Blog Post #3 – Participatory Service, Community Outreach, and the Limits of Global Inspiration

As we investigate the exciting potential of participatory service as a means to implement materials, resources, and services that public library users actually want, I’m left with the impression that before initiating these conversations, libraries must take meaningful steps to overcome the massive PR problems they currently face. Clubb (2017) observes that while users largely demonstrate the desire for “more self-service”, “more seamless access”, and other elements which might make the library their “third place” of choice, users also remain unaware of digital resources, programming initiatives, and other important ingredients which go beyond the age-old perception of libraries as book warehouses (p. 3783).

Identifying library materials with iPad

So, if libraries apparently aren’t doing the outreach necessary to communicate their ever-evolving features to a critical mass of users and nonusers, how can they hope to establish a baseline of understanding from which users can propose and evaluate interesting, innovative, fun, ideas, that can be practically implemented within the library’s mission and budgetary constraints? Casey (2011), writing from within the context of encouraging participatory service amid the grim economic circumstances of the Great Recession, asserts that “[t]axpayers are more and more reluctant to part with any percentage of their diminishing paychecks. Getting them to participate, at any level, will go a long way towards gaining their buy-in” (para. 12). But, how can we attract users’ and nonusers’ participation amid insufficiently funded, poorly designed outreach campaigns which fail to communicate what the library’s all about in the hyperlinked era?

Decorative graph interpreting taxation rates in USA, EU, etc.Furthermore, Casey’s choice to identify potential library enthusiasts as “taxpayers” conveys all-too-familiar attitudes regarding the US’ tenuous relationship to public infrastructure and social services. As we look to international library models—such as Dokk1 in Denmark—and their thriving participatory service initiatives which utilize technology to strengthen community ties, I’m inspired by such imaginative uses of public spaces and resources; yet, I can’t shake the suspicion that Dokk1’s innovation is inseparable from Danish values of social democracy, well-tended public spaces, and cutting-edge social services, all of which necessitate considerable public investment via taxation. Progressive library spaces seem all the more possible, practical, and exciting, within the context of a society which largely views public investment with a sense of duty, respect, and even wonder. In the US, where reactionary book challenges threaten to defund rural public libraries, and where urban librarians are routinely exploited as de-facto social workers—even administering Narcan, in some cases—as a condition for their public funding, library services reflect a starkly different attitude toward public investment.

Dokk1 library user interacting with touchscreenThat said, I don’t doubt that many libraries—particularly those in more affluent, politically progressive areas with decent local tax revenues—have the financial means and community buy-in necessary to implement inspiring, valuable resources and programming informed by user input. Given the resourceful use of limited budgets, and outreach efforts which effectively communicate and promote the library’s hyperlinked vision, any library theoretically should be able to meaningfully involve its user base in the decision-making process. Programs such as Open+ offer working models of community involvement on a radically imaginative level. However, in a society defined by increased privatization and outsourcing, which might not demonstrate a Scandinavian level of commitment to publicly funded “third places”, capturing the community’s awareness and imagination regarding the future library’s potential might present an uphill battle.

 

References

Casey, M. (2011, October 20). Revisiting participatory service in trying times. Tame the Web. https://tametheweb.com/2011/10/20/revisiting-participatory-service-in-trying-times-a-ttw-guest-post-by-michael-casey/

Clubb, B. H. (2017). Public libraries. In J. D. McDonald & M. Levine-Clark (Eds.), Encyclopedia of library and information sciences (4th ed., pp. 3781-3800). CRC Press. https://doi.org/10.1081/E-ELIS4-120044295

INFO 287, Blog Post #2 – Makerspaces, Neoliberalism, Technolust, and the Hyperlinked Library

SITWA Group. (n.d.). Gallery. https://www.stiwa.com/en/makerspace/gallery

“What knowledge is produced when I churn out, say, a keychain on a MakerBot? I worry that the boosterism surrounding such projects — and the much-deserved acclaim they’ve received for “rebranding” the library — glosses over the neoliberal values that these technologies sometimes embody. Neoliberalism channels the pursuit of individual freedom through property rights and free markets — and what better way to express yourself than by 3D-printing a bust of your own head at the library, or using the library’s CNC router to launch your customizable cutting board business on Etsy?” (Mattern, 2014).

• • • • •

Upon perusing our foundational readings and delving into material concerning the Hyperlinked Library model, my head is spinning. I feel simultaneously overwhelmed and stimulated, upon considering the largely untapped potential of library “platforms” as social, cultural, technological hubs amid constantly shifting circumstances. While plenty of blogging topics have come to mind, I’m especially struck by Mattern’s notion (quoted above) that the mass implementation of makerspaces—among other buzzy, trendy library additions which seem to signify innovation—might represent missed opportunities to meaningfully connect with patrons, and thus serve the missions of libraries.

Beyond the idea that makerspaces might occasionally come too close to commodifying venues which should resist commodification, I’m inclined to think that the proliferation of these spaces largely fails the Library 2.0 “smell test”, as outlined by Casey and Savastinuk (2007). For example, how likely is it that these spaces are designed according to observable user needs, as determined via a community analysis? How likely is it that these spaces and their capabilities are genuinely understood and properly definable by a sizable portion of library staff and administration? How likely is it that library staff are sufficiently informed and inspired to continually leverage these spaces for the benefit of their users? And, how likely is it that these spaces truly inspire creativity, enrichment, and connection, as opposed to productivity for productivity’s sake? The failure to take these considerations into account when implementing makerspaces strikes me as a prime example of “technolust,” as coined by our professor (p. 50). Really, what’s the use for the replication of some trendy device, model, or facility, if it’s not backed up by a clear, localized purpose?

Edpuzzle Blog. (2019). Making with a capital “M” – What is a makerspace?. https://blog.edpuzzle.com/teaching-today/what-is-a-makerspace/

My fiancée, who is a preschool teacher, often laments “crap-tivities” in the classroom, otherwise known as arts and crafts activities which primarily aim to keep kids busy and occupied, rather than meaningfully engage their imagination, creativity, motor skills, and the like. While I don’t doubt that makerspaces can be thoroughly inspiring and engaging when designed effectively and intentionally—not to mention, supplied with quality programming—I also wonder how often their implementation results in crap-tivity mills which leave the community’s soul underserved and unfulfilled.

Technolust, when it results in unfulfilling library services, strikes me as attributable to “thinking like a startup”, and not in the smart way. While Mathews (2012) offers a thought-provoking framework by which libraries can adjust to patrons’ needs when user expectations and tech standards are continually in flux, his preferred Silicon Valley buzzwords of “innovation” and “disruption” are easily overused by many, to the point of lazy, mindless cliche. Is a given service “innovative” or “disruptive” just because it incorporates tech not commonly associated with library spaces? And on that note, isn’t true innovation difficult to imagine when tech isn’t involved?

I look forward to further exploring services and methods by which libraries can continually prove their relevance and utility to users and nonusers alike, within the communities they serve. Casey and Savastinuk (2007) offer librarians the interesting advice that libraries should seek inspiration from commercial spaces which users might consider to be their primary “third places” (p. 34). However, echoing Mattern’s critique of makerspaces and neoliberalism, I wonder: should libraries aspire to replicate the feeling of shopping, or otherwise participating in a commodifiable, transactional way of life? Or, do libraries have the potential to harness their status as publicly funded cultural hubs, for the purpose of offering experiences and opportunities which truly disrupt our established notions of community, communication, and public space? What could this look like?

Studio Gang. (2016). Make streets into places. https://www.archdaily.com/795905/studio-gang-creates-7-strategies-to-reimagine-civic-spaces-as-vibrant-urban-hubs

Resources:

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

Mathews, B. (2012). Think like a startup: A white paper to inspire library entrepreneurialism. https://vtechworks.lib.vt.edu/bitstream/handle/10919/18649/Think%20like%20a%20STARTUP.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y

Mattern, S. (2014). Library as infrastructure. Places. https://placesjournal.org/article/library-as-infrastructure/

INFO 287, Blog Post #1 – Nice to Meet You!

Hello! My name is Taylor, and I live in Portland, OR with my partner and our thoroughly spoiled cat, Marty. We just moved back home to the great Northwest last year, after spending a decade in Oakland, CA, and it’s wonderful to be back.

His royal highness Marty & I

I’m excited to begin this course, along with the ePortfolio, in my final semester here at the iSchool. I entered the MLIS program with zero former library experience, after years of working in record stores, DJing on college radio, and volunteering in radio station music libraries. I pursued librarianship as a means to continue doing the things I love about record stores—namely, organizing and helping people navigate collections—with the added benefit of a more sustainable career path.

While I was initially drawn to archival work and special librarianship, taking INFO 244 (Online Searching) and INFO 254 (Information Literacy and Learning) opened my eyes to the possibility of academic librarianship, and cemented my interest in research support and instruction services. After interning this past summer at the Portland State University Library, and creating instructional content for their YouTube channel, I am even more determined to pursue a career in academic librarianship. Embedded below is a tutorial video I created for the PSU Library, on the ins and outs of Google Scholar as a research tool. I think it turned out pretty well!

Given bureaucratic constraints and stuffy attitudes which so often seem to prevent academic libraries from readily embracing change, this course strikes me as an exciting opportunity to step outside the academic “echo chamber” for inspiration. By analyzing emerging technologies and trends, learning from global practices, and further understanding the importance of empathetic, user-centered perspectives, I hope to bring valuable, left-field insight to my future work as an academic librarian, and to better serve users with resources, services, and technologies which speak to them.

When I’m not plugging away at Zoom University, I love cooking/baking/grilling, record collecting, traveling, playing bar trivia and watching Jeopardy!, going on big walks with headphones on, reading cookbooks and atlases, drinking good wine, playing Scrabble a bit too competitively, and DJing jazz, art rock, electronic music, ambient music, and much more, on my favorite community radio station, Freeform Portland, under the alias “Big Lunch”. If you feel so inclined, tune in every other Tuesday, 8-10pm PST. Or, check out some past shows on my Mixcloud page, here!

The record collection & I

I look forward to getting to know you all, as we get our blogs up and running, and begin learning together!