Reflection post 2: Participatory service reflection

Participatory Culture

May I start this post with the same sentence of my last: Is it possible to challenge one of the foundational assumptions of information science: that libraries are for users? As I read through the readings for this module (and the previous), I was again stuck with this foundational assumption: to quote Schneider (2006), “The user is the sun”.

I want to challenge that idea (not necessarily to throw it away) to ask what happens if we don’t start from that premise? Or to turn the question around: how does that belief shape what we do? If we want to disrupt and “think like a start-up” then maybe we can consider the idea that something else is the sun (I’m not at all harkening back to some glorious time in the past when the librarian was the sun . . . or whatever the previous metaphor was), but how does our thinking, actions and design change if we think of multiple suns (or demote everything to a planet) and make democracy or freedom or literacy or language is power or chocolate as the sun? Or even, what if participation is the sun? I don’t think that’s quite the same as the user: participation implies engagement, creation and even production (see Jenkins et al., 2009 definition below). A user might simply download a book. A participant does something else in addition. . .

I’m fascinated with and compelled by the notion of participatory culture (and have been for decades), not just in libraries but for learning in general. I felt like a kid in a candy shop in this unit (I could not get enough of all the fabulous resources and examples!). When we are engaged and creating we are so much more likely to be learning then when we are the recipients of a lecture. No matter how good the lecture, it’s hard to listen and retain continually. When you are creating something, you are fully linked in. The potentials in the examples here were just amazing. I brought a lot of personal interest to this unit:

When I teach, I use what I call “an active participation model”. Students MUST participate (15% of their grade comes from participation) in both my online and f2f classes. So, in this module, I am very interested in learning how this practice works in the library (and its potential) but also how I can adapt for my own classes.

This also relates to a conference presentation I am doing at California Library Association and LITA on linked data and how users might use it in the library. Rather than viewing linked data as just a means to catalogue and organize behind the scenes, I want to explore how linked data can help enable the participatory model.

With that as my context, I dove in!


Participatory Culture notes

Jenkins, et al., (2009) defines a participatory culture as “a culture with relatively low barriers to artistic expression and civic engagement, strong support for creating and sharing one’s creations, and some type of informal mentorship whereby what is known by the most experienced is passed along to novices” (p. 3). He later adds to this definition: members need to believe their contribution is important and members need to feel connected (p. 7).

Is there some way that we can leverage users to engage nonusers in this informal mentorship role? Also, this creative function seems to have great potential. In the lecture by Dr. Stephens (2017), he talks about the libraries with bulletin boards where they post a question: “what do you want to do before you die”, for example. These give opportunities for creativity (and could be even more so with a drawing option or a photo option—or even imagine online bulletin boards powered by linked data linked to other online bulletin boards. . . ). Is there a way these types of exercises could be brought out into the community to get responses from nonusers as well?

Tim O’Reilly, quoted in Casey (2011), states

How do we get beyond the idea that participation means “public input” (shaking the vending machine to get more or better services out of it), and over to the idea that it means government building frameworks that enable people to build services of their own.

I love the idea of libraries with knowledge webs created by users (hence my interest in linked data). Is this not a cool hyperlinked knowledge web?

Jenkins, et al., (2009) explore the roles within a participatory culture: affiliations, expressions, collaborations, circulations; while also exploring the concerns such culture generates: participation gap and unequal access, a transparency problem where participants are unaware of how media shapes our perception of the world, and ethical concerns with media makers and community participants who do not have a strong ethical foundation in this particular cultural milieu.


Transparency response

The transparency part of this module was equally if not more fascinating. I’ve never thought about transparency from this perspective (the extension of this for me is, of course, transparency in teaching. . . which I do try to practice; no hidden tricks, no surprises, unveil the infrastructure, share my mistakes, etc.). So I was intrigued to read how it plays out in the library setting; and it became clear that transparency spans a wide range.

Dr. Stephens (2017) talks about having transparency as a library; showing what’s behind all the closed doors so to speak. And Casey & Stephens (2007) provide a list for libraries to use to help build transparency. I was a bit confused about the transparency issue: is this between staff and staff or staff and patrons or all of the above? The list from “A road map to transparency” seems specifically oriented just to staff. But it does seem like transparency with patrons is also advocated in “The Age of Participation” (Stephens, 2012) and “Collection Bashing” (Stephens, 2013), where a lack of transparency (and communication) seems to have caused an Illinois library major problems. In Schmidt’s article (2013) emphasizing building trust, it is clear that building trust both enables transparency and comes from transparency and involves both patrons and staff. And, Stephens (2011) even addresses a need for transparency in library school (lots of great ideas in this post. . . but I’m not seeing this transparency in the real world. I’m wishing that were more possible . . .).

Jenkins et al., (2009) in contrast, focuses on recognizing the lack of transparency in how the media influences participants. All of these areas of transparency seem central to information science: showing the man behind the curtain makes participants feel they are more than token members; and uncovering manipulation in information environments makes the participation more authentic while also increasing the odds that the information we are using is reliable.

When I got to the article “In Praise of Radical Transparency” (Anderson, 2006), however, I had to pause to ask where does transparency translate into rudeness, disrespect, impulsivity and just plain bad manners? Anderson states that Mark Cuban “can’t help but say what he thinks”. That does not sound appealing to me. . . unfortunately it reminds me of certain political figures that will remain nameless.

And, the “living in public” (quoting Fred Wilson in Anderson, 2006) disturbs me as well. Maybe I’m just a private person, but unveiling the processes behind collection development seem very different from “living in public”.  When I talk about transparency in my interactions with students, I’m not talking about sharing my private life. So there seems to be quite a continuum of what transparency entails. Some of it sounds great; other parts, not so much.

Finally, I think one of the central issues in both of these ideas (participation and transparency) is trust (noted in both Schmidt, 2013 and Jenkins et al., 2009) and just how hard it is to trust. Maybe some really good programs and ideas are not happening because the trust required is just not there.

Great readings. Lots to ponder!


Anderson, C. (2006, Nov. 26). In praise of radical transparency. The Long Tail. Retrieved from

Casey, M. (2011). Revisiting participatory service in trying times. Tame the Web. Retrieved from

Casey, M. & Stephens, M. (2007, Dec. 15). A road map to transparency. Tame the web. Retrieved from

Jenkins, H, Clinton, K, Purushotma, R., Robison, A., Weigel, M. (2009). Confronting the challenges of participatory culture: Media education for the 21st century. MacArthur. Retrieved from

Schmidt, A. (2013, Nov. 5). Earning trust: The User experience. Library Journal. Retrieved from

Schneider, K. G. (2006). The user is not broken: A meme masquerading as a manifesto. Free Range Librarian. Retrieved from

Stephens, M (2017). Participatory Service and transparency, lecture. SJSU.

Stephens, M. (Nov. 17, 2016). Open to change. Library Journal. Retrieved from

Stephens, M. (2013, Aug 22). Collection basing & trashing: office hours. Library Journal. Retrieved from

Stephens, M. (2012, Feb 17). The age of participation. Library Journal. Retrieved from

Stephens, M. (2011, May 15). The transparent library school. Office Hours. Library Journal. Retrieved from




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