Libraries have an image problem. According to a 2010 OCLC study, people perceive libraries with books (Stephens, 55). While this image illuminates libraries as a place where one can gain knowledge and entertainment through books, it also pigeon-holes libraries as vast book repositories with cardigan-wearing librarians acting as both shushers and gatekeepers to knowledge. Today’s libraries offer so much more, like access to databases, computer and information literacy classes, and programming for children and teens, but this bookish image persists. So how does one change a library’s image from a sedentary book warehouse to an active environment that anticipates and meets the needs of the community it serves? By bringing in the community and having them be active participants in the planning and evaluation of library services (Casey, 2011).
To me, participatory and transparency measures that bring in the public or the library’s user community as active members in the structure of services are still a novel concept. In the mid-2010s, we saw the rise of makerspaces in libraries as participatory spaces that allowed library users to create unique, ingenious, and desirable items. As a result, library users not only learn about new technologies but also provides an opportunity to collaborate and share knowledge with other community members.
The idea of library participatory spaces, such as makerspaces, does not materialize out of thin air; as Candice Mack (2013) pointed out in her article, it requires a collaboration of both the library’s community it serves and the library staff. One example of this collaboration is the San Francisco Public Library’s YOUmedia Learning Labs. As dedicated spaces for teens, these labs allow youth learners to access and use cutting-edge technology and new media tools. Unlike other library spaces, teens were involved in every aspect, from the design process through construction, allowing them to feel that they have ownership of the space (YOUMedia, 2015).
Participatory and transparent services are the way of the future for libraries to remain relevant. We are often constrained by our image of what a library is, a place with books. We must imagine our libraries without walls, which takes not only the needs and wants but also the input of the communities we serve. Even though some library administrators and old-school librarians struggle with the concept of a participatory and transparent service model, I feel that libraries are starting to see their communities less as users and more like partners and collaborators. Collaboration and partnership with the community will fulfill a library’s mission statement to discover, create, and share ideas and information.
Casey, M. (2011). Revisiting participatory service in trying times.
Mack, C. (2013). Crowdsourced design: Why Los Angeles is asking the public to create the library of the future.
Stephens, M. (2011). “Stuck in the past” in The Heart of Librarianship.
YouMedia, (2015). In San Francisco, Teens Design a Living Room for High-Tech Learning at the Public Library