REFLECTION BLOG POST #2: On Participatory Services and Transparency

As an aspiring librarian deeply interested in centering equity and inclusion in my future work, the Hyperlinked Library model’s tenets of participatory service and transparency provide me with an innovative framework to ground my efforts. Both of these principles are about centering current users, and expanding their participation in library services, planning, and governance at an authentic, substantive level. But even further, the HL model’s vision of participatory service seeks to grow the user community through ongoing outreach, charging librarians to continually consider who isn’t being served by the library, and who isn’t at the table when decisions around services and programs are being made. It also challenges us to move past assumptions about what our communities want to truly collaborate with community members on building a dynamic, adaptable space where all can feel welcome, make connections, and enrich their lives. This positive orientation towards creative and disruptive change and willingness to cede control and power, towards a more mutual and collective vision of power, is precisely the transformation I seek to support in my future role as a public librarian. 

Like Schneider and Kenney (and I’m certain, many others), I reject the idea that the user or community member is broken, and instead believe that it is our systems and practices that need to be considered broken until we prove them otherwise (Kenney, 2014; Schneider, 2006).* I see this not as pessimism, but based in a restless and critical optimism, one synonymous with a refusal to be satisfied with what is, and in line with the focus on constant, purposeful change within the HL model. This critical optimism promotes an ongoing, positive mindset that can drive us to always be open to new ideas to better meet users where they are, instead of allowing complacency and a conservative, risk-averse mentality to guide our work as library professionals. Schneider and Kenney’s critiques call for meeting people where they are, vs. giving them what they think they need, and for us to transform our institutional practices and models of change that maintain institutional power, towards more flattened, horizontal, mutually beneficial relationships between library staff/professionals and community. This can only happen when we open up our work so community members/users can more actively determine the trajectory of our libraries with us. 

The DIY History project cited in our lecture (Stephens, 2021) is a prime example of the type of work I want to be doing; it not only helps enhance a history collection, but it does so through recognizing the depth and breadth of community knowledge as a resource. It also validates and reflects a respect for different forms of knowledge and the many forms through which knowledge can be embodied. This project creates a multidirectional information exchange, where librarians can learn from community, as opposed to the commonly held understanding of librarians as gatekeepers to all the knowledge that is worth knowing. I also found the YOUMedia model exciting, and was surprised to learn that my library system — Seattle Public Library, a fairly well-respected system — does not have a YOUMedia space, and is not part of the Learning Labs Network. This feels like a missed opportunity, I personally would be interested in promoting and exploring alongside a few other folks I know that work for the system in youth/teen services in my possible future work in this system (fingers crossed!). I have volunteered in the past for an all-ages arts organization here in Seattle, which could easily be a partner in this.

Over my time at SJSU, I’ve learned about projects such as this in the context of the Hyperlinked Library, but also through a class of Archives and Manuscripts. The archival profession has  been wrestling with questions around bias and a lack of cultural competency in its prevailing practices, with an emerging call for more inclusive collection-building and maintenance practices and models. These include inclusive description (where communities are provided opportunities to collaborate on how materials documenting their community’s culture and history are cataloged alongside archivists); community transcription of historical objects, such as letters or photo content; and the creation of folksonomies, user-generated tags and subject headings, which have already made their way into many library systems’ online catalogs. A particularly intriguing development includes culturally-responsive/attentive platforms such as the Mukurtu CMS. This content management system — developed by Dr. Kim Christen and Craig Diestrich in collaboration with the Warumungu aboriginal community based in Northern Australia — actually allow marginalized communities to determine the protocols for access and sharing of information related to their cultural heritage. All of these reflect a commitment to authentically involve community members in shaping the shared knowledge and heritage content available in their community, including enabling a more transparent process through which these materials are organized and presented. This is participatory service at its best, with users being involved in the ongoing development of materials reflecting their community’s history, and creating value that library professionals who may lack specific cultural knowledge simply cannot create themselves.

Fundamentally, participatory service and transparency are based in the recognition that libraries — and librarians — do not exist outside of, but are part of a community, and that the value of libraries is determined not by their materials or their facilities, but the possibilities they enable for community to emerge, connect, grow, and thrive together. That way, we not not only all share in the gifts of what Stephens (2016) calls the “informational commons,” but we all work together to preserve and sustain its potential to, in the words of former ALA president Loida Garcia-Febo, “expand minds and open futures” (Garcia-Febo, 2018).

* NOTE: I believe this to be true at a wider societal level in many different areas beyond librarianship, but I’ll stay focused on our more immediate topic of libraries. This is, however, a pretty useful critique around rooting discussions of inequity and social problems in systems, over individuals.

REFERENCES

Garcia-Febo, L. (2018, Nov 1). Serving with love: embedding equality, diversity, and inclusion in all that we do. American Libraries. https://americanlibrariesmagazine.org/2018/11/01/serving-with-love/ 

Kenney, B. (2014, Jan 27). The User is (Still) Not Broken. Publishers Weekly. https://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/industry-news/libraries/article/60780-the-user-is-still-not-broken.html 

Schneider, K, (2006, June 3). The User is Not Broken. Free Range Librarian. http://freerangelibrarian.com/2006/06/03/the-user-is-not-broken-a-meme-masquerading-as-a-manifesto/ 

Stephens, M. T. (2016). The heart of librarianship : attentive, positive, and purposeful change . ALA Editions, an imprint of the American Library Association.

Stephens, M. (2021). Module 4: The Hyperlinked Library: Participatory Service and Transparency [Panopto lecture]. In M. Stephens, The Hyperlinked Library. San Jose State University. https://sjsu-ischool.hosted.panopto.com/Panopto/Pages/Viewer.aspx?id=35b4e981-cd58-479a-96d3-aab3011b0f24 

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5 Responses to REFLECTION BLOG POST #2: On Participatory Services and Transparency

  1. Ruth Headley says:

    Marc, thank you for your thoughts here. I love being in a field that values inclusion, diversity, and equality and it sounds and it shows that those are important to you too. It always helpful to have the reminder that our patrons are not broken and we should strive to serve them in ways that they connect with, not just how we WANT to serve them.

  2. Sydney Burke says:

    Hey @marcmazique ! It is so exciting how excited you are to become a Librarian! I love the concept of organizations becoming more horizontal, but am curious about how that is maintained. I worked for a non-profit that tried to have a horizontal structure, but unfortunately, my boss (who was also the owner/founder of the organization) was a micro-manager and poor communicator. It felt like all the goals and projects had moving targets! I like the idea of shifting roles between staff and engaging with the community. So many times, organizations do not reach out and evaluate their services. Having great leaders in organizations and communities can create beautiful partnerships and relationships that are mutually beneficial.

    • Marc Mazique says:

      Sydney,
      I definitely hear you on the challenge of making organizations more horizontal; my current job is as operations manager/office manager for a nonprofit, and we’ve been doing a LOT of internal work to make the organization less hierarchical over the past two years, and finding it difficult. It’s easy to commit to getting rid of such structures, but harder to flesh out what the alternatives/new vision is, and as in what it sounds like your case and my case, sometimes folks just slide back to practices and ways of working that feel more certain to them. It’s challenging work, but I think important.

  3. @marcmazique Thanks for highlighting the project in Australia. This is amazing:

    “All of these reflect a commitment to authentically involve community members in shaping the shared knowledge and heritage content available in their community, including enabling a more transparent process through which these materials are organized and presented.”

    Key word for me – authentic!

    • Marc says:

      Thanks, Dr. Stephens. Yes, I’m really glad to be in library school at this point, when both the Hyperlinked Library and participatory/liberated archive models are being discussed and considered. Authentic engagement with community members is something I want to center in my future work.

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