Participatory library services demand that library staff involve their community in the decision-making process, especially in the interest of implementing new services and programming, redesigning physical spaces, and in collection management. Michael E. Casey, Director of Customer Experience for the Gwinnett County Public Library in Atlanta, writes that “the participatory library engages and queries its entire community and seeks to integrate them into the structure of change” (Casey, 2011).
I read recently in another course in the MLIS program that 6.1 percent of public libraries serve populations over one hundred thousand (de la Peña McCook, 2015). In this same course, we read texts that stressed the importance of libraries reflecting the shared values of the communities in which they reside. Kathleen de la Peña McCook refers to this as “community anchoring” – the library’s role in defining a community’s self-identity. So, in a city such as Los Angeles, with 72 branches serving nearly 4 million people, a one-size-fits-all design – whether in structure, logistics, or mission – just doesn’t make sense. Of course that doesn’t include the most deeply sacred, common values such as free open access to all people regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation, or socio-economic background. It’s more about tailoring community libraries specific programming and functions to meet the unique needs of their communities.
Los Angeles Public Library’s civic engagement projects are a wonderful example of an institution leveraging its natural resource – the public who acts as both customer and financier – to help forge the path forward. What better source to build your organization’s next incarnation than those who you serve? In 2011, the library system offered an open survey to users asking for their input on what they like, dislike, and would like to see in their libraries (Mack, 2011). This call to action displays precisely the type of community participation Casey references.
I can imagine, for example, a public library in a community heavily populated by refugees, offering citizenship courses, legal clinics, self-sufficiency resources, and English classes; or a community with a high elderly population offering legacy planning, continuing education and technology courses, social functions, and other programs serving the interest areas of the aging population. Identifying the specific needs within a community in the way LA has done is exemplary of participatory librarianship and community anchoring.
Casey, M. (2011, October 20). Revisiting participatory service in trying times [Web log post]. Tame the web. Retrieved from http://tametheweb.com/2011/10/20/revisiting-participatory-service-in-trying-times-a-ttw-guest-post-by-michael-casey/
de la Peña McCook, K. (2015). Community anchors for lifelong learning: Public libraries. In S. Hirsh (Ed.), Information services today: An introduction (pp. 70-81). Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.
Mack, C. (2013, February 17). Crowdsourced design: Why Los Angeles is asking the public to create the library of the future [Web log post]. Retrieved from https://www.good.is/articles/crowdsourced-design-why-los-angeles-is-asking-the-public-to-create-the-library-of-the-future