Is it safe to assume that community center libraries are the new public libraries of the future? Is that the direction the information field should be headed toward? Those of us who have worked in public libraries have seen the budget cuts and felt first hand how thinly stretched the staff and resources are. On the other hand it’s amazing to see a lot of libraries are becoming interactive and innovative spaces within their communities. So what exactly should public libraries focus on to create hyperlinked environments? What are the obstacles and how can we as future librarians tackle the problem?
The recent trend is the four spaces of the library- experience, involvement, empowerment, and innovation. As Jakob Laerkes explains, it’s more of an active space for patrons with overlapping spaces that allow for a much more interactive and creative experience in the library than people are used to. Dokk1 in Denmark is probably the most advanced library to date, they have the usual library materials with an emphasis on digital content, but what makes Dokk1 stand out is their focus on needs of the community, the library provides a space for performances, meetings, activities, art and general gatherings. It’s a very interactive experience, a long way from the shushing librarians of yesterday. Obviously we all can’t imitate Dokk1 nor can most of us do a total rehaul of our library space, but we can create small spaces with these ideas in mind! For example, at my library we had a “computer lab” that was never ever used because the City shut down the Library’s idea for free computer classes because it conflicted with the Parks & Rec departments computer classes that were offered for a fee. So after years of being empty, we created a group study room which gets a lot of use everyday. Was it what we originally wanted, no, but the patrons are happy with the extra space that they can collaborate in. Are we still working to get computer classes approved in the future, yes, because there is a demand for it!
Needs vs. Wants
Research has found that one of the most important tools provided by the public library are free computer and internet access. Although more prominent in urban areas, this shows that the library has been moving forward in keeping up with technology trends by providing this resource to patrons in the community. Of course nothing is perfect and budget constraints make it impossible to replace computers with the most current and advanced systems. This leads me to the idea of Makerspaces, should it be something huge, over-the-top, and expensive? It’s programming that should fit your communities needs. Library systems could apply for grant funded programs that focus on different makerspace concepts. If there is a high response to the program(s) for a set amount of time then perhaps a makerspace is right for your library. Unfortunately budget and staffing concerns are what limit a lot of libraries to what types of innovative experiences they can bring to their communities. How can this problem be solved? It seems that every fiscal year another position gets cut and more work is put on the staff. What can be done to alleviate stress and concern? Believe it or not, when I first started at the public library as a page assistant 5 years ago, it was the first job I ever had where my co-workers were excited to be at work?!?!?! Was I naive or just new, or were my co-workers actually passionate about what they did?
Library systems put an emphasis on the community and the patrons, however, I think the top focus should be the staff. When you get on an airplane, you always hear the speech about putting on your oxygen mask first before your kiddos or loved ones, why, well because you wouldn’t be much help to them if you’re passed out because you took care of them first, right? This is what libraries need to do, take care of their staff first and the rest will follow. Of course this sounds easy, but as I mentioned before, it’s nice to work with people who love their job, the environment is light, staff have ideas and are open to change and progress. The transformation of the Edmonton Library allowed their staff to team up with different departments, levels, and backgrounds to come up with innovative ideas for the library community. They also provide leadership training to all staff which led to empowerment. Libraries that empower staff are really leading the way because ideas come from those who have a good support system, and that folks, is why public library staff should be treated with respect and dignity from their own library system.
From new space configurations, to the demand of computers and internet access, to makerspaces, to staff empowerment, these are just a few concepts needed to create Library 2.0. Innovative thinking from supported staff, spaces created for “doing” and “interaction”, and listening to the needs of the community will happen through consistent and dedicated team effort from the library, the staff, and the community.