This module on Hyperlinked Environments offered me several points for reflection. Following along with the Choose Your Own Adventure model, I decided to focus on three different topic areas that capture my interests as a current MLIS student, and future librarian: The Hyperlinked Public Library; Hyperlinked Museums, Galleries, and Archives; and Libraries & COVID-19. I examined these with an eye for how to center issues of equity and deepen participatory service and design, both major goals of mine in considering my future library work.
In the Hyperlinked Library sphere, the Four Spaces model both discussed by Laerkes and also detailed on the Agency for Culture and Palaces’ Model Programme website underlines a thread I’ve seen across our readings, which is that while the Hyperlinked Library model is based in a commitment to constant change that nurtures user participation in designing, evaluating, and refining changes, that there is still a need for change to be built on a foundation, a framework that helps ensure that whatever new service is being created, it stays aligned with the mission and goals of user service. Whether or not a library adopts the Four Spaces model or something else to guide its planning, implementation, and evaluation work, keeping the change purposeful requires some level of structure to base these three activities around. This type of (re)visioning is distinct from rebranding — which deals superficially with the image/common perception of the library — in that it is much more substantive in user engagement, and is meant to develop a plan that is both focused and adaptable. In the end, the goal is not a new marketing campaign (alone), but a significant change in user service or experience. (Dr. Stephens’ strong assertion that librarians create mission statements for all their services and programs — existing and emerging — also underlines this understanding that hyperlinked environments can be both driven by an openness to adaptability and a grounding in answering the fundamental question: is this service creating a valuable experience for users?
That ability to hold both a flexibility and strategic mindset is something I think is essential to building more equitable services, since it enables change to serve a growing diversity of users. It also can enable change to ensure existing users are being served equitably as well. I was struck by Dr. Stephens’ description of Dokk1’s approach to maintaining order in the library space in “Dream Explore Experiment,” based in eliminating restrictive library policies and reintroducing some back as necessary (Stephens, 2019). This reflects an understanding that conventional patron policies far too often replicate other social institutions’ punitive or carceral approach, and that to be more inclusive and welcoming spaces, libraries need to reject this approach. As an aspiring librarian of color who wants to center equity in my work, this is essential to me. My home system, Seattle Public Library, has well-documented how the consequences for “disruptive behavior” in the library by some users are disparate across Black and white youth. While there have been some attempts to address this through diversity trainings and the like, I believe the eliminating restrictions approach would be much more transformative. There obviously need to be some uncrossable lines (such violence against staff or other users), but many library restrictions seem to take up valuable time, and work against cultivating a welcoming environment.
In terms of Libraries and COVID, Rainie’s Pew Report from 2014 offers up a lot of useful facts, but I’m really interested to see a significant report on how the pandemic may have affected folks’ use and perception of libraries. Fact 5 cites 80% of Americans responding that no-cost access to books and media was the most important service that libraries provide. It’s likely that number has gone up, and depending on a given system’s existing offerings and how it has pivoted to meet them during COVID, that some other services — some of them virtual events-related experiences — may have been made more visible on users’ radar. But I’m likewise curious to see an overview of how libraries have come to more deeply understand or consider the needs of their communities because of COVID, and how needs and wants may shift due to folks’ experiences with more digital resources, such as e-books. As noted in Wilburn (2020), the pandemic may be creating some shifts around collection development/acquisition, with collection developers/managers needing to reassess even their well-researched analyses of their communities, and considering previously less prominent genres for acquisition in digital form. This can be exciting — seeing our communities’ needs shift so quickly in real time — but is likely also creating new challenges around how to resource such needs with the existing pricing structure for e-books and other online materials, significantly higher or more restrictive than acquiring print materials.
Also, some systems have worked to maintain services helpful to houseless/unsheltered patrons, such as reopening some branch restrooms before the library collections space, and providing Wifi via hotspots, parking lot access, or even routers at encampments. But will this focus persist, as physical library spaces reopen? Will we learn the lessons the pandemic provided us, around drawing on creativity and adaptability to continue connecting with and serving not just current users, but potential users?
Finally, the readings on archives really elevated the work I’d like to be doing as part of my public librarian role: supporting community engagement with and even creation of archival collections. Two fundamental principles in the archival profession exist in somewhat conflict: providing access as openly as possible to current users, while also ensuring that materials are preserved for future users. Archival practice is based in attempting to balance these two principles — which sometimes means adopting a gatekeeping, authoritative stance. Our readings — particularly Baicco (2016), Beck (2016), Becerra-Licha (2017) — describe the emerging shift away from this stance, towards one based in a “participatory archives” or “liberated archive” model, where users/community members are not only allowed much more open access to materials, they are even invited into the collection building process, provided ways to enhance such collections, and granted some measure of control over how materials are presented to and accessed by others. I believe such approaches are critical, not just to ensure that our histories are more rich, complex, and honest, but also that it reinforces the idea that information professionals should facilitate the building and ongoing enhancement of information collections — including archival collections — through participatory practice. Our universe of knowledge isn’t just contained in the library’s or archives’ physical or digital collections, but throughout our communities. As noted in the facilitation principles of the Anti-Oppression Training and Resource Alliance (aka AORTA): “No one knows everything. Together we know a lot.” (AORTA, 2017)
AORTA. (2017). Anti-Oppressive Facilitation for Democratic Process.
Baiocco, L. (2016). Labor or Love: Opening Up Archival Gems for Community Engagement.
Becerra-Licha, S. (2017). Archives as Community Practice
Beck, K. (2016). Participatory Archiving in Caribe Sur
Laerkes, J.G. (2016). The four spaces of the public library.
Rainie, L. (2014). 10 Facts about Americans and public libraries.
Stephens, M. (2019). “Dream. Explore. Experiment” in Wholehearted Librarianship, p. 60
The Agency for Culture and Palaces. (n.d.). Model programme for public libraries.
Wilburn, T. (2020). Libraries Are Dealing With New Demand For Books And Services During The Pandemic