Reflection Post: Participatory Service & Transparency

Sunday, September 19th, 2021

“A library operating without the input of its constituents is missing a vital component” (Stephens, 2012).

How can we further incorporate our community into THEIR local library or in simpler terms, what does the public want? This is the primary question librarians need to ask themselves when envisioning the future of the library. Which includes relinquishing archaic habits from the past that hinder our patrons from returning to the library. This starts with the reminder that, “The user is the sun” (Schneider, 2006). In order to receive accurate feedback of needs from their patrons, the library needs to be open with their decision making and transparent with their plans. By focusing on demographics beyond children and the elderly, the library can shift its way into the 21st century needs.

In an attempt to increase community access, the Gwinnett County Public Library (GCPL) experimented with self-service libraries which operated outside normal business hours. This method relied upon trust between the library and their patrons ultimately receiving positive reviews. To ensure that patrons returned to the library, Chapel Hill Public Library stopped charging its patrons book fees. This initiative was taken due to the declining trend of patrons returning because of a late or lost item. The MIX, a teens-only space in the San Francisco Library, “opened […] after four years of planning guided by a group of teens called the Board of Advising Youth” (Costanza, 2015). This space provides access to media tools, space for teenagers and an ability to hear what the community needs.

In order to incorporate both participatory service and transparency the library must be honest with its members on their decisions, whether it be the addition or removal of services, rebranding, etc. “They are looking to see their needs, hopes, and dreams reflected back to them. And if we’re not doing that, not only will we see our proposals fail, we’ll soon be out of business” (Kenney, 2015).

To summarize, librarians need to look at the needs beyond the faces that they see regularly. Many demographics can feel underrepresented, causing a decrease in empathy and understanding. Accurate feedback is important and unobtainable when secluded behind a closed desk. Understanding your community can cause not only an increase in patrons returning, but word of mouth. Causing new patrons to return.


Costanza, K (2015). In San Francisco, teens design a living room for high-tech learning at the public library.

Kenney, B. (2015). Lesson’s from Seattle’s failed bid to rebrand its public library.

Schneider, K (2006). The user is not broken.

Stephens, M. (2012). The heart of Librarianship.

2 comments on “Reflection Post: Participatory Service & Transparency

  1. Ruth Headley says:

    Thank you for your thoughts. I have really been enjoying seeing how other students read the same materials as me and getting to see what their perspectives are. I loved the phrase “the user is the sun”. What a good reminder that our motivation should be to serve our patrons.

  2. This is a simple yet powerful way to express what participatory service and “reaching all users” means: ” librarians need to look at the needs beyond the faces that they see regularly.” Cheers!

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