Participatory service in the 21st century

Participatory library service is active, not passive. It transforms libraries from places that hold stuff to places that host experiences. After viewing the lectures and perusing the other materials for the last two modules, I asked myself two questions:

  1. What things does my library currently do to provide participatory service?
  2. What can my library do in the future to develop into a 21st century library?

Spokane Public Library, where I have worked for many years, has over the past couple of years started this transformation, although there is still more work to be done. It began two years ago with a Future Study aimed at re-imagining the library for the next twenty years. The library initiated community conversations at each library branch, covering many diverse communities and neighborhoods. The feedback received proved very consequential when designing the study. The library also developed a social media presence, with accounts on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. This allows the library and staff to interact more fully with the community.

In order to present authentic community engagement, the library changed its focus from its programs and services to the interests and concerns of the community. Since access to information is not really an issue in the digital landscape we are in, libraries can concentrate on assisting users in the creation and production of content. Libraries in general are becoming more about what they do than what they have.

Embedded librarianship is another concept being embraced by Spokane Public Library. Librarians travel around the community (physically and virtually) providing specialized knowledge and services. Some of the specialties that these librarians offer include genealogy, local history, and business acumen. In a newly designed are of the library called LevelUp, users have free and open access to co-working spaces, high-tech classrooms, computers loaded with business and design software, and a Bloomberg Terminal.

To be a 21st century library means to deliver great performance, both at traditional library services and participatory services. Spokane Public Library has started on the path to becoming such a library, with monthly art shows and musical performances. Currently in the planning phase is a public performance area with a stage, lighting, and sound equipment. Customization of services and spaces are essential for libraries to thrive.

With enough funding, I can envision a new Spokane Public Library along the lines of the Hunt Library at North Carolina State University, Raleigh, which has been described as “a place not of the past, but of the future”. Design and visualization can change public perception of libraries. Rather than just proffering services, libraries can offer tools (physical and digital), opportunities, and incentives, as well as space to create. Media labs, recording studios, and an “idea box” such as that at Oak Park Public Library will hopefully be a part of my library’s future. It is my hope that this is just the start of nontraditional library activity, and that the public perception of libraries will evolve as libraries do. Out-of-the-box thinking will become more and more necessary as we continue into the 21st century. There is more than one way to visit a library!

2 thoughts on “Participatory service in the 21st century”

  1. @mcoffey I really enjoyed your post. It’s so exciting to be active participants and observers in a time of transition and reinvention for libraries–where, as you said, “Libraries in general are becoming more about what they do than what they have.” The LevelUP space at your library sounds like a valuable asset to the community not just for business professionals or students, but also a great place for those even trying to start a business! I wanted to read more about it and found this article:

    How exciting that you are only one of 2 libraries to offer full access to Bloomberg!

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