Reflection #2 – Participatory Service & Transparency

“[T]he evolution of libraries and library service will include a pronounced shift from libraries as book warehouses to libraries as centers for discovery, learning, and creation via any number of platforms.”

– From Stephens, M. (2013). Collection Bashing & Trashing

The most common question I am asked when I tell someone I’m studying to become a librarian, is some variation of, “So, are you learning the Dewey Decimal System?” Though I realize they’re trying (unsuccessfully) to be funny, it does highlight the stereotypical and dated misconceptions of what libraries do. What my colleagues, friends, and family members don’t realize is just how much libraries have changed for the better to accommodate the needs of their communities.

Perhaps for young, middle-class professionals, the library doesn’t immediately hold a lot of appeal. That’s just were the books are, right? I can find any book that has ever been written and order it with a couple clicks from Amazon with free shipping. And I have Google for all the rest, right?

While that’s a pretty solid argument against the traditional use of libraries, it is very limited in its scope. Fortunately, libraries throughout the United States and the world are bringing in their users in innovate, engaging, and fun ways.

Libraries have morphed into spaces where folks can create and experiment, and the most innovative ideas have come directly from the library users themselves. I loved reading about The Mix in San Francisco, where the teen services coordinator reached out to teenagers in the community to help design the new space. The Mix has high tech tools for video production, music recording, as well as a “carpet garden” for a place to relax, read, or work on homework. The space was completely designed by the youth involved to meet their needs.

At the Rockwood branch of the Multnomah County Library, where I live, the staff set up a Makerspace to engage youth in the community. Rockwood is in an area of the county with a very diverse population, affected by poverty and gang activity. By presenting an empowering space for youth to create, the Makerspace has helped youth connect with library staff and their peers. Rockwood Makerspace has a 3-D Printer, laser woodcutter, sticker maker, and tools for designing video games.

Rockwood Library Makerspace from The Library Foundation on Vimeo.


“[T]he idea of connection is what is most important. We are here to help people find their place in the community, provide access to information and services, and help people connect through the stories they love.”

– From Ulin, David L. (2013). Not dead yet: Libraries still vital, Pew report finds

Like any “product,” libraries flourish best when they adapt to meet their users’ needs, rather than making assumptions about what services will work best. It is essential for institutions to be open and transparent about new initiatives, redesigns, or services to stay accountable to their users. Asking for feedback and suggestions every step of the way helps libraries establish and maintain trust from the public.

9 thoughts on “Reflection #2 – Participatory Service & Transparency

  1. Hi Joel,
    I too was struck by this topic in the readings. It seems libraries are moving from a place where people come to consume things (books, movies, even story time) to a place where they create things. Technology has most definitely played a role in this transition. 20 years ago, you may have had a camcorder, but then the videos created would have just sat on the shelf. Libraries have always played a role in developing minds through knowledge and education, but we rarely got to see the results. With makerspaces and other creation labs, we get to watch it all unfold before our eyes. Exciting times!

  2. I, too, loved reading about San Francisco’s Mix. It is great to see teens so actively involved in planning and then be able to see their thoughts put into motion. Teens need a safe place to hang out, be creative, and experiment with technology and what better place to fill that need than a library?

    • Profile photo of Joel Joel says:

      @ginam I totally agree! Even little things like making sure they had a restroom on the same floor as The Mix were interesting to me. I think if you provide the tools to users, they know what will work best for them. Sometimes the best thing to do is get out of the way and let creativity happen!

  3. The Rockwood example is a good one. Glad to see the video and I wish everyone could see this glimpse into how libraries are evolving. Thanks for sharing this with your ideas on evolving services.

  4. Going to save this video for future classes – thanks again!

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