New Models: Abandoning Old Myths
“What will you do to smash that myth of libraries back into (the) dust?” – Laurida Thomas, Director, Aurora Foundation Leadership Institute for Information Professionals.
Despite portrayals in the media that libraries are underutilized in today’s high tech environment, Laurida Thomas, former President, Library and Information Association of New Zealand Aotearoa (LIANZA), points out that libraries in New Zealand are busier than ever and saw over 50 million visitors, either physically or virtually, last year. Libraries in New Zealand saw a 68% increase in Internet sessions provided by public libraries over the previous year (2016).
Thomas notes that one reason the misperception of the dying library persists is that too many people hold onto the myth of the library as it was in the past. The old library of the past, of books, bookshelves and quiet zones; that library is indeed dying, but it is being replaced by a more vibrant, interactive and growing model. This idea of a constantly changing and revitalizing model is somewhat ironic in the sense that libraries provide a unique link into the past – yet simultaneously provide us a unique link to the future (Thomas, 2016).
Libraries are unique spaces, neither work nor home, these ‘third spaces’ provide “free and open access to information and ideas that transform lives and build community” (Ptacek, 2016). Collaboration with the local community is key as Matthew Battles of Harvard’ MetaLAB “ an idea foundry, knowledge-design lab, and production studio experimenting in the networked arts and humanities”, notes, “the future of libraries must be decided not by nostalgic scholars or librarians hoping to save their jobs, but in conversation with communities” (MetaLAB, n.d.; Agresta, 2014).
Building community means the creation of relationships that are meaningful. Ptacek provides the example of literacy programs for children and the moms who accompany the kids find that they can connect to other moms and these new social networks take shape. These networks provide resiliency and a support structure to the community (Ptacek, 2016).
WIckner (2015) makes a great point that the pace and patterns of life at a library can be difficult to quantify. Even with the best intentions and careful observation, divining a course of action that suits the community’s needs and makes the best use of space can be quite challenging. However, a willingness to try and fail is required as failures often lead to key insights. Furthermore, such efforts should be supported because designing a library for a community’s needs is a continuing iterative process – not a solution to a problem.
At some point, we’ll need to abandon the fictional depiction of the library that we carry with us in our heads from our past experiences and embrace the very real and vibrant idea of the library that is developing right before our eyes. For librarians, that means, innovation, leadership, collaboration, and perhaps most importantly, accepting change (Anylibrary.org, 2009).
These values are exemplified by the librarians of the Library as Incubator Project, an organization dedicated to new methods, media, and mediums for sharing art with local communities. Featured projects include libraries that share music and sketchbooks from artists in their local communities (Agresta, 2014). These are the types of efforts that even small libraries can take on. They can share their success or frustrations with other librarians – as there is truly no failure except the failure of holding onto past incarnations, at the expense of present day patrons.
Argresta, M. (2014, April 22). What will become of the library. Retrieved from http://www.slate.com/articles/life/design/2014/04/the_future_of_the_library_how_they_ll_evolve_for_the_digital_age.html
Brand. (2015). Kitsap Regional Library. Retrieved from http://www.krl.org/brand
Core Competencies for all Anythinkers. (2009, June). Retrieved from https://www.anythinklibraries.org/sites/default/files/imce_uploads/Microsoft%20Word%20-%20Core%20Competencies%20Cover%20Letter.pdf
MetaLAB at Harvard. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://metalabharvard.github.io
Ptacek, B. (2016, Oct. 10). The library is not a place, it’s a concept. (Video file). Retrieved from https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=ES0zGUvZj5s
Thomas, L. (2016, April, 5). The dangerous myth about libraries. (Video file). Retrieved from https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=sdQwrhxw8LM
Wickner, A. (2015, Jan. 21). Designing library spaces. [Blog post]. Retrieved from https://hacklibraryschool.com/2015/01/21/designing-library-spaces/