from module 4 really reminded me of everything we are doing to get ready for a new library. Several years ago our manager introduced the “Idea Box” an interactive tool that let library patrons submit ideas for programs and services that they wanted to see at the library. Patrons would write their ideas on a piece of paper and put them in a ball that would go through a Rube Goldberg-esque machine before finally landing in a box where the librarian could then collect the ideas.

For the new library he is back at it with a new idea box that he hopes will be easy to put together and made entirely from parts that you can get at any hardware store. The idea behind this is that he can then make the plans freely available and any library that wants to can make one and have their community participate and share ideas for programs and services. This is exactly what Casey (2011) meant when describing the participatory library. ย The idea box engages the community and includes them in the brainstorming process.

Our current library isn’t ideal for the kinds of activities that the participatory library will be made for, and it shows in the ways we have to mold our programs around the spaces we have. Our storytime overflowed the kids area so now it takes place in the central rotunda, the largest open space in the library. We have to find spaces on walls that weren’t meant to hang art and show off the creations of the after school crowd. To borrow a line from the Free Range Librarian, “The user is the sun” (Schneider, 2006). It’s a little out of context, but we are trying to build our spaces around the ways our patrons want to use our current library.

Right now, the plan for the new library is to build spaces that are able to adapt to any situation. That way we can create a huge open area during large community gatherings such as our Maker Mondays, or we can just as easily partition off spaces so that the after school crowd has their own space to socialize, create, or do homework in a noisy environment while other patrons who prefer quiet can have a silent space to work or read. The details have yet to be determined, but our architect has been selected and over the next several months they will be working with the community to get input about what they feel is important for a library space. I don’t know how the architects and city will be working with the community, but it would be nice if they got as much choice as the teens did when TeenHQ was developed for the King Library at SJSU (Chant, 2016).

11 thoughts on “Getting a new library – Participatory Service and Transparency”

  1. Hi Will,

    It sounds like you have a very creative director. It absolutely sounds like he is trying to put the users at the center of everything your library does.
    I know recreating or re-purposing space can be a challenge. I was so entranced by the “Idea Box” at Oak Park Public Library. It was amazing how each month they changed everything so quickly and completely, including the walls – sometimes it was blue, sometimes striped, sometimes a blackboard. It made me wonder what type of system they use to change those walls although I haven’t yet had time to inquire about it.
    The TeenHQ here at King Library is truly a marvel. I walked by yesterday and looked up at the mezzanine to see a bunch of teens laughing and gesturing while wearing VR headsets. It is truly a teen conscious spot.
    Thanks for your post!

    1. He is the best boss that I’ve ever had. He loved being a children’s librarian, but he saw a need for a new library and a bunch of other managers who had used our library as a stepping stone to being a deputy director, and really nothing more. So he took the position and has been connecting with the community and making relationships in order to prove how useful the library can be to the community, and then say with a new building imagine how much more amazing we could be.
      I don’t know what the community outreach will look like for our new library, but hopefully they can take a few cues from TeenHQ and get our local teens to participate in designing their space. We just got an Oculus VR kit and we are very excited to start using it.

  2. Will, I really enjoyed your post. It’s great to see libraries in action, and to hear about such innovative and change oriented programs as they happen. Your point about your library’s space seems apt as well given that so many libraries were built at a very different time. Our library was just remodeled from the studs out with lots of very different use areas. I don’t know if they asked input from the community, but I do know that the teen area has been improved immensely. And I was there one Weds in the middle of the day in the summer, and many teens were using the different spaces.
    It sounds like you are also excited about the changes. Thanks for sharing your experience.

    1. Hi Mary,

      Thanks for the comment. Most of our branches are in buildings that were built 50 years ago or more when libraries were used as book/journal/newspaper warehouses. We have been remodeling and getting new buildings for many of our branches. Also, I asked my manager and he said that we will have quite an extensive community feedback system for designing the library with several iterations of design and community feedback. I am glad to read that you Teen space was improved and is being used!

      1. I love the iterative nature of the approach your library seems to be taking to test things out, get feedback and return to the drawing board. It seems like a process that requires a lot of patience but will be so worth it in the long run.

  3. Hi Will,
    The Idea Box sounds like a great, low-tech way to gather new suggestions. I like how our organization is adapting its space to your programs and celebrating their collaborations and contributions. It sounds like you are all on track to building an open, adaptive space for your current and future programs. My library is fairly low-tech. I will need to look into a physical Idea Box for my library (and maybe a simple Google Forms Idea Box for our website). Thanks for sharing your experience.

  4. @will1 Thanks for sharing your library’s journey. I think the creation of flexible spaces for the new library is pot on. Just as you found with space for story time and wall space for art, we need to adapt to our community needs. Shelving on wheels, open spaces easily reconfigured, multi purpose rooms etc – all help us achieve the goal of peacemaking for our public.

    1. Yeah, knowing the amount of energy that is in our community right now and how engaged they are with the library I am so excited to see what we will be able to achieve together with the new library.

  5. I applaud your library director for solicting input from the community. It would be ideal getting feedback from teens on the teen room, I was really blown away but all that King Library did to reach out to their young adults. It truly is an amazing room and I wish all branches could have teen rooms like that ๐Ÿ˜‰

  6. Re-imaging a library from the ground up sounds like a wonderful project. There are many interesting ideas that we’re learning this semester I would not possibly have thought of, e.g. kitchens as being useful contributions to a community. When your director meets with the community I hope he brings along some of the many ideas from the Hyper-linked Library.

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