Assignment X: You’ve Created a Safe Space, Now What?



This is a picture of a watercolor painting I created for the middle school library I  worked in before beginning the MLIS program 2 years ago. I saw a version of this sign in businesses around town and I thought, “We need a sign like that in our library!” I was excited to see a version of this sign in the Hyperlink lecture on participatory service that was even more comprehensive by including size, ability, and mentioning all people in general. Inclusive messaging in physical and virtual libraries is of the utmost importance in signaling to a community that they belong and are considered valuable constituents. Whether on the front door or the homepage, with libraries struggling to stabilize and increase patron numbers, it is of vital importance that an atmosphere of support and inclusivity is explicitly and prominently displayed. While posters like these are an important stepping stone, in an effort to acknowledge that what our libraries say may not be enough to keep users around, it is paramount to create platforms that are not merely one-way conversations telling users what they believe or what is happening. As mentioned in Library 2.0, libraries should “harness the power of its users” and “change the way they craft their services and tools so that users have a clear and open avenue on which to communicate and participate” (Casey & Savastinuck, 2007).

February’s email newsletter from the Sonoma County Library is a great example of a participatory platform that reaches out to the community and asks them to share what they love about their library on a variety of social media platforms. Demonstrating inclusivity, the library makes a point to acknowledge that many patrons would never communicate via this fashion and wisely mention that directly responding to this email is a viable way to let staff know what they think. Another key way to reach active users in a community is to have alternate language translations of content for outreach announcements. Of course, soliciting feedback is the primary step in developing a participatory model, but the next step is actually using the feedback to design and enhance programming. This e-letter would be even better if it mentioned how the library plans to utilize community opinions in future decisions.  Another criticism of this outreach effort is that it does not successfully engage with the crucial nonusers who are not signed up to receive the letter, thus limiting what the library can learn about delivering better services community wide. While our libraries certainly deserve our love, they also need honest feedback to stay relevant. Some of the most important feedback comes from those who do not consider the library worth exploring and do not sign up for the newsletters.

This recent article from the NYT highlights some exciting new things across the country that libraries are doing to go beyond creating safe quiet spaces by embracing a participatory model.

In this photo, a pair of teenagers sit together, strumming guitars. One is wearing a navy blue sweatshirt and jeans and the other is wearing a taupe T-shirt and gray shorts.

( Cromwell , 2023)

Above is a picture of some young patrons jamming out in a YOUmedia space. Emphasis on the YOU! They can also use this space for making podcasts, designing video games, and exploring other technological options. This article is rife with some inspiring and existing participatory services offered within libraries. An honorable mention goes to libraries encouraging volunteers of all ages to narrate and record audiobooks to be enjoyed by all, but also uniquely support the visually impaired community. This article is a must read for the Hyperlinked Library student. In a participatory fashion, the authors have included links at the bottom of the article requesting your favorite library memory and an update about what is going on in your library. Why not send something back? The wide audience reached by the New York Times may be instrumental in getting the conversation about how libraries are moving away from transactional models to be less hypothetical.

Tell Us:
What’s your favorite memory from a library?
What’s happening in your local branch these days?

Casey, M. E., & Savastinuk, L. C. (2007). Library 2.0: A guide to participatory library service. Medford, N.J: Information Today.

Cromwell, R. M. (2023). Budding musicians strummed guitars in the YOUmedia space. [Photograph] The New York Times.

Egan, E. & Ackerberg, E. (2023, February 14). A love letter to libraries, long overdue. The New York Times.

Sonoma County Library. February, 2023. Share the library love.




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