For my director’s brief, I’m proposing a transition from Dewey Decimal Classification to a reader-interest based classification system for a branch library.
The brief’s stated objective is to “execute a bookstore style makeover to demystify our collections, making our stacks captivating to our regular patrons and enticing to newcomers.”
I hope you read and enjoy!
Uniting many of the articles in the “Library as Classroom” track is a vision of collaborative learning in shared, dynamic spaces. Rather than traditional educational models that conceive of the learner as a relatively passive recipient (e.g., knowledge being transmitted from book to reader, from teacher to student), these emerging paradigms prioritize activity on the part of learners. “Learn by doing” became a “mantra” of Stephens’ transformative learning seminar (2016, p. 124), which had students conceptualizing and running learning programs themselves in real libraries. “Messy” is one of the words he uses (positively) to describe the experience.
“Messy” also figures prominently in Joshua Block’s (2014) moving account of the art and dance classes he runs for high schoolers, in which he establishes parameters and sets high expectations, but allows students great latitude in how they realize their projects. “I structure projects so that students have a choice,” Block writes. Exercising choice, being self-directed, is something that child and teen users especially are often denied. Block recognizes the importance of providing choice in order to stimulate activity and authentic engagement. This resonates with the Collected Learning Alliance’s principle of interest-powered learning — the idea that the personal interests a learner brings to the learning environment can be a powerful driver of the learning experience (Nygren, 2014, p. 5). Other principles of dynamic learning environments emphasized by the Alliance include being production-centered, openly networked, and cross-generational. These ideas are valued both by forward-thinking public libraries (Bookey, 2015), and academic ones (Lippincott, 2015). Public libraries in particular seem well positioned to foster environments in which different generations of users can come together and create learning opportunities that are hard to replicate in commercial or private contexts.
I especially liked Bookey’s examples of the public libraries that collaborated with local biologists and parks and recreation departments to create outdoor adventures that combined science and storytelling. Librarians don’t need to be subject experts themselves; rather they should become expert at facilitating connections and experiences between their users and other resources.
“Connecting users to resources” sounds, in a general sense, like what reference librarians have always been tasked with. Brian Kenney’s article in Publisher’s Weekly starts to bring into focus how the reference librarian’s way of assisting users can be transformed into “help doing things, rather than finding things.” Examples in Bookey and Nygren show the way to exactly what “a more immersive and transformative experience” can look like for libraries. It should include both new tech and older, time-honored activities, inside the library and out, and the connections and knowledge built should resemble a web more than the one- or two-way streets.
Block, J. (2014, January 7). Embracing messy learning. Edutopia. Retrieved from: https://www.edutopia.org/blog/embracing-messy-learning-joshua-block
Bookey, J. L. (2015). 8 Awesome Ways Libraries Are Making Learning Fun. Huffington Post. Retrieved from: https://www.huffpost.com/entry/8-awesome-ways-libraries-_b_7157462
Kenney, B. (2015). Where reference fits in the Modern Library. Publishers Weekly. https://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/industry-news/libraries/article/68019-for-future-reference.html
Lippincott, J. (2015). The future for teaching and learning. American Libraries. Retrieved from: https://americanlibrariesmagazine.org/2015/02/26/the-future-for-teaching-and-learning/
Nygren, Å. (2014). The public library as a community hub for connected learning. [Conference paper.] Retrieved from: http://library.ifla.org/1014/1/167-nygren-en.pdf
Stephens, M. (2016). The heart of librarianship: Attentive, positive, and purposeful change. ALA Editions.
The diffusion of AI into everyday life via consumer products like smartphones and home assistants like Amazon Echo and Google Home has progressed to the point that they are now taken-for-granted presences, utilized readily and casually. For instance: my roommate kindly offers to walk my dog this afternoon and asks me what time would be best. I tell him between 1 and 2pm. Right away he addresses his Apple Watch: “Hey Siri — set an alarm for 1:30.” Why does he prefer this to setting an alarm manually? Giving the verbal command takes five seconds; typing in the command might take only 15 or 20, but that’s still three to five times as long. Also, he has a guitar in his lap. Giving the verbal command is physically easier. This is one small, almost insignificant, example of AI saving time by enabling multi-tasking. Multiply this over the course of a day, or a lifetime, and there’s the potential to save a lot of time. There’s also a feeling of empowerment, of being in charge, the conductor of one’s life, waving a verbal baton and seeing one’s desires fulfilled frictionlessly–or maybe occasionally having to enunciate more clearly. It helps the user feel more autonomous. Put simply: AI makes it easier to do things! To hear the news, to get the weather forecast, to turn on the lights, to hear a favorite song, and on and on.
The catch is that these technologies are bound up with what Harvard’s Shoshana Zuboff calls “surveillance capitalism.” In exchange for the utility provided by AI, users allow themselves to be surveilled, conceding much of their privacy and allowing themselves to be subject to the personally-targeted advertising that has supercharged the economic growth of Google and Facebook. But while that makes AI sound potentially dangerous for the user, the articles in this module indicate that most people accept this trade-off happily, and many people even feel positively about the advertising they see (Perdiman, 2018).
What does all this mean for libraries? One of the pillars of library values, articulated in ALA’s Library Bill of Rights, is the protection of privacy (ALA, 2019). Libraries provide a wealth of information to users while asking little of users in exchange. But does this also mean that libraries are less able to provide the personalized, data-driven service that people increasingly expect? For instance, by default most libraries do not keep records of users’ prior checkouts. Sometimes users come up to us and ask us for information on their past checkouts even though we don’t have it! We tell them they can enable tracking of their history in their Bibliocommons account, but we can’t see this history on our side. How do libraries compete with corporate information providers that make their business by catering to users’ personal desires and putting fulfillment right at their fingertips?
I liked Griffey’s distinction between the remote data analysis approach of Google and the local, device-based analysis used by Apple (2019). He is right to recommend that the local analysis approach should be used by libraries wherever possible. I’m not a budding systems librarian, but it seems to me a sensible suggestion by Griffey that libraries should take advantage of machine learning to make their offerings more “discoverable.” I think library collections can be analyzed and better promoted with the help of AI analysis without sharing private information remotely. It’s all a matter of library leaders making the correct calls when they’re negotiating with providers of AI technology. Hopefully, libraries can band together in new or existing consortia so that they can leverage AI in a cost effective way without resorting to contracting with large, for-profit companies.
What seems potentially tricker to me is how libraries can interface their content with consumer appliances like Echo and Google Home. Stephens (2018) suggests some intriguing possibilities, like syncing library audio content to these devices. While I was initially skeptical of this because such compatibility might seem to Amazon to pose a threat to Audible sales and subscriptions, there is a precedent for this kind of thing, since many libraries offer ebook checkouts that work with Kindle.
Overall, I think there are ways for libraries to integrate their services and content with consumer AI systems, but this is a path that must be tread carefully, making sure to avoid sacrificing the library’s important value of privacy.
ALA. (2019). Library Bill of Rights. Retrieved from: http://www.ala.org/advocacy/intfreedom/librarybill
Griffey, J. (2019, March 1). AI and machine learning: The challenges of artificial. American Libraries. Retrieved from: https://americanlibrariesmagazine.org/2019/03/01/ai-machine-learning-libraries/
Perdiman, D. (2018, January 5). Here’s how people say Google Home and Alexa impact their lives: People are increasingly willing to let go of their privacy concerns in exchange for a whole lot of convenience. Fast Company. Retrieved from: https://www.fastcompany.com/40513721/heres-how-people-say-google-home-and-alexa-impact-their-lives
Stephens, M. (2018, February 22). Flash briefing. Retrieved from: https://www.libraryjournal.com/?detailStory=flash-briefing-office-hours
Zuboff, S. (2019). The age of surveillance capitalism: The fight for a human future at the new frontier of power. PublicAffairs.
The ascendance of podcasts, TED talks, and even reality TV shows is evidence of people’s thirst for stories, especially true stories told by the people who have lived them. Stories are how we feel connected — through self-expression when we take on the role of storyteller, and appreciation and empathy for others when we are listeners. Libraries have long offered access to many stories — in the form of paper books, ebooks, audio books, and movies. But some libraries have experimented with a more intimate, individual, community-oriented approach to connecting through stories. Enter the Human Library.
The Human Library Project (HLP) began in Denmark in 2000 and has since grown into a nonprofit platform inspiring events in many dozens of countries across the globe (Human Library Organization, 2020). The main idea of HLP is to promote direct, human-to-human learning in real time and in person by allowing users to “check out” a fellow human with deep knowledge of certain subject, especially relating to identity, status or life experience that the user wants to learn more about. The focus is on fostering conversations that help promote understanding and empathy across demographics (Wentz, 2012). Libraries that offer the HLP model do so as discrete events — that is, they have a Human Library day rather than, say, have the human “books” always available like other circulating materials. I propose hosting this human-centered innovation where I work — the Excelsior branch of the San Francisco Public Library. The initial plan involves putting on one event as a pilot with the possibility of making it a regular event, perhaps monthly or quarterly.
Purpose and Benefits
The purpose of hosting HLP at SFPL’s Excelsior branch is to galvanize the social connection that happens at the library and to increase the extent to which the library is identified as a unique and valued third place, a place to connect with others outside of the home and workplace. The type of knowledge sharing that HLP fosters can motivate people to come to the library and increase local esteem for the library (Huang, Dobreski, & Xia, 2017, p. 1160). It also constitutes a participatory service, where community members and library patrons are not just users but active providers of information to one another. This will help increase patrons’ sense of ownership, a belief that the library is theirs, what they make of it.
Community and Library Profile
SFPL’s Excelsior branch serves a neighborhood of roughly 40,000 people, in which ¾ of all households are classified as family households (San Francisco Planning Department, 2017, p. 16). The neighborhood is majority non-white, with nearly half of the population identifying as Asian, one-third Latino, and 17% identifying as “other” or two or more races. 54% of Excelsior residents are foreign born, making it the second highest immigrant district in the city after Chinatown. Languages other than English are spoken in 72% of households in the Excelsior. Educational attainment is low compared to other neighborhoods of San Francisco; roughly half of adult residents’ highest level of education was identified as high school or less, and only 6% of adult residents reported having a professional or graduate degree.
The Excelsior branch serves this diverse community by offering generous collections of English, Spanish, and Chinese materials for all ages as well as a medium collection of Filipino materials and assorted materials in other languages. Various staff at Excelsior are fluent in Cantonese, Mandarin, and Spanish and thus able to offer direct service to patrons who are monolingual in those languages. In addition, the branch has several other staff members who possess basic conversational Spanish and can help provide basic services to Spanish-speaking patrons. Children’s storytimes and various other programs are offered in English, Chinese and Spanish.
The Excelsior branch’s staff of librarians and support staff totals twenty people, with seven of those positions being full-time.
Description of Users We Wish To Engage
With this program, we wish to engage users who may not have ever participated in library events or who have done so only passively. We encourage the participation of people who want to assume an active role in sharing their knowledge and life experiences with others who are interested in learning from them. We especially want to recruit participants who may not have experience being viewed as an authority, giving them an opportunity to share their knowledge and stories with strangers for the first time. We also recognize that our most avid users will have an interest in this program, too, and we encourage their participation as well. A combination of old and new faces will make this program strong and help our library’s present grow into our library’s future.
Evidence and Resources to Support Service
While it appears that some libraries have used the general HLP model without officially coordinating with Denmark’s Human Library Project Organization, we will begin our event planning process by applying with the organization to be officially recognized as an affiliated event. According to their webpage, no San Francisco public library location has ever hosted an HLP event through them. The only past participants in San Francisco are a few K-12 schools and a community college. Leaning on the Human Library Organization’s two decades of experience and the supportive materials they provide will help ensure that our event has a solid foundation. Other resources we will look to will include OCLC’s Webjunction (Living Library Project, n.d.), which has an archive of resources from other libraries that have put on these events. Resources at Webjunction include webinars, signage and promotional materials. The conference paper by Huang, Dobreski and Xia (2017) also contains thorough case studies with plenty of wisdom and recommendations for running human library programs.
Action Brief Statements
Statement for readers: With our HLP events, we seek to convince users and non-users that by attending our HLP events and checking out human “books” they will learn new things about the lives and experiences of their fellow community members, which will help strengthen our neighborhood because conversations help people understand one another and build connection.
Statement for volunteer “books”: With our HLP events, we seek to convince users and non-users that by volunteering to be a human “book” they will be providing unique learning opportunities to fellow community members, which will strengthen our neighborhood because conversations help people build connection with one another.
Funding and Staffing Considerations
All “books” and readers will be participating as volunteers. The three core staff of the HLP committee (see Action Steps below) will need to be in charge of running the event. To help cover their normal work at the branch, budgeting for two substitute workers from SFPL for the 4-5 hours of the event will be necessary. The HLP committee lead will seek approval from the Chief of Branches office for this expenditure of additional labor hours. Funding for equipment and supplies is minimal. The event will take place in Excelsior’s program room, the only equipment needs will be the display for showing check-in and check-out, options for which include using an easel or two, or a projector connected to a laptop in the program room itself. The community room is already equipped with a computer and a projector.
Promotion and Marketing
Promotion will include physical and online posters and flyering, weekly posts to SFPL’s social media accounts (especially Instagram, which has by far the greatest engagement of SF library users of all the major social media platforms), and small posters at all library branches in the south east district. A large, lifesize cutout human book poster will be stood up just inside the entrance of the Excelsior branch. This display will give information first for recruiting “books” and then, once enough books have been recruited and the event day draws nearer, it will advertise the event itself. The event will also be highlighted in the monthly program brochures for both the Excelsior branch and the SFPL system as a whole. The web calendars will highlight the event as well, including as one of the slides on the splash page of SFPL.org. Community organizations that have either direct or tangential connections to the book subjects being represented will also be given flyers and brochures to distribute to their constituents.
Action Steps and Timeline
- Propose event to Excelsior’s branch manager.
- After branch manager’s approval, form an HLP event committee of at least three branch staff members — ideally at least one librarian, one advanced paraprofessional staff, and one page. (Recruit via conversation and email, making sure to communicate the announcement to all branch staff.)
- Schedule initial meeting for HLP committee.
- Hold meeting and collaboratively answer the application questions on https://humanlibrary.org/human-library-organizers/organizer/. At meeting, decide on roles: logistics lead, visual marketing lead, event setup lead.
- Apply for official affiliation at Humanlibrary.org and then wait for approval from Human Library Organization (potentially 4 weeks).
- Schedule the HLP event on a weekend day at least 2 months out. Make sure no other major branch or neighborhood events conflict.
- Hold second committee meeting to discuss current state of event planning, go over questions and uncertainties, and get ready for next steps.
- Design marketing posters and other images for social media dissemination and flyering/posting at the branch and other branches and community spaces.
- Begin recruiting “books” and readers via social media, posters at the branch, the library website and event calendars, and word of mouth. Reach out to community groups to seek out volunteer “books” if reinforcements are needed. Several volunteers to assist running the program may also be recruited.
- Design and finalize check-in/check-out system. Either use projector or purchase or repurpose easels for the event, which will show the “book” collection and check in/check out status for books.
- Design surveys and other evaluation tools to help gauge success of event.
- Host event!
- Hold a meeting to review evaluations and discuss how the event went.
Huang, Dobreski, & Xia (2017) recommend that HLP-style events explore moving away from paper surveys in favor of digital systems for evaluation (p. 1162). In that spirit, a Survey Monkey or GoogleForm that auto-populates into a spreadsheet and can present the data instantly in graphs and other visualization would be helpful and spare staff the additional labor of having to manually collate and code numerous written responses.
To gauge patron satisfaction, we will have separate online surveys for both books and readers, asking what they liked about the program, what they didn’t like, and ways to improve potential future versions. We will also interview any other volunteers involved in the program to get their perspective on how the program was run.
The following attendance data will be tracked: number of readers, number of books, length of sessions.
Excelsior | San Francisco Public Library (n.d.). Retrieved from: https://sfpl.org/locations/excelsior
Huang, Y., Dobreski, B., Xia, H. (2017). Human library: Understanding experience sharing for community knowledge building. Proceedings of the 2017 ACM conference on computer supported cooperative work and social computing, p. 1152-1165. ACM Digital Library. DOI: 10.1145/2998181.2998312
Human Library Organization. (2020). http://humanlibrary.org/
Living Library Project: Don’t Judge a Book By Its Cover. (n.d.). https://www.webjunction.org/events/webjunction/Living_Library_Project_Dont_Judge_a_Book_By_Its_Cover.html
San Francisco Planning Department. (2017). “San Francisco Neighborhoods Socio-Economic Profiles: American Community Survey 2010-2014. Retrieved from: https://default.sfplanning.org/publications_reports/SF_NGBD_SocioEconomic_Profiles/2010-2014_ACS_Profile_Neighborhoods_v3AH.pdf
Wentz, E. (2012). The human library: Sharing the community with itself. Public Libraries, 51(3), 3, 38–40.
Reading about Dokk1 and the other innovative libraries highlighted by the Model Programme, my thoughts went back to my favorite reading from this semester so far, Shannon Mattern’s “Library As Infrastructure” (2014). Mattern argues that “thinking about the library as a network of integrated, mutually reinforcing, evolving infrastructures — in particular, architectural, technological, social, epistemological and ethical infrastructures — can help us better identify what roles we want our libraries to serve, and what we can reasonably expect of them.” The libraries included in Model Programme’s case studies seem to be designed according to just this sort of holistic view: connected intricately with other essential spaces and services of civic life.
Architecturally, the Model Programme libraries show a real investment in being beautiful — or at least strikingly modern. Many of them look more like contemporary museums than the traditional collonaded Carnegie libraries. Granted, those older libraries are beautiful, in an old school way. But that’s just the thing–the newer libraries’ embrace of modern design harmonizes with a hyperlinked approach, using space to inspire and encourage interaction. From the Library of Birmingham case study page, “The foyer of the Library is critical. It is deliberately conceived as a very generously proportioned landing strip, both to allow mingling and meeting and an event/exhibition/activity space to develop, but also to remove the sense of intimidation that a narrow portal-style entrance and foyer can create” (Case: Library of Birmingham, 2017). The much smaller Canada Water Library in the Southwark district of London still tries to accomplish the same. (Canada Water Library, 2017). The building tapers to a narrower base to allow more space on the exterior grounds for walking, mingling and viewing the water and local environment. What might have been merely a sidewalk was designed into an esplanade.
The Model Programme libraries also show attentiveness to sociological, ethical aspects of what libraries do. In her essay, Mattern discusses part of what she means by the “ethical infrastructure” of libraries when she writes about why the so-called haves and have-nots should both be included and involved: “[T]he library should incorporate the ‘enfranchised’ as a key public, both so that the institution can reinforce its mission as a social infrastructure for an inclusive public, and so that privileged, educated users can bring their knowledge and talents to the library and offer them up as social-infrastructural resources.” The Birmingham Library’s case study webpage gives some indication that they share this vision when they write about their desire for the library to be “valuable to the corporate and professional sector and to homeless people alike.”
There is also transportational infrastructure to consider, and many of the Model Programme libraries are wedded to transportation hubs or along well-travelled thoroughfares. This integrates the libraries into their environments and helps people access them, boosting the chances of the library becoming a hub. The Canada Water Library was conceived as one part of a larger urban renewal plan for Southwark. “The urban renewal takes place in several stages: at first a tube station was built, later the plaza and library were established and the area is still undergoing the last stage of the development which involves residential housing.” The planning behind this shows that the developers value the cultural role that libraries play, understanding that communities need more than shops and restaurants and other consumer spaces for gathering and relating.
All of this indicates an increasingly sensitive design thinking approach to building and operating libraries. For libraries to be successful, their design needs to address a lot more than just library services as traditionally conceived. Libraries need to link their users not just to information resources, but to places, spaces and communities. The Model Programme libraries offer great examples for how to achieve that.
Canada Water Library: The library as urban developer. (2017, September 18). Model Programme for Public Libraries. Retrieved from: https://modelprogrammer.slks.dk/en/
Case: Library of Birmingham (2017, September 18). Model Programme for Public Libraries. Retrieved from: https://modelprogrammer.slks.dk/en/cases/inspirational-cases/library-of-birmingham/
Dokk1. (2017, September 18). Model Programme for Public Libraries. Retrieved from: https://modelprogrammer.slks.dk/en/cases/inspirational-cases/dokk1/
Mattern, S. (2014, June). Library as infrastructure. Places journal, June 2014. DOI: 10.22269/140609
Catching up with the recording of Michael Casey’s chat with our class (Casey, 2020), I took note of how the two biggest recent changes he has helped implement at the Gwinnett County Public Library (GCPL) are of an analog, brick-and-mortar variety: removing the reference desks and organizing the non-fiction collections by BISAC instead of Dewey. Even the third major change, introducing the Open+ system to allow users self-service access to certain locations when staff are not there, is more about increasing in-person, physical access, even though its execution of course requires networked technology. This gets to the idea that a hyperlinked library approach is about a lot more than just incorporating as much digital interactivity as possible; the philosophy is fundamentally about a willingness to look beyond old paradigms and make design changes of all kinds to improve service. As Stephens (2017) contends, old school versus new school is a false choice. Casey’s initiatives with GCPL answer the big question that Stephens says we should ask: “What would make [our users’] lives easier?”
The other module 5 readings show a lot of evidence of library professionals looking at their work through the “lens of compassion and empathy” Stephens advocates, focusing at least as much on physical interaction as digital. Lauersen (2018) gives a keynote address for a UX conference, yet his focus is entirely on the human element, especially the diversity and inclusiveness of libraries. Dixon (2017) details inspiring library programs that have helped gather together diverse elements of specific library communities for challenging discussions on social issues and local history. Smith (2017) informs readers of the Madison Public Library’s efforts at “reorienting the library toward community-led initiatives” by soliciting program concepts and execution from the community. Even North Carolina State University’s Instagram campaign for the opening of its Hunt Library was a way to get students to engage with the library as a physical gathering space where creative ideas could be catalyzed, recorded and shared (Casden, Nutt, Lown, & Davidson, 2013). This latter initiative certainly exemplifies the kind of “interaction across virtual and physical planes” that Stephens (2016, p. 41) says is essential to reaching out effectively to library communities.
As a little postscript, I also want to note how much I appreciate Casey (2020) reporting on how staff have been included in the development of GCPL’s programs. He and Savastinuk (2007) emphasized this in Library 2.0’s Chapter 7: Getting Everyone One Board. Seeing that kind of follow-through, and in these particular contexts, is helpful and encouraging.
Casden, J., Nutt, M., Lown, C., & Davidson, B. (2013, April 29). My #HuntLibrary: Using Instagram to crowdsource the story of a new library. ALA.org. https://acrl.ala.org/techconnect/post/my-huntlibrary-using-instagram-to-crowdsource-the-story-of-a-new-library/
Casey, M. (2020, February 18). Michael Casey Recording [Class video conference]. SJSU.edu. https://287.hyperlib.sjsu.edu/blog/michael-casey-recording/
Casey, M. E., & Savastinuk, L. C. (2007). Library 2.0: A guide to participatory library service. Information Today.
Dixon, J. (2017, October 23) Convening community conversation. Library Journal. https://www.libraryjournal.com/?detailStory=convening-community-conversations-programming#_
Lauersen, C. (2018, June 7). Do you want to dance? Inclusion and belonging in libraries and beyond. Christianlauersen.net https://christianlauersen.net/2018/06/07/inclusion-and-belonging-in-libraries-and-beyond/
Smith. C. (2017, June 25). Madison’s library takeover. American Libraries. https://americanlibrariesmagazine.org/blogs/the-scoop/madisons-library-takeover/?utm_content=buffer8a08c&utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook.com&utm_campaign=buffer
Stephens, M. (2016). The heart of librarianship: Attentive, positive, and purposeful change. ALA Editions.
Stephens, M. (2017, April 20). Libraries in balance. Library Journal. https://www.libraryjournal.com/?detailStory=libraries-in-balance-office-hours
John Palfrey’s BiblioTech: Why Libraries Matter More Than Ever in the Age of Google (2015) passionately argues for libraries and librarians to embrace the digital and invest heavily in creating networked platforms with other libraries in order to maintain relevance in the increasingly competitive and corporate information economy. In an early chapter, Palfrey outlines the paradox that libraries face in the digital age: “Libraries are expected to provide more services, across more formats, than ever before, but with fewer resources” (p. 27). Given the torrential proliferation of information and yet the preciousness and precariousness of funding for libraries, Palfrey’s signal directive is for libraries to engage cooperatively in constructing networks of “shared open-source platforms, shared professional development opportunities, shared collection development, and coordinated mass digitization” (p. 125).
What does this look like? “Instead of storing redundant sets of physical materials, libraries will begin to share access to commonly held digital materials […] Libraries and their partners in archives, museums, and funding agencies [would] work together to create common cloud-based infrastructure as well as materials and code” (p. 93-94). If libraries team up to form such larger systems, each location serving as a node and access point of those larger systems (p. 114), then a kind of strength-in-numbers effect can be leveraged, increasing offerings to all participants while reducing redundant labor (p. 153). Digital technologies make this kind of robust networking possible, and the ramped-up competition of the information economy makes it necessary. Palfrey points to interlibrary loan (p. 185) and OCLC’s WorldCat (p. 124) as precedents — cooperative ventures which substantially benefited libraries. But he characterizes his vision of networked platforms as a much more fundamental overhaul, not merely an add-on to an existing system that otherwise functions fairly similarly to how it did before. Palfrey’s re-envisioning of how libraries can work provides a possible answer to “The Challenge” Michael Buckland (1992) laid out nearly three decades ago: “The longer term, more interesting question is: How could library service be re-designed with a change in technology? This is a matter of how to do better, different things.”
Elsewhere in his book, Palfrey acknowledges the successes of makerspaces and digital media labs in libraries, especially those aimed at kids like YouMedia (p. 76). And like other commentators in the field, he suggests libraries continue moving from a materials-focused identity to a service-focused one (p. 115). In a sharp phrase, he writes, “The powerful core idea is to focus less on books per se and more on knowledge transfer within a community” ( emphasis added, p. 73). Activities that support these kinds of knowledge transfers are what Palfrey believes should be emphasized in libraries as places. Palfrey also points out that, in an increasingly overwhelming information landscape, librarians have the “competitive advantage” of being professionals at “sorting credible from less credible information” (p. 142).
Palfrey calls for increased government funding while suggesting that a deus ex machina in the form of a philanthropic icon — an Andrew Carnegie for the 21st century — wouldn’t be so bad, either. He argues that, among the wide array of public infrastructure spending, libraries provide a relatively high return on investment: “Compared to most other shared public costs, such as education, security, and health care, libraries do not require big money. In relative terms, tiny public investments in libraries go a very long way” (p. 19). Regarding where this money should go, Palfrey suggests much more of it needs to go to research and development, to enact changes assertively rather than merely react (217). This echoes Mathews (2012), who wrote that “Instead of assessment, we need to focus on R&D” (p. 8). That is, to innovate rather than react.
If tech companies have so far proved more agile and creative at producing digital infrastructure and serving users of new media, why should the public care if libraries catch up and establish equal relevance? And what if libraries aren’t up to the challenge? What if they are too slow? Throughout the book, Palfrey makes clear his belief that libraries, as they have existed since the mid-1800s, have been fundamentally democratic institutions, important to the survival of democracy itself: “Libraries provide access to the skills and knowledge necessary to fulfill our role as active citizens. Libraries also function as essential equalizing institutions in our society. For as long as a library exists in most communities, staffed with trained librarians, it remains true that individuals’ access to our shared culture is not dictated by however much money they have” (p. 9). Palfrey is consistently strident on the need for noncorporate information sources and gatekeepers, while warning that corporate players are more than ready to monopolize this field should libraries falter (p. 104).
Palfrey’s basic arguments speak both practically and morally to the survival of libraries, and his vision of libraries being intricately and robustly networked with one another, on every scale from regional to global, is one I hope libraries achieve. If there is any limit to his vision, I would say it is in his eagerness to turn the page on the paper book as part of this overhaul. My hunch is that, as both work and leisure activities become increasingly dominated by screens, people will continue to want to engage with paper books and other traditionally tactile materials as a way of taking a break from screens and direct digital mediation. He claims that, for digital natives, “physical life and online exploration are not separate worlds. Their reality is not ‘online life’ and ‘offline life’–it’s all just ‘life’” (p. 46). He doesn’t leave room for the possibility that reading a screen and reading a bound book on printed paper could be phenomenologically different, which recent research shows may be the case (Evans, Nowak, Burk, & Willoughby, 2017).
Personally, I found sitting down with a paper library copy of BiblioTech and a pencil in hand to be a comforting respite from all the screen-based reading and typing I had been immersed in for all of my other school assignments. And it appears I’m far from alone in wanting to keep a lot of books around; students across the globe feel the same value that books and other physical materials contribute to libraries as “Third Spaces” (Leferink, 2018). Libraries must stay attentive to this, too, if they are to distinguish themselves from all the other options out there in today’s attention economy.
Buckland, M. K. (1992). Redesigning library services: A manifesto. Chicago: American Library Association. Retrieved from: https://digitalassets.lib.berkeley.edu/sunsite/Redesigning%20Library%20Services_%20A%20Manifesto%20(HTML).pdf
Evans, M.A., Nowak, S., Burek, B., & Willoughby, D. (2017). The effect of alphabet eBooks and paper books on preschoolers’ behavior: An analysis over repeated readings. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 40(3), 1-12.
Leferink, S. (2018). To keep people happy … keep some books. Next [Blog]. Retrieved from: http://www.oclc.org/blog/main/to-keep-people-happy-keep-some-books/).
Mathews, B. (2012). Think like a startup: a white paper to inspire library entrepreneurialism [White paper]. Retrieved February 16, 2020, from VTechWorks: https://digitalassets.lib.berkeley.edu/sunsite/Redesigning%20Library%20Services_%20A%20Manifesto%20(HTML).pdf
Palfrey, J. (2015). BiblioTech: Why libraries matter more than ever in the age of Google. Basic Books.
In the early readings for this class, I’ve already been exposed to three different library manifestos of sorts, one from each of the last three decades. The oldest, Buckland’s Redesigning Library Services (1992), is the one that is actually labeled a manifesto in its subtitle. Despite being almost thirty years old, it delivers many insights of present-day relevance. One that struck me particularly is Buckland’s claim that the changes from analog to digital handling of information have led to “an entirely different perspective: from a library-centered worldview to one that is user centered.” This is an important dynamic of the digital age, and one that libraries are still figuring out how to grapple with. What does it mean when libraries no longer dictate the terms of information access? Libraries have to try to stay relevant and helpful, despite the rising popularity of resources like Google and Wikipedia that are easy to use and available from any device with an internet connection, irrespective of place or the presence of librarians. For anyone looking at the situation, not just critics, this would seem to pose a real threat to libraries.
The second manifesto (a manifesto-as-manual, you could say) is Library 2.0 (2007), in which Casey and Savastinuk provide a vision for reestablishing libraries on firm ground, albeit a ground that is constantly shifting. They urge libraries and librarians to embrace participatory service, especially the potential of digital technology to engage users. Despite Library 2.0 being well over a decade old, libraries still have a lot of work to do in this regard. Also, it’s important to note that Casey and Savastinuk’s approach is not solely concerned with the digital. Fundamentally, they ask: “What are your users doing elsewhere that they could be doing through your library?” (p. 34). Many of these activities will involve digital technology, of course, due to the extent to which such tech is woven into daily life. But it’s not just tech. The general rise of maker spaces in libraries is a phenomenon that responds to such needs outlined in the book.
It does seem that Casey and Savastinuk overreach at times. In Chapter 5, for instance, they write, “Through the use of blogs, wikis, podcasts, tagging, and other ways of structuring data, it is now possible for users to have as much—if not more—control over the actual content of the Web than corporations with an official Web presence” (p. 59). This exaggerates the extent to which users’ voices can dominate over corporate presences, which after all still control much of the structure of the technology we use as well as associated advertising in many cases. Also, in the wake of the 2016 hacking and Facebook-facilitated fake news, this quote hasn’t aged well: “The participatory Web has limitless fact checkers, editors, and rewriters, making it almost impossible to lie to this new world of users” (p. 60).
The third manifesto I’ve read for this class is BiblioTech: Why Libraries Matter More Than Ever In The Age Of Google by John Palfrey (2015), which I’ll cover with more attention in my upcoming context book review. It shares some of the major concerns of Buckland, Casey and Savastinuk, and has many strongly-stated ideas for how to bring libraries right up to the cutting edge of the networked present.
Buckland, M. K. (1992). Redesigning library services: A manifesto. Chicago: American Library Association. Retrieved from: https://digitalassets.lib.berkeley.edu/sunsite/Redesigning%20Library%20Services_%20A%20Manifesto%20(HTML).pdf
Casey, M. E., & Savastinuk, L. C. (2007). Library 2.0: A guide to participatory library service. Medford, N.J: Information Today.
Palfrey, J. (2015). BiblioTech: Why libraries matter more than ever in the age of Google. New York: Basic.
My name is Michael Ulrich, and I’m about two-and-a-half years into my tenure with the San Francisco Public Library, where I currently work as a Library Assistant for my neighborhood branch. I imagine a long career with SFPL or other Bay Area libraries as a branch adult services librarian, but I’m open minded about specialization and I can definitely envision myself leading story times and singing songs to children. I’ve received plenty of encouragement from my coworkers, including many graduates of SJSU’s program.
I’m excited to delve more deeply into library services with my other two courses this semester, Children’s Programming and Services and Reference Services. I’m hoping this class will help me kind of see around the corner to what being a network-savvy librarian means, which I think will be important for my future in the field. I chose this course in part because it came highly recommended by a colleague, and also because I greatly enjoyed Info-200 with Stephens.
Over a decade ago, I graduated from UC Davis with a BA in Technocultural Studies–a program that has since been combined with UCD’s cinema program to form the much more straightforwardly named Department of Cinema and Digital Media. I also have a certificate in Library Information Technology from City College of San Francisco.
In my free time I play and record music in my little home studio, collect records (especially soul music from the 70s and 80s), read eclectically (mostly literature and cultural criticism), and hike along the trails of local and regional parks with my dog Xochi.