Reflection Post#2: Participatory Service and Transparency

Many of the issues discussed in this module really resonated with me, and unfortunately because I’ve mostly experienced examples of how libraries or other organizations are not practicing either participatory service or transparency.

Many libraries do not attempt to elicit participation from their users, and those that claim to do so often only do so in a passive manner-such as having a library blog or Facebook page where events or information is posted by the library and there is no two way communication.  Or asking users to complete surveys about library services.  This type of participation is not going to be enough to really transform how libraries interact and impact the lives of those in their communities; partly because this level of participation only includes those already using the library and does nothing to pull in any other potential users.  Real participation involves all community members, not just the library users, creating services in cooperation with the library as well as with each other.   I love the example of the NYPL’s creation of an open access site for users to utilize the warping technology feature with freely provided digital maps.  Who knows what types of discoveries may occur because of this user-generated content?  I am amazed that the library had the capability and/or funds to create this kind of technology.  Obviously, not all libraries can develop these kinds of technology, or libraries like the Hunt Library, but participation does not always have to include cutting edge technology.  Libraries can lend other items like tools, art, cake pans, etc.-it all depends on the needs of the community served.

Transparency goes hand in hand with participatory service.  You can’t expect people to be able to effectively participate in something that is not fully open to them.  In the reading “Going to the Field”, Casey and Stephens advocate for library employees who work behind the scenes to get out and experience the face to face interaction with the public to be able to make fully informed and meaningful policies.  Library staff should be cross trained, feedback from all staff should be elicited, conversations between administration and staff should be open.  At one library I worked at, administration would ask for staff input, but then just make decisions that didn’t seem to take that input into account.  Or maybe the input was considered but there was no communication from administration on why the policies they decided on were chosen.  Staff just had to guess, and felt they weren’t being listened to, and as a result, did not agree with the decisions made.  This creates a lot of negative energy in the workplace, whereas open communication could dispel that negativity.  The same thing probably is felt by the public when asked for input through surveys.   Real participatory service requires a lot more open communication.  Those who make the decisions need to be more open about what they are considering and why, and can’t be afraid to face criticism or disagreement about their decisions.

3 Responses to “Reflection Post#2: Participatory Service and Transparency”

  • Profile photo of Mollie Coffey Mollie Coffey

    Joleen, I 100% agree with your assessment of what is needed for participatory service and transparency. I too work at a library where staff input is requested, but ignored. Transparency and communication are not priorities to our administration. There is a lot of “this is how it is going to be, whether you like it or not.” At one branch, the staff tried their best to follow the new procedures for “single point of service”, only to have the circulation manager for the whole system come in and say “you did it wrong”, although no instructions were communicated to the staff. It is very frustrating, to say the least. While my library is increasing its participatory service (slowly), transparency seems to be far behind in implementation.

  • Profile photo of Danielle Danielle

    As I noted in my own blog, @joleenjin, I’ve also worked at libraries that do not have transparency, nor have they embraced a participatory model of service. It’s so encouraging to see the wonderful examples of these things functioning in “the real world” (in the readings and videos in this class), but it’s also sad to note how many places still need to catch up!

  • Profile photo of Michael Stephens Michael Stephens

    @joleenjin I am hoping that more and more libraries are moving into the realm of participatory service. It’s continuum…maybe similar to the emerging tech continuum that libraries also navigate. I”m reminded of Michael Casey’s super transparent admin success with engaging staff about all the service point changes. In a not so transparent library, those changes would fall flat.

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