Throughout my short time working in a library, I have found that I put a lot of effort into creating a program or participating in a committee, which culminates in the completion of the project. When it is done, I tend to do some reflecting such as asking, “What went right?” and “What didn’t go so well?” But it doesn’t go much beyond that. There is almost a sense of relief that it is over. It has been accomplished, and now we’re on to the next thing. But Professor Michael Stephens reminds us to take the time to be reflective in our practice (Stephens, 2016).
And another thing, librarianship is a practice. This is such a great way to look at our profession. You try something and see how it works. This could be with a program–or simply an interaction with a patron. When we reflect upon these experiences, they become integrated into our toolbox. We then use those tools to “catalyze knowledge, information and people” (2016, p. 25). I have been referring to librarians as facilitators, people who make things easier. And that is true, librarians are concerned with equity and access, but a catalyst causes a reaction. There is definitely more power there, not just for the patron but through their relationship.
Our profession is the dynamic interplay between ourselves, our patrons and the library as an institution. It is relational. And that is one of the five things that Bill Georges identifies as necessary to authentic leadership: relationships (Frierson, 2011). To establish trust in relationships, it is important to be transparent and open. It is important to listen. The other four qualities are: purpose, values, self-discipline, and heart. Not only is this important to the people who you lead, it is important to other stakeholders, as well. In times when library leadership needs to advocate for library budgets and relevance, acting with integrity, being connected, and telling our story is paramount.
In another article, a conversation between Michael Stephens and Jan Klerk “Treat them as humans and not as members of an anonymous crowd. Share your knowledge and stories with them, join the conversation” (Stephens, 2010, para. 5). This may seem obvious, but it’s not. It can be easy to hide behind the desk or the organization or the brand.
So here’s the confession: after working for awhile at a large central library, I stopped wearing my nametag. I was getting hit on continuously. Patrons felt that, as a public servant, they owned me. They felt that if I was nice to them, that it meant I was interested in a romantic relationship. Taking my nametag off quelled that interest. However, in order to be a living, responsive organization, the library really needs to focus on relationships and conversations and connections. Now that I have amassed some skills in redirecting those inappropriate conversations, perhaps it’s time to put on my nametag again. It’s time to fully step into the role of relational catalyst.
I wasn’t really sure what to expect from INFO 287, Seminar in Information Science. There were so many possible topics! I knew of and was passionate about some of them: Scratch, STEM in libraries, and Makerspaces. And I was intrigued about the other topics. What was a hyperlinked library? What was participatory practice? One of my required classes had used Professor Stephens’ lectures before. I don’t remember what class that was, but I liked those lectures and knew I would learn a lot from him in this class–whatever it was.
What I discovered was the Hyperlinked Library.
Merriam-Webster defines hyperlink as “an electronic link providing direct access from one distinctively marked place in a hypertext or hypermedia document to another in the same or a different document” (2020). In effect, you are creating a pathway for easy discoverability. So that is what the hyperlinked library is. It is interconnected and offers discoverability. This can be achieved a number of ways.
You can achieve it through technology, such as a library website that offers two-way communication channels (such as chat, social media, the ability to respond to blogs, YouTube comments, tagging, challenges, memes, etcetera). This allows users to easily engage and offer their own ideas and suggestions. User feedback allows the library to more effectively meet real community needs.
Another way you can achieve a hyperlinked library is by offering users the ability to create their own content, instead of being passive consumers of information. Makerspaces, civic engagement programs, book publishing, zine making, and other participatory services contribute to creating a hyperlinked library, as well. While it can be high-tech, it doesn’t have to be. There are endless ways to get people playing and creating.
Why is this important? When you are meeting community needs, engaging the community and inviting them to participate in ownership of the library, they are more likely to value and use the library. They are more likely to tell their friends, who will tell their friends, and so on and so forth.
In his book Tribes, Seth Godin says, “Great leaders create movements by empowering the tribe to communicate” (Godin, 2008, p. 23). The library serves the public, and every member of the public has a story. Why not feature some of those stories on our website? Why not weave the public into the fabric of the library? Why not give them a voice?
In a time when libraries’ relevance is being called into question, it is important for the community to know what a library is and what it can do for them. Is it just a place to get books? Amazon is a tough competitor. Is it a place to get information? Google is the competition. And unfortunately, Facebook is the competition.
Is it the place to get quality information? An emphatic yes. Is it the place to get books for free? Yes, it still very much is. And while that is wonderful and important, we need to give Google and Amazon a run for their money. The internet has put these services at people’s fingertips. So, we need to provide something that they cannot. We need to look closely at our communities for what is missing in their lives and how we can help meet that need.
Libraries as centers of community engagement is just the thing that Google and Amazon cannot provide. It is something that is missing in our towns and cities. It is something that is missing on social media. Librarians as information services professionals are perfectly equipped to be facilitators of all forms of cultural literacy, from reading, to civic engagement, to digital literacy. In addition, the library space is the perfect place to make social connections.
People become the hyperlinks. Librarians are not connecting people to the library; the focus is not about us. Librarians are connecting users to information that answers their questions, they are connecting them to each other, and they are empowering them to create something from these intersections. It is about them, and we are the mediators of those connections.
Godin, S. (2008). Tribes: We need you to lead us. New York, NY: Porfolio.
What makes libraries unique institutions is their focus on equity: the library is for everybody. Resources and learning are accessible. Additionally, there has been a movement in the larger culture to make creating and making more accessible. The internet was a key element in the decentralization of knowledge production. It allowed people to share without having to go through publishing gatekeepers, and it allowed for the two-way exchange of information. Regarding 3D printing, what was once a million-dollar device became a desktop model in the early 2000s when old patents started expiring (Hornick, 2016). In 2006 the first Maker Faire started in San Mateo (Make, n.d.). That same year, the first Espresso Book Machine was installed at the World Bank in Washington, D.C. It gave people the power to self-publish their books without having to be accepted by a publisher. All these elements, the internet, making and self-publishing made it easy for anyone to create content.
And that is how they have entered the realm of the public library. Not only are libraries places where you can retrieve and consume information, they are becoming places where you can create information and content. It is purposeful that I use the term “becoming”. It is a process to figure out how these elements fit in to library services and programs, to determine what staff need to know and where the knowledge gaps are and to figure out how to do so within budgetary and time constraints. These are the barriers that libraries face. I propose that participatory services, such as The Co-Lab, are the answer.
Libraries have long been places for reading, for information, for literacy. What has changed and continues to change is the concept of what it means to be literate. It is no longer merely centered on the ability to read and write. According to Mirriam-Webster (2020) it also means to be educated, competent and cultured. As the world changes, new literacies are required. For example, the internet changes the way information is shared. Today it is important to be digitally literate and to know how to navigate the plethora of information available at any given moment. It is also important to be civically and culturally literate to navigate the politics and diversity of our world. There are life literacies, such as cooking and self-care, finance, and creating community, to name a few. An important aspect of early pre-literacy is play. In fact, in A New Culture of Learning, authors Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown write, “Where imaginations play, learning happens” (Stephens, 2016, p. 128). Librarianship is the perfect profession for helping people navigate these literacies.
What does learning in the library look like?
Librarians are not teachers in the traditional sense. They are not responsible for a full curriculum arc. However, they are stewards of information and facilitate learning. They provide the space and the freedom and the guidance for learning to happen. One way libraries are making this happen is through collaborative learning programs. Collaborative learning programs offer an exchange of skills, as well as strengthen community ties. When creating a collaborative or connected learning program, it is important to keep the following three instructional design principles in mind: shared purpose, openly networked and production-centered (Nygren, 2014). Shared purpose is the idea that learning happens amongst people who have similar interests and questions. When people have a shared interest, learning and teaching can happen in relationship. This is where intergenerational knowledge and learning can happen. Openly-networked is learning that happens in the context of a whole life, as opposed to an imposed school curriculum. “Learning is most resilient when it is linked and reinforced across settings of home, school, peer culture, and community” (Nygren, 2014, p. 6). Lastly, learning is production-centered, meaning it happens by doing.
What are collaborative learning programs?
Collaborative learning programs centered around doing involve making, hacking and tinkering. These programs can be facilitated by a librarian and involve peer-to-peer collaboration and learning. Zeke Leonard, assistant professor at Syracuse University School of Design says, “Making anything for yourself is a political act. The further we get from the creation of an object, the less we have a connection with the people, resources, and process. This limits how we assign value to objects. If we can all start to make more and consume less, then we can be more thoughtful about the resources used to create the objects and food and garments that we fill our lives with,” (Britton, 2012, p. 11). This sounds a lot like a makerspace!
However, you don’t need a dedicated makerspace to provide collaborative learning programs. For example, the Fayetteville Free Library rolled out it’s Fab Lab makerspace by starting monthly makerspace programs in its community room. You could even do this in an open space in your library. The Fab Lab focused on introducing patrons to 3D printers as well as maker culture and emphasized play over instruction (Britton & Considine, 2012). This takes the pressure off of the librarian to be a 3D design expert. Although libraries certainly can require their librarians to become experts in new technologies, it can be a very time-consuming, staff-intensive endeavor. This takes time away from other public services and responsibilities.
What if libraries created maker kits for their librarians? Successful Fab Lab programs like Take-a-Part, BristleBots, and Make Your Own Book, for example, could be made into a kit. Librarians could become certified in the use of any tools or equipment (just like patrons), but then have a kit that would be pretty much plug and play. The librarian could then act as facilitator instead of expert. There could be occasional programs provided by community experts to fill in the gaps and answer questions for patrons.
What library professionals can do right now!
Look at your community. What are their needs and interests? What experiences can they offer?
Once needs are assessed, explore the concept of mutual aid and how citizens can become involved in direct action.
Network with other library professionals who are doing this already or who want to do it. Share ideas!
Use social media to connect with patrons. Get them excited about the programs, and get feedback.
Throw a Maker Party. This is especially important if you don’t have a dedicated makerspace. You can throw periodic pop-ups that offer a physical space to tinker, play and make things. A good resource is the American Library Association’s Making in Library Toolkit.
Make sure library staff are engaged, trained and supported. In order to be successful, it is important that they have the resources for success.
Find partners in academia, the public sector and industry to enrich your programming and services. They could even be involved in creating the aforementioned plug and play program kits. They don’t have to be running every program.
Create a peer-supported network where everyone can share their interests and passions. This could also involve connecting people with mentors. The Chicago Learning Exchange and The Hive are two great examples!
Collaborative learning programs can involve a wide range of literacies. Sure, libraries can be the source of delight for their patrons, but this doesn’t mean that they need to have all the answers for their patrons. “[L]earning environments, communities, and civic life thrive when all members actively engage and contribute” (Nygren, 2014, p. 5). Providing patrons with a dynamic and supportive learning environment empowers the individuals and strengthens the community.
Anythink Library is a seven branch library system in Adams County, Colorado.The vision for Anything is, “Anythink is the catalyst for innovation in our community” (Anythink, n.d.-a). They focus on three key areas: community, culture and career. They strive to provide a space that is like a town square, where people can gather, socialize and debate. They strive to provide programs and services that reflect and enrich modern skills such as creativity, collaboration, critical thinking, and communication. The communications director, Stacie Ledden says, “We are really shifting and think of the library less as a place to warehouse books, and more of a place where you can come and interact with information in a new way and actually participate in a new experience” (Hood, 2014).
In order to provide these experiences for the public, Anythink requires these modern skills, or core competencies for all their staff. Core competencies are the knowledge, skills and abilities that are necessary to perform one’s job. Among the thirteen required competencies at the Anythink libraries (beyond those specific job duty skills) are: cooperative and collaborative, effective communicator, continuous learner, and innovative (Anythink, n.d.-b).
While I think that creating this third place where people can come to interact with information in a new way, create their own content and participate in a new experience is the direction that libraries should be heading, libraries need to consider what a library service is. If we start to think of libraries as social services, they will become places where people seek help beyond information services. They will become similar to the resilience centers that Eric Klinenberg developed (Pete, 2018). Resilience centers are neighborhood hubs that are open all the time and help people during crises.
And of course, we’re in the library profession; we want to help people!
However, we are not trained in dealing with crises such as the homelessness crisis, mental health crises, or, and this is a timely one, pandemics. While, of course, we still serve people who are experiencing homelessness or who have a mental illness, we should not be serving them in the social service capacity. That requires special knowledge, skills and abilities that librarians do not have.
In the time of a pandemic, yes, of course we want to help people, but we should not stay open. Yes, we provide shelter for the homeless, yes we provide a social space for the elderly, and yes, we provide school lunches for children. However, these, in my mind, are not core library services. During the time of a pandemic, these ancillary services need to be set aside.
My experience working during the covid-19 pandemic was pretty traumatic. I work at a large central library, and we have over 200 people in our building at any given time. We found ourselves policing our patrons like a parent, “Cough in your elbow, now wash your hands, don’t touch the keyboard, here’s a tissue”. While I believe it is important to have compassion for and care about people, this was above and beyond. It put our lives, and the public’s lives, in danger. It was impossible to provide a hygienic environment, and it was impossible to keep the necessary six feet social distance to prevent the spread of the virus.
So while we want to be an essential resource, and we want to be relevant to the people today, it is important to remember that we are information science professionals. This is what we do best. Libraries such as Anythink are an exemplar of this standard of service. They’re innovative, and they’re very much related to information science.
I have been interested in Do It Yourself for a long time. Taking that to the next level, I homeschooled my daughter and became interested in the idea of unschooling and autodidacticism. During that time, I read about a book called Project-Based Homeschooling (Pickert, 2012). I fell in love with the idea, though I never was able to find the book at my library.
Since I started working in libraries almost four years ago, I became increasingly interested in the idea of the library as a third place, as a place for collaboration and dialog and content creation. “Libraries—Andrew Carnegie’s “palaces for the people”—are chief among the building blocks of what Klinenberg terms “social infrastructure”: places where people gather, bonds form, and communities are strengthened” (Peet, 2018, p. 1). The challenge is that people still think of libraries as a place where you come for quiet, solitary study. And that’s where the idea for this blog, Co-Lab, came about. Wouldn’t it be great if libraries had an open, dynamic space where people could come to talk and collaborate together?
Purpose and Benefits
The Co-Lab is a container. It is a free community space for people to gather to work on projects that are important to them. It is a place to come and share ideas and ask questions. It is a space to collaborate. While there are sixteen community centers available through the City of Sacramento, they are only available for a fee (City of Sacramento, 2020). The Co-Lab is free.
The Co-Lab is a space where the community, rather than the books, are centered; it’s a library turned inside-out. The community is the library. There are books, and there are librarians, but they merely act as support to help patrons manifest their ideas. This is the essence of the hyperlinked library and participatory service. And it’s a major shift for libraries. How do we give patrons what they want if they don’t want the traditional library? How do we stay relevant? One answer to this complex question is delighting our users (Denning, 2015). What better way to delight them than to involve them, to create community to challenge and support them?
Patrons bring their curiosity, ideas and knowledge. Perhaps they bring tools and supplies to make something. An exchange happens. This benefits the individual, who, in turn, benefits society. They might bring products or services or support to the community that wasn’t there before. But otherwise, they are engaged, enriched.
Goals and Outcomes for The Co-Lab
User outcomes for The Co-Lab will vary based upon user interests and engagement. The goal is to provide a supportive and resource-rich environment in which people can discover and explore their interests in a community setting. The following are service outcomes based upon this goal:
Dedicate a centralized space in the Colonial Heights Library for people to congregate. There should be table space and chairs for at least 20 people to sit and work on projects.
Educate staff on the goals and outcomes of The Co-Lab and how that supports the Strategic Plan. Show them how this is a crucial library service. Get buy-in and build excitement about it.
Because this model is a shift in how service is provided in a library setting from being less desk-centered to more engaged, it will require no new staff. However, staff will need to be trained on expected duties (ensure beforehand that this is in compliance with the Local Union). Provide continued training and support to the staff as they shift from one model to another.
The Co-Lab will be marketed online and through various media outlets. Staff will market The Co-Lab during outreach events and by word of mouth during the course of the day.
Host a monthly speaker, who will speak on various topics that are important to the community (i.e. starting a small business, civic engagement, activism, health, art, grant writing, life skills, job skills, relationship skills, etcetera). These programs will be a mixture of dialog and hands-on activities. Librarians will work with the speaker to facilitate and provide relevant resources. The Librarians will be educated in Socratic Dialog to empower people and foster a true exchange of information.
The rest of the week, staff will act in the same capacity as for programs. However, it will be up to the patrons to bring their projects. There will, however, be acrylic holders with rotating suggested activities. A Program-in-a-Box will be requested from the CES Department and set out for patrons to use. There will also be a bulletin board for patrons to advertise the projects they’re working on and if they’re seeking collaboration. On a table below the board, will be a suggestion box. Patrons will submit ideas for topics that they are interested in for the monthly programs.
Action Brief Statement
Convince adults who do not see their interests and values reflected in today’s public library that by discovering and participating in The Co-Lab, they will see the library as a dynamic place where they can congregate and collaborate with people with similar interests which will give them the time and space to develop their unique gifts and contributions to society because The Co-Lab is a dynamic environment to meet the dynamic needs of the people. It is a facilitated and resource-rich space, a living community.
Proposed Location: Sacramento Public Library
The Sacramento Public Library is located in the capital of California. It is the fourth largest library in the State of California, and it’s twenty-eight branches serve a population of over one million people. Harvard’s Civil Rights Project named Sacramento the most integrated city (Stodghill & Bower, 2002). The Co-Lab is an amazing opportunity for people of diverse cultures and backgrounds to come together and create the world that they envision!
While the Central Library has the most space and a Makerspace, it might not be the ideal location for The Co-Lab. There are two reasons that I can think of. Number one, parking is difficult to find in the downtown area, and people have to feed the meters every half hour. Paying to park in a garage is a deterrent, as well. Number two, there are a lot of businesses downtown, as opposed to residential areas. There are not a lot of families downtown. It would be ideal to choose a location close to downtown and in an accessible neighborhood. The location should have plenty of parking. For that reason, the Colonial Heights branch would be a good location for The Co-Lab. In addition, it has a 3D printer and a community garden and seed library (Sacramento Public Library-a, 2019). It is a vital community space.
In addition, while it would be good to have a centralized Co-Lab, there is no reason why other branches couldn’t adopt the model.
Description of Targeted Community
The Co-Lab is a program for adults and children, alike. The topics will be suggested both by the library, as well as library patrons. The Co-Lab will support the diverse communities of Sacramento and strives to be inclusive and accessible to all.
Tedx Talks. (2013, December 16). What to expect from libraries in the 21st century: Pam Sandlian Smith at TEDxMileHigh. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/fa6ERdxyYdo
Mission, Guidelines, and Policy related to the Service
The Co-Lab is a dynamic environment to meet the dynamic needs of the people. It is a facilitated and resource-rich space, a living community.
Guidelines and Policy Related to The Co-Lab:
When creating any new program or service, it is important that leadership takes a role in creating policies and procedures regarding the new service. The new service and policies must be in alignment with the Sacramento Public Library Strategic Plan (Sacramento Public Library-b, 2019) and the four focus areas:
Creating a culture of customer service
Fostering learning and discovery
Effectively managing our resources.
These policies and procedures must be made available to staff, and staff must be trained on them. It is leadership’s job to establish the vision and culture of this new service.
Managers and supervisors will be in charge of training, support and managing change.
All marketing materials will need to be approved by the Communications Department.
When staff choose a patron’s idea for the monthly speaker, the Colonial Heights Librarian will submit the speaker’s information to the Community and Program Liaison. They will contact the speaker and make arrangements.
The Colonial Heights Librarian will also be responsible for working with the speaker so that they know a little about the Socratic Dialog format and so that the Librarian can assess how best to support the speaker.
Funding Considerations for The Co-Lab
The Co-Lab will not require additional staffing. Monthly speakers will be on a volunteer-basis.
Some supplies will need to be purchased for the hands-on portion of the monthly programs. These will be funded by The Friends of the Sacramento Public Library (Friends of the Sacramento Public Library, n.d.). In addition, new Program-in-a-Box kits will need to be bought and assembled to have some supplies on-hand for independent exploration. This will be funded by the CES Department, who is in charge of programming kits. Since this service is scalable, it is considered a system-wide program.
Donations of creation supplies are accepted at the Colonial Heights Library.
Action Steps and Timeline
This project will require fifteen months of advance planning. If we finish sooner, we will start sooner.
3 months: Leadership will create policies and procedures
6 months: Leadership and Management will create staff training modules using Niche Academy (Niche Academy, n.d.).
2 months: Staff will attend a series of in-person trainings, as well as video trainings via Niche Academy.
1 month: Management will order supplies and equipment: tables, chairs, creation supplies.
1 months: Facilities will arrange the layout of the library to make room for tables and chairs. They will set up the tables and chairs and ensure that it meets Cal Osha and ADA requirements. They will set up the bulletin board, as well as the suggestions box. If outlets need to be installed around the tables , they will do that, as well.
2 months: The Communications Department will create a marketing plan. They will send promotional pieces to media outlets. The Communications Department will send informational emails to community organizations and stakeholders that would be good partners. During that time, Management will work with staff to create an opening party. This will be a catered event and include a local speaker, as well as a short speech by the Library Director. The news will be invited to cover the event.
The program will be regularly evaluated to ensure that it is a valued community resource. Management will ask staff to record usage statistics. Staff will ask patrons to fill out comment cards. Management and Leadership will meet at six and twelve months to assess that outcomes are being met.
The hyperlinked environment is one in which space is made for connections to be made. What does this have to do with libraries? To begin, libraries have traditionally been repositories of knowledge and information. Often, public perception is that librarians know everything! They are the arbiters of everything.
What the internet has shown us is that this is an outdated model. Knowledge is for the people. To do with what they will. The arbiters and gatekeepers are becoming obsolete. If libraries keep operating under this old model, they, too, will become obsolete.
Technology has become an important tool for equalizing access to information and allowing a platform for all people to share information. Because of this, libraries are becoming increasingly technology-driven (Stephens, 2017). While it is not necessary to adopt every new technology available, it is important to be aware of emergent technologies and research how they are being used in various libraries. It’s important to become curious about them and how they might benefit your library and your users.
The Los Angeles Public Library has embraced technology with their Octavia Lab makerspace, which opened in June of 2019 (Roe, 2019). They have a 3D printer, various cutting machines (laser, silhouette, vinyl), a green screen, sewing machines, equipment to digitize various media (slides and negatives, floppy discs, VHS tapes, etc.), music recording equipment, and a virtual reality gaming console.
The Sacramento Public Library Makerspace, where I work, has been open since 2017 (Sacramento Public Library, 2019). And this is where I’m going to get real: it is not without its challenges. Over the past three years, we have seen an increase in usage of the space. However, it is difficult to have librarian-run programs (due to learning curves) and to staff the space (due to insufficient staffing). A tangential problem is that programs can become stale, because staff do not have the time to invest in expanding them. I am that staff person and intimately experience these problems. That being said, I do think they’re valuable, but perhaps makerspaces and libraries, in general, need to be rethought.
I like the idea of expanding the idea of makerspaces to collaborative community places or project-based spaces–or both! A place where you can meet and discuss and make. Where ideas can manifest. A place enlivened by community members, who are themselves valuable resources.
This is what has come to be known as the third place, a place for community and social gatherings outside of the home (first place) and work (second place). One such library that has embraced this new paradigm is The Bubbler in Madison, Wisconsin (Madison Public Library, 2019). The Bubbler has monthly artist residencies, where an artist is available weekly for two hours to talk with the community and engage in an artistic activity. The Bubbler has a Media Lab where patrons can explore digital media production. The Bubbler not only holds these amazing programs in their library, they have outreach at schools and for at-risk teens in the community. Their tagline is “Learn, Share, Create”. Although this sounds a lot like the makerspace concept, it also seems to work in partnership with the community more than a usual makerspace.
Another library experimenting with this third place concept is Dokk1 in Denmark (Dokk1, n.d.). Dokk1 is “…less focused on books and more focused on human needs, providing space for performances, meetings, children’s activities, art installations, and general public gatherings” (American Libraries Magazine, 2016, p. 4). In my opinion, the books are still important, but only in service of human needs. Additionally, this kind of concept needs to highlight the importance of librarians’ roles in this third place, otherwise, it is just an expensive cafe. Because of this, Dokk1 hires staff, not based on an LIS degree, but based on competencies (Stephens, 2016). Staff are expected to rove around the four spaces (learning, inspiration, performative, and meeting) and engage the patrons and facilitate learning. It is a dynamic environment that encourages an exchange of ideas and dialog. This sounds like a delightful library to work in and a delightful library to visit!
Sometimes, as a library professional, I feel like a cross between a bartender and a therapist. Patrons develop a rapport with you and like to talk about their lives. Sometimes it makes my day to connect in that way, but to be honest, other times it’s a burden. Maybe they found out they have cancer, or they’re elderly and being displaced. Aside from empathising, which is in itself valuable, I don’t know what to do with the information. We don’t think of this person in front of us as a resource or have the systems in place to attend to the information we’re receiving.
Rather than our day-to-day intel, we rely on community surveys to gather information, to glean something that might reveal what we’re doing right and perhaps what we could do a little better. Often, however, these surveys put the burden on the public to tell us how to do our jobs better. If we don’t know, they don’t know! Aaron Schmidt (2016) posits that we aren’t asking the right questions. He says we should be asking users about themselves. They know something about that! If you ask questions like: “What did you do this weekend?… Where do you like to travel?… Tell me about a time when you were focused and lost track of time.” (Schmidt, 2016, p. 10). You will learn more about your users than a likert scale rating of our services. You can then find patterns within the community of interests and needs and tailor library services to those community desires. Just as libraries remind patrons “that others have insights worth paying attention to, that there is beauty in our shared language, that in our struggles we are often not alone” (Stolls, n.d., p. 4), patrons, too have something to offer, to exchange. The patrons who come in to tell you their story are themselves libraries.
So, once you’ve gotten the information about what people want and need, the challenge is knowing what to do with it. The internet has created an educated and particular populace. They are looking for (and can often find) products and services aligned with their values, that are the best quality and the best deal. Capturing their attention is a challenge in a world that is in their face and at their fingertips. Pewrainangi (2014) says the answer to this challenge is to find the most valuable members, find out what they like and surprise and delight them. Like Schmidt, she says it’s important to not just identify library user demographics but what they do before and after visiting the library. What are their favorite things to do and consume outside of the library? She says to get to ask your patrons for feedback, become intimate with them, and use what you’ve gleaned to capture their attention. David Lankes (Pewrainangi, 2014) says that libraries should be dynamic platforms that enable community members to succeed. This reframes the library as a living institution, rather than a place that “sells” a fixed product. A living institution is harder to control and brand, but conversely it is much more delightful!
We can look like a library and have people recognize our branding all we want, but if the public can’t see the value in the library, branding means nothing. Sure, we might look good, but that only goes so far. So, not only do we need to listen to our patrons via a variety of channels, it is equally important to show them how we are responding to their feedback. Michael Stephens (2014) says that when you listen like this, you may not always like what you hear, and it may push the boundaries of your branding and what you think a library should be. If you want to be a living library, it is important to respond to user feedback and to share the story of the library’s evolution, that the library is a place for us to co-evolve. While some libraries invite amazing speakers to come and talk, many libraries are creating spaces for their patrons to have civil discussions about current events that affect the community (Dixon, 2017). They are inviting patron engagement in a whole other way. Librarians act as facilitators in those discussion groups to provide guidance, often employing the Socratic method to get people talking and thinking. And, in that way, the burden of being the library “therapist” is lifted. We have listened and responded in meaningful relationship to our community.
Seth Godin is a former business executive who became popular through his blog, Seth’s Blog. He writes with motivational flair on topics like marketing and leadership (Godin, n.d.). He has also authored nineteen books. His book Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us, reads, in fact, like a series of blog posts (Godin, 2008). Each vignette highlights a business person who has exceptional or innovative leadership qualities.
I would be remiss in this book review if I didn’t take this opportunity to provide a constructive criticism of the book. My criticism is in regards to the vignettes. While they were somewhat interesting, reading the snapshots of different business people left me feeling like a kid opening up a mountain of presents at Christmas; I felt empty. The book lacks a structure that builds upon ideas. It could have benefitted from taking a few of those stories and developing the ideas further. The vignettes were too much like a short-form blog post. While interesting, they were simply not substantial enough for a book.
That being said, Tribes focuses around developing small teams or developing relationships with followers and stakeholders. Godin identifies a tribe as a group of people connected to: each other, an idea or a leader (Godin, 2008). The bottom denominator here, is connection. People yearn for it. The internet has enabled people to gather in like-minded tribes. The internet has also flattened hierarchies so that most everyone can influence and most everyone can be a leader. In fact, Godin says that everyone is expected to be a leader, to have initiative and be change agents (2008). One way that people can influence is by rating products and services, they can write and self-publish, and they can connect with celebrities and scholars, who would most certainly would have been inaccessible prior to the internet.
To be a great leader, though requires something else. “Great leaders create movements by empowering the tribe to communicate” (Godin, 2008, p. 23). He goes on to say that leaders create a culture around their goals and invite others to join in. This is one area where I think he could have elaborated on this concept. It’s good and deserves more attention. In his Ted Talk, How Great Leaders Inspire Action, Simon Sinek (2009) introduces the idea that, if you want to sell an idea, you need to start with why you’re doing it, with your belief. What does this have to do with Seth Godin? Well, it all comes back to tribes. We buy into groups who believe what we do; they’re our tribe.
So what can libraries take away from this? The library should look at their patrons, not as someone to sell something to, but their tribe, people they can invite into their vision. The advent of the internet has created a medium for people to contribute and collaborate. “Technology extends human reach but participation requires engaged participants who feel welcomed, comfortable and valued” (Stephens, 2012, p. 40). Many businesses are harnessing this power (think Amazon). Some libraries have become hyperlinked libraries and are leveraging these relationships and tribes.
The San Jose Public Library created a teen space by inviting a designer, Louise Mackie, to work directly with the teen library users. She said, “I did not miss the multiple layers of bureaucracy…. The direct relationship with both the users and the client was spontaneous, refreshing, and efficient” (Chant, 2016, para. 7).
The Los Angeles Public Library, which serves the biggest population of any library in the United States has their own approach. They realize that they are nothing without their community. So on their 141st anniversary, they solicited the public for their vision for the library (Mack, 2013). In that way, they are recognizing their tribe, creating a participatory service model and ensuring that they remain relevant to their users.
Chant, I. (2016). User-designed libraries. Retrieved from https://www.libraryjournal.com/?detailStory=user-designed-libraries-design4impact
Godin, S. (n.d.). Seth’s blog. Retrieved from https://seths.blog/
Godin, S. (2008). Tribes: We need you to lead us. New York, NY: Porfolio.
Mack, C. (2013). Crowdsourced design: Why Los Angeles is asking the public to design the library of the future. Retrieved from https://www.good.is/articles/crowdsourced-design-why-los-angeles-is-asking-the-public-to-create-the-library-of-the-future
Sinek, S. (2009). Start with why–how great leaders inspire action. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/u4ZoJKF_VuA
Stephens, Michael. (2012). The age of participation. Library Journal,137(3), 40.
With web 2.0, the general public can comment on blogs, communicate with celebrities on Twitter, rate products, add to wikis, and tag things (i.e. photos on Flickr) in ways that make sense to us as users. There is no need to ask permission or wait for a major publisher to sanction your contribution. “In Web 2.0 the motto is: everything is beta” (Matthews, 2012, p. 5). Like web 2.0, participatory service harnesses the insight and needs of the users to shape how the library operates. This is a process of adapting to what is inevitable–change. By adapting, libraries will stay relevant. And in order to adapt, librarian professionals must become change agents.
Libraries want to appear stable and provide consistent, measurable outcomes to justify their funding. However, only focusing on appearing stable can be myopic. “We don’t break out of our comfort zones. We don’t seek out disruption. We’re too focused on trying to please our users rather than trying to anticipate their unarticulated needs” (Matthews, 2012, p. 8). When making changes, there is inherent risk. I can see this as being an impediment to libraries adopting a participatory service model. It also needs to be embraced and supported by leadership. It needs to be ingrained in the library’s mission and values and considered during strategic planning. This information should be freely, and regularly, shared with staff. They should be involved in the process to contribute and get buy-in.
Before creating a participatory service model, I think it’s imperative to create a participatory workplace. This is an important, but often overlooked, aspect of workplaces. The focus is so often on the customer, that the staff are taken for granted. An internal blog is a good mechanism for building a participatory workplace. Each department could write a weekly post summarizing changes, problems and things in the works. This would create a centralized location for people to find information, tagged by department and topic. This would be especially important in library systems with multiple branches. It would be one aspect of communicating organizational culture. According to Casey and Stavastinuk (2007), “Nothing stimulates change like change. When staff members observe new ideas being implemented, they see that innovation is recognized—and possibly rewarded…. Set a goal of two or three fast-track ideas a year. Get them going, gather numbers regarding success or failure, and have a review team sit down and evaluate after six months. If it isn’t working, kill it. Don’t make a big deal out of failures” p. 43. An internal blog would create an avenue for getting clarification or giving input.
Additionally, while it is important to gather ideas, there should be systems in place to manifest them. You could have a team investigating and evaluating these new ideas, a planning team to determine feasibility, and, for those ideas that were implemented, a review team to somewhat regularly evaluate the service (Casey & Savastinuk, 2007). If you want your organization to be a living, responsive organization, it is imperative to empower change agents within the organization to navigate change in an intentional manner.
Casey, M. E., & Savastinuk, L. C. (2007). Library 2.0: A guide to participatory library service. Medford, N.J: Information Today