Participatory Service Planning: The Co-Lab

Dokk1 Libray Image Source


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. 

The Bubbler Image Source

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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. 
  3. 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.
  4. 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. 
  5. 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.
  6. 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. 

Evidence and Resources to Support The Co-Lab

Libraries Already Doing It:

Dokk1. (n.d.). Home. Retrieved from

Bubbler. (n.d.). Home. Retrieved from

Anythink. (n.d.). Home. Retrieved from

Resources for Staff Training:

Socrates Cafe. (n.d.) Home. Retrieved from

Public Library Association. (2020). Civic and community engagement. Retrieved from

Articles and Videos:

Putnam, L. (2016). How libraries are curating current events, becoming community debate hubs. Retrieved from How Libraries Are Curating Current Events, Becoming Community Debate Hubs

Tedx Talks. (2013, December 16). What to expect from libraries in the 21st century: Pam Sandlian Smith at TEDxMileHigh. Retrieved from

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:

  • Engaging community
  • 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.


City of Sacramento. (2020). Community centers. Retrieved from

Denning, S. (2015). Do we need libraries? Retrieved from

Friends of the Sacramento Public Library. (n.d.). Home. Retrieved from 

Niche Academy. (n.d.). Home. Retrieved from

Peet, L. (2018). Eric Klinenberg: Libraries and social infrastructure. Retrieved from

Pickert, L. (2012). Project-based homeschooling. North Charleston, SC: CreateSpace.

Sacramento Public Library-a. (2019). Colonial Heights. Retrieved from

Sacramento Public Library-b. (2019). Strategic Plan. Retrieved from

Stodghill, R. & Bower, A. (2002). Welcome to America’s most diverse city. Retrieved from,8599,340694,00.html

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Skip to toolbar