The Participatory Library Reflection

The article that really caused me to stop and think about how libraries work and what a truly participatory library model might look like was the “Automatic for the People” article that revolved around Open+ and the ‘open access’ library. When I think of a user-focused library, I honestly cannot think of something more user-accessible than a library that is there for you when you need it, regardless of if there is anyone currently working a shift.

This approach to library space as something that is mostly available to the community as needed is something that at first completely goes against almost every one of my instincts. The objections to this idea are immediate: patrons abusing their access, theft of library property, the homeless or other groups using the library as an overnight shelter. The benefits are also pretty evident: remote libraries for more rural areas become something available on lower budgets, people are able to make use of a community resource (even if it is in a diminished state regarding personnel to help them), and overall greater accessibility.

To go through with this kind of change, to really implement it into a library and take ownership of all the benefits and potential problems it might cause shows one of the most genuine acts of radical trust in library users and the community that I have ever seen. Community members are treated as trusted members of the library and are invited to take advantage of what the library has to offer with the express idea that they don’t need someone to mind them while they are doing it. Even with all the tinkering (and community feedback) that individual libraries would have to do to make this technology and model work for them, and with all the safety precautions, cameras, and remote control that Open+ gives the library, this kind of act is something which speaks to the powerful drive that librarians and those working in the library field feel to improve services and be there for the community they serve.

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3 Comments

  1. I agree – it’s a big jump in the name of radical trust! Thursday night, I spoke about libraries at a fundraiser for our local library. I talked about Gwinnett. Two people actually shook their heads “no” at the thought of this happening here in rural Michigan. But what GCPL demonstrates is that it is possible to make it work.

    1. My own library is trying to figure out a way to have an “all-hours” section of the library to help meet partron demand (which some staff freaked out over), but I think some of the physical limitations of the building layout are causing them to potentially postpone that element of the project for the time being. It is a total shame though, I really love this idea!

  2. Hi James,
    I immediately loved this idea of the “open access” library when I read about it, but I agree with you and Michael that this requires radical trust. It also requires libraries and librarians to examine their fears before they can extend that trust – which they may or not be willing to do. Your library sounds very interesting and I hope that you all find a way to have an “all hours” section of the library.

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