Category Archives: Librarians, Libraries & the Profession

Library as classroom: What’s the big flippin’ deal? — A TTW Guest Post by Jolene Nechiporenko

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In my hyperlinked library class we’ve been learning about the library as classroom and the benefits of the flipped classroom.  The flipped classroom lends itself to the newer concept of teaching and learning, the active, community centered, collaborative, group learning in which both students and instructors can be learners or teachers.

What is a flipped classroom? The flipped or inverted classroom assigns pre-class, often an online video, pod cast, or reading material, homework and then utilizes class time to complete an active discussion or learning exercise.  “Lectures are moved online to be viewed before class, and classroom time is dedicated to learning activities that require students to engage concepts at a higher level in a group setting and with an instructor at hand to answer questions, give feedback, and prompt reexamination of key ideas.” (Baepler, Walker, & Driessen, 2014)

What’s so great about a flipped classroom?  Flipping the classroom offers new opportunities to both students and instructors that the traditional classroom does not.  Among these opportunities is flexibility for both the students and the instructors.  Students can access, ‘at home’ materials online wherever and whenever they want thanks to the incorporated technology. These recordings or materials remain available to students for repeated use.  “It allows a blended, (online and face-to-face) and self-paced instruction more aligned to how this generation of students learn.” (Brunsell & Horejsi, 2013)

Flipping saves time in the long run.  Instructors record their lecture only once until they feel the need to make changes or updates and students can view/listen to the material as many times as they feel necessary.  This process, known as ‘off-loading’ allows for better use of classroom time. Kim Miller explains off-loading as it pertains to information literacy instruction “…it’s hard to jump into more complex application and exploratory activities during a traditional 50 or 60 minute class if students don’t have a basic foundation on which to build advanced skills.  Off-loading the procedural instructions, like how to navigate the library’s website or basic catalog searching, to pre-class activities can free up in-class time for librarians to help students work through more complex activities.” (Miller, 2013)

Off-loading provides for better use of classroom time which can foster active, collaborative learning.  “Engaging students in active learning during class gives them an opportunity to think critically about what they are leaning, something often lacking in traditional library instruction.” (Fawley, 2014)  “The [Horizon] report notes, “Students are increasingly evaluated…on the success of the group dynamic,” as well as the outcome.  This might involve peer evaluation and self-reflection in addition to review of the group’s work. (as quoted in Stephens, 2012)”

“Thanks to social-networking software, information can flow not just from teachers to learners but in multiple directions: among students, from students to classroom teachers, from teacher-librarians to classroom teachers and students.” (Loertscher, 2008). In this ideal environment, instructors can assume the role of student and students have the capability to be the instructor. “When an assignment is given, everyone-teachers, librarians, students, and other specialists- can comment, coach, suggest, recommend, and discover together, and push everyone toward excellence.” (Loertscher, 2008)

Why should libraries be interested in flipped classrooms?  It’s ideal for an instructor to collaborate with a teacher librarian and have their class take place in the learning commons where a world of resources are readily available to the learner.  Flipped classrooms are often found in libraries, especially in the information commons.  In addition, the flipped classroom can be applied to information literacy instruction in which the librarian is the actual instructor.  “Libraries are increasingly called on to pursue innovative educational initiatives in order to remain engaged with a user base that is beginning to expect more personalized, mobile, digital, and responsive information services. (Booth, 2011)

Want more information?  Check out this great info graphic:

flipped-classroom-2

References

Booth, C. (2011). Reflective teaching, Effective learning. American Library Association.

Brunsell, E.,& Horejsi, M. (2013) Flipping you classroom in one “Take”.  Science Teacher, 80(3), 8.

Fawley, N. (2014, September 1). Flipped Classrooms. American Libraries.

Knewton. (2011, August, 29). The flipped classroom. [Infographic] Retrieved fromhttp://www.knewton.com/blog/education-infographics/flipped-classroom-infographic/

Loertscher, D. (2008, November 1). Flip this classroom. School Library Journal.

Miller, K. (2013, February 25).  Flipping Out: Preflip planning. Retrieved from ACRLog.

Miller, K. (2013, March 28).  Flipping Out: Reflection upon landing. Retrieved from ACRLog.

Stephens, M. (2012, April 25). Learning everywhere [Web log post]. Library Journal. Retrievedfrom http://lj.libraryjournal.com/2012/04/opinion/michael-stephens/learning-everywhere-office-hours/

 

Jolene Nechiporenko is a senior student in the Master of Library and Information Science online degree program through San Jose State University’s School of Information. She lives with her family in North Dakota and plans to pursue a career in librarianship.

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Michigan: Technologies and Trends Workshop

Tech-Trends

Mark your calendar now for an exciting opportunity to attend a very special event in which you will “explore cutting edge trends” in “evolving libraries.”

Opening keynote speaker, Michael Stephens will speak about how libraries can play a vital role in how “emerging technologies” can change the way we “live and learn.”

Other scheduled presenters include: Kyle Felker and Kristin Meyer from Grand Valley State University, Amy James and Elizabeth Walker from Spring Arbor University, Sonya Schryer Norris, Library of Michigan and Rebecca Renirie from Central Michigan University.

Registration

Earlybird Registration Deadline: May 22, 2015

Advance Registration Deadline: June 4, 2015

For more information and registration details, go to: http://www.milibraries.org/events/technologies-and-trends-workshop/

 

Justin is Going to New Zealand! LIANZA 2015

topofthelakeCongrats to Justin Hoenke, TTW Contributor, on his invitation to keynote LIANZA 2015! Iam so excited he’ll be talking about  his ideas for humanistic, user-centered  library services with the good folks of NZ.lianza

Justin writes:

I’m happy to announce today that I will be attending the LIANZA 2015 Conference in Wellington, New Zealand this year from November 7-11 2015 to speak about youth services, kids, tweens, teens, and everything awesome that can happen in libraries. I’m honored to be a part of this event. I’ve always enjoyed following the LIANZA conferences on Twitter (#lianza15 this year!) and cannot wait to learn and share with many librarians from New Zealand, Australia, and beyond. They’ve got a great lineup this year (Sarah Houghton, Ned Potter, David Lankes, and more!) and I am also looking forward to hanging out (and in some cases, meeting for the first time!) with some wonderful library colleagues.

I spoke at LIANZA in 2013 and the trip was wonderful on all counts. To put a fine point on it: life-changing. Read more about it here:

http://tametheweb.com/category/ttw-goes-to-new-zealand/

and here:

http://lj.libraryjournal.com/2013/12/opinion/michael-stephens/notes-from-some-small-islands-office-hours/

Photo: A moment of reflection for me in Glenorchy,NZ.

New Horizons: Libraries, Space, and People — A TTW Guest Post by Jonathan Pacheco Bell

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Our readings for New Horizons, New Models examined what forwarding thinking libraries are currently doing and envisioning as important future concepts. Of course, excessive future orientation can push some upstart librarians into technolust and, as Schmidt points out, make them forget about the people who are central to the library’s mission. To my surprise and satisfaction, space and people are recurring themes in this module’s readings. A focus on space and people dovetails with the theme of my #hyperlib blog. Today’s public library is an important social space. Libraries serve multiple functions in diverse communities. The library is a public service and a public space for all. This is especially important in this era of increasing privatization of public space and library service.

The readings got me thinking about my spatial learning from urban planning school ten years ago. Fields that deal with the built environment — planning, architecture, geography — tend to look at space with a heightened reverence. Space is not a given; space is a gift! Urban theorists like Edward Soja and Michael Dear, who are both cut from the postmodern cloth, consider space a generator of action and activity. (Their spatial lens benefits LIS’s emerging interest in space; library theorists should be reading their work.) It became apparent that spatial tenets from the planning realm could enrich the current conversation about libraries, space, and people.

A brief note on space…

The space we’re talking about is the subject of many dissertations from across the disciplines the world over. However, space limitations (terrible pun!) in this essay restrict my allowance for backgrounding. An extremely concise primer follows.

Throughout most of human history, space was considered no more than an empty container in which things happened. Space was passive, inactive, and inconsequential.  The prevailing concepts of time and history ruled thought. Space was irrelevant.

Changing conceptions of space arguably began in France in the 1960s, an era marked by widespread spatial turbulence (riots, protests, war). One theorist stands out. Michel Foucault is known for his studies of space, knowledge, and power. His work examined how space itself exercised control over bodies. Foucault’s evidence of the power of space famously included idealized prison buildings and militaristic city design. To Foucault, space was an active agent affecting our lived experience.

The rise of postmodernism boosted spatiality. Postmodern philosophy disputed the reliability of order, time, truth, and linear history. Instead postmodernism embraced the messy concepts of multiple “truths”, disorder, and difference. Spatial thinking fit well within postmodern ideals.

Today, space is a cause, not an afterthought. Across the disciplines people are embracing the explanatory power of space. We’re finally seeing this spatial thinking permeate the library realm.

Three spatial tenets for libraries:

Space is ACTIVE — Space itself is vibrant and exciting. A stimulus occurs when space is activated. People talk, conflict brews, ideas flow. Spatial activity leads to creation. People, objects, and ideas circulate within space, creating a self-sustaining environment that re/produces activity. Libraries should capitalize on this by including spaces that encourage vibrancy over staid, Shhhhh’d, study. The entire library mustn’t be converted into a jungle gym, but perhaps one space in it can be! We see this spatial awareness in the rise of library Makerspaces that encourage unlibrary like activities such as cooperative tinkering (see Horizon Report and Maloney). We see this in new YA spaces that encourage flexible, mobile, and customizable seating arrangements to improve user experience (see Bernier et al).

Space is CONGREGATIVE — Space brings people together. Space has the power to gather people both alike and disparate. Public plazas and private living rooms bring us closer. Commonalities are identified in these spaces. Groups form. Partnerships develop. Spatial congregation creates community. While the Social Web brings us together in cyberspace, it lacks what Soja calls the “stimulus of agglomeration” that physical space affords. You cannot disconnect with one click in physical space! Libraries must capitalize on the congregative quality of space. As Casey says, libraries can do this by turning outward and asking people what the community needs. Some communities need more than traditional book lending services. The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors recently approved a plan to support President Obama’s controversial “no deportation” policy. County branch libraries will serve as information centers offering immigration program resources. This works because County of L.A. public libraries are trusted spaces that support diverse communities.

Space is PEOPLE CENTERED — Space is “powered up” on its own, but powerful when people enact it. Our use activates the generative power of space. Of course, space must be nimble. We know people can be fickle. People’s needs change and dynamics shift. Space must adapt to these fluctuations. Intelligent spaces evolve without sacrificing their active, congregative qualities. We see this quality in the conception of third s/place, defined as a spatial alternative to one’s home and work site that brings people together. Public libraries function as a third place.  A high performing library third s/place is flexible, malleable, and supportive of people’s unique needs.

Although emerging technologies enhance our connectedness, emerging tech cannot replace the generative power of people coming together in physical space. Let’s keep that ideal in mind as we gaze out over the horizon. Libraries that put space and people first are looking in the right direction.

Jonathan is a Los Angeles Urban Planner and MLIS student at SJSU’s School of Information. Jonathan’s professional interests include library design, libraries as public space, and the role of public libraries in urbanized communities of color. His work has been published in UrbDeZine, Public Libraries, Public Library Quarterly, and SJSU SOI’s Student Research Journal. He earned his M.A. in Urban Planning from UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs in 2005 and studied political science and architecture as an undergraduate. Jonathan will complete the MLIS in 2016.
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Building a Minecraft Community

You won’t want to miss reading about this library’s innovative experiment with Minecraft to build a community of young users.

John Blyberg, assistant director for innovation and user experience at the Darien (CT) Library has turned his “public library into a gathering spot for friends new and old, and a place to decompress” simply by running a single server for Minecraft users.

To read more about Blyberg’s innovative way to build an “afterschool sanctuary” follow this link:

http://www.slj.com/2015/04/technology/my-public-library-minecraft-community/#_

 

Making Libraries Habit-forming! — A TTW Guest Post by Susan Musson

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The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg (2012) has been on my books-to-read list for over a year now so I was quite pleased to see it included in the list of suggestions for this Context Book assignment. My only hesitation was that I was unsure how a book on habits could be applied to the library community. I needn’t have worried. This book is not a ‘self-help’ manual, and Charles Duhigg is not a therapist or neurologist. He’s a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist which is evident in his conversational tone and investigative style. He describes how habits have destroyed and then saved people’s lives, emotionally and physically; how companies came back from the brink of bankruptcy; how one of the lowest ranked teams in the NFL turned their game around; and how oppressed, but resigned citizens came together during the Montgomery Bus Boycott. While these seemingly random case studies may not sound related, it is the recognition of habits and how using that awareness made it possible for dramatic change, individually, company-wide, and throughout an entire community. It was the focus on this last subject that made me realize what a powerful tool habits can be and how applying them to public libraries will require reforming habits of patrons as well as librarians.

Duhigg has developed a simplified model of why habits develop and how this awareness is critical in changing certain ones. “Habits are powerful, but delicate. They can emerge outside our consciousness, or can be deliberately designed. They often occur without our permissions, but can be reshaped by fiddling with their parts. They shape our lives far more than we realize – they are so strong, in fact, that they cause our brains to cling to them at the exclusion of all else, including common sense.” (Duhigg, 2012, Location 521). Identifying habits as three individual processes allows us to examine and modify each in order to change. https://duhigg-site.s3.amazonaws.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/Flowchart-How-to-Change-a-Habit.pdf

“Experiments have been carried out publicly in the foyer of the Main Library in Aarhus.” (transformationlab, 2007). This is a great example of how testing the theory in Step 2 of Duhigg’s flowchart works. Obviously not all libraries have resources that were made available at the Main Library in Aarhus, but that shouldn’t stop one from trying some simpler experiments. One way to find out how library patrons want to participate is by asking them, just as the L. A. Public Library did in 2013, http://magazine.good.is/articles/crowdsourced-design-why-los-angeles-is-asking-the-public-to-create-the-library-of-the-future. For many patrons, seeing their idea or suggestion brought to life is the ultimate reward. As patrons grow accustomed to being asked for input, responding to those requests will become a habit.

Participatory service is a two way street and there are so many ways libraries can contribute. For example, I would love it if my library emailed me book suggestions based on my previous check outs, and even better, offering a hold option so it would be available for me to pick up within the next 24 hours. Duhigg talks about how Target has been researching our buying habits to provide more individualized marketing material, a.k.a. coupons and catalogs. (Did you know your envelope of coupons might be completely different from that of your neighbors?) Amazon has been collecting data about our purchases and feedback for years and uses it to make more purchase suggestions, as well providing our reviews for others to help choose their own purchases. “To market a new habit – be it groceries or aerobics – you must understand how to make the novel seem familiar.” (Duhigg, 2012, Location 3285). So, by using patrons’ records, with their permission of course, libraries have the option for customizing and personalizing communications for each user. Senior events and classes could be announced by automated phone calls to the generation that might not have embraced social media. On the opposite end of that spectrum would be tweets and instagrams about after-school library programs and homework help to those that seem glued to their phones. Tracking feedback via social media and program attendance will give libraries a sense of what patrons want, and what they might not be interested in. Pretty soon, library patrons will be expecting reading suggestions and being able to register for a program through email or on their phones, and a new habit is created!

Resources:

Duhigg, C. (2012). The power of habit: Why we do what we do in life and business. Random House, New York. [Kindle version]

Mack, C. (2013, February 15). Crowdsourced design: Why Los Angeles is asking the public to create the library of the future [Web log post]. GOOD.Retrieved from http://www.good.is/posts/crowdsourced-design-why-los-angeles-is-asking-the-public-to-create-the-library-of-the-future

transformationlab [Kanal tilhørende transformationlab]. (2007, May 7). Transformation lab – Prototyping the future [Video file]. Retrieved from http://youtu.be/TpFO_L_jA1c

securedownloadSusan is a student working towards her Master of Library and Information Science at SJSU School of Information. She looks forward to joining the growing number of information professionals who are working to break down the physical limitations of libraries. Susan believes that today’s libraries are not defined by a building or a book, but rather defined as a structural or virtual space of unlimited information, that should be made available to everyone with a thirst for learning.

Libraries, change, and the future — A TTW Guest Post by Jonathan Pacheco Bell

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You gotta see me change

See me change, Yeah I’m leavin’ town

On a midnight train, Gotta see me change

Change, change, change, Change, change, change

Change, change, change, Change, change, change

Woa, change, change, change

~ “The Changeling” by The Doors

(Rocking out to The Doors while reading this is encouraged)

Change is supposed to be temporary. We know change as that transitional, unsettling state between more reassuring times. In our imagination, and as it plays out in life, change happens but then things stabilize. Or at least that’s how it used to be. As the foundational readings underscore, our present era — the hyperlinked, Web 2.0 era — is defined by the characteristic of change. This portends substantial shifts for public libraries.

We knew change was coming. As the below Google Ngram shows, we’ve been increasingly discussing “change” over the last 200 years (Fig. 1). We shouldn’t be surprised that change is now a constant state. Yet some libraries are fairing better than others in this tumultuous time. Recall that libraries are institutions mired in traditions; they’re slower to evolve because of it. Moreover, our public libraries operate under the added burden of entrenched municipal bureaucracy. Combine traditions and bureaucracy and we see why public libraries are less responsive to change. But evolve they must, lest they be outsourced or shuttered.

Figure 1: Google Ngram for the word "change" from 1800 - 2008

How should public libraries respond to change? The foundational readings provide direction. Spanning 20 years of thought, the readings outline for librarians a change-accepting mindset and practical approaches to utilize to thrive in this time of permanent change.

Michael Buckland’s 1992 ebook Redesigning Library Services: A Manifesto lays out what’s needed for effective future public library service. Written during the beta days of online libraries, the manifesto calls out public library leaders for failing to plan for service in the coming digital age. “It seems that the relative stability of the past century is but a prologue to another period of radical change” (Buckland, 1992, Ch. 1). Change is a recurrent theme throughout Buckland’s piece. Libraries must deal with considerable change: technological change, the change from Paper to Automated to Electronic library, changes in user populations and cultures, and service delivery updates needed to respond to these changes. Digital resource delivery is championed as a way to keep public libraries relevant and effective in the 21st century.

Michael E. Casey and Laura C. Savastinuk examine the impact of social media on libraries in the 2007 book Library 2.0: A Guide to Participatory Library Service. They wrote this book on the cusp of the social web transformation. The iPhone was emerging as the dominant social web-enabling on-the-go device. Social media was transitioning from 1.0 Friendster and MySpace to 2.0 Facebook and Twitter. Blogs, social tagging, and what I call “sharing as default state” were becoming the new norm. Following Buckland, Casey and Savastinuk argue for evolving to digital services and Web 2.0 to ensure the library’s survival. Change is core to Casey and Savastinuk’s thesis. Change is part of their essential ingredients for library 2.0. Change is expected for incorporating 2.0 technologies. The authors provide a “framework for change” to secure buy-in, understanding, and implementation of library 2.0 services. Change is the modus operandi of library 2.0. As Casey and Savastinuk lay out, library 2.0 entails sharing, collaboration, participation, empowerment; it’s also attuned to the emotional needs of library users. Rooted in the social web, Library 2.0 reflects the zeitgeist of today.

Buckland told libraries to think digitally because the Information Age was coming. Casey and Savastinuk told libraries to think socially because the social Web 2.0 had arrived. Brian Mathew’s 2012 white paper Think Like a Startup naturally carries the conversation forward. In this era of exponential innovation — exemplified by tech startups — libraries and librarians must start operating entrepreneurially. In today’s environment, he says, “Change is going to be difficult, but the good news is that we know it’s necessary… In fact, this theme of change has become part of our landscape. Change is the new normal. Change is the only constant” (Mathews, 2012, p. 3). He follows with a 10-point manifesto explaining steps to become a change-ready, entrepreneurial library:

  1. Be forward thinking to anticipate user needs and desired ends. Learning delivery is no longer the purview of brick-and-mortar buildings; be digital, be online
  2. Hire innovators and encourage innovation in library culture
  3. Think like a start-up: embrace change, make the library a platform, embed innovation in library culture
  4. Learn to fail well: be daring enough to try and to learn from failure, listen to feedback, evolve, look for gaps to innovate
  5. Employ a method: Build, Measure, Learn (start-up method) or Learn, Build, Measure (UX method)
  6. Aim for 3 essential qualities: usability, feasibility, value
  7. Deemphasize assessment which limits innovation
  8. Develop a Strategic Culture instead of that boring strategic plan
  9. Use a telescope for seeing up and over. Ditch the microscope peering narrowly downward
  10. Implement, do it, make it happen!

SHHHHHHH TO CHANGEIndeed, change is the MO for 21st century libraries. Stability is ephemeral. Disruption is normal. Librarians must embrace this paradigm shift. The foundational readings make it clear that: 1) Technology will continue to advance our world and the library mustn’t fall behind, 2) The social web is upon us and libraries must adapt to it; yet libraries must also look ahead for the next era, be it Web 3.0 or some as-yet-named experience, and 3) Library survival requires innovation, courage, future-thought, and follow through.

Of course this is effortless to proclaim in the abstract. In reality, it’s going to be challenging to carry out this new way of thinking for certain public libraries whose institutional cultures, internal protocols, and operational standards resist change. How can we convince reticent library administrators to embrace change, new technologies, and future-thinking? Below are a few of my ideas premised on a plausible deliverable of a public library today:

  • Grab their interest “modestly” — Sounds oxymoronic but it works. Bureaucracies think new is scary and change is disruptive. A workaround is necessary. We can coax hesitant library administrators into supporting innovative projects, programs, and services if these offerings don’t appear all that scary or disruptive. We can show the benefits of technological change through a modest demonstration project, like a digital community history. Check out these examples from public libraries in East Los Angeles and New York City. Digital histories encompass traditional and innovative archival methods and they’re well supported by constituents.
  • Assure them it’s easy — Technology, change, and the future can appear complex to hesitant administrators. And yet we know that today’s technology is easy enough for babies to learn. We must parlay that ease. We must demonstrate to decision makers that it’s not that difficult to pull off.
  • Build a team — Managers like teams because they want staff working together to solve problems. Give them that. Enlist a group of people with a variety of skills. Don’t just focus on tech-savvy Millennials. Enlist people of all ages with project management, writing, coalition building, and people skills. A team effort sends the message that the project is widely embraced — and a team effort will help get it done.
  • Fund it — Ease management’s knee-jerk and predictable budget concerns by seeking grants to fund the project. Grant funding is available from organizations like IMLS, ALA, and the CA State Library. Decision makers are especially supportive when some other agency is paying.
  • Get buy-in — Management is always more willing to approve when the community supports the project. Gaining assistance from allied agencies bolsters your chances. Thus we must conduct outreach and get buy-in from constituents. We should enlist other agencies whose specialized knowledge helps our efforts. It would be foolish for decision makers to disregard constituents’ will, especially when assistance from partners makes the project that much easier to accomplish.
  • Do it — Whatever it is we envision, our ideas and passions must be turned into action and results. Our team must complete the demonstration project. We must implement it. The community deserves it, we deserve it, and our reticent managers who rolled the dice both expect and deserve it. We will deliver.
  • Market it — We must be cheerleaders for our demonstration project. We must sustain interest which supports longevity. We must broadcast it throughout and beyond our target communities. In addition to analog ‘word of mouth’ mentions, we must take to the social web to share the project globally via tweets, likes, forwards, Facebook status updates, Instagram pics, Snapchat and Vine video clips, tags, hashtags, Tumblr blogs, and whatever new web outlets emerge on the horizon.

Change is unsettling. It’s nerve-wrecking to be out of your comfort zone. Yet it is those moments that yield learning and growth. Public libraries have limitless opportunities for future-focused development in this era of permanent change. Librarians must embrace change as a way of life.

References

Buckland, M. (1992). Redesigning library services: A manifesto. American Library Association. Retrieved from http://sunsite.berkeley.edu/Literature/Library/Redesigning/html.html

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

Mathews, B. (2012, April). Think like a startup [White paper]. Retrieved from http://vtechworks.lib.vt.edu/bitstream/handle/10919/18649/Think%20like%20a%20STARTUP.pdf?sequence=1

 

Jonathan is a Los Angeles Urban Planner and MLIS student at SJSU’s School of Information. Jonathan’s professional interests include library design, libraries as public space, and the role of public libraries in urbanized communities of color. His work has been published in UrbDeZine, Public Libraries, Public Library Quarterly, and SJSU  SOI’s Student Research Journal. He earned his M.A. in Urban Planning from UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs in 2005 and studied political science and architecture as an undergraduate. Jonathan will complete the MLIS in 2016.
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Obstacles to Participation: The Little Free Library Edition — A TTW Guest Post by Jonathan Pacheco Bell

listeningThis Little Free Library in Los Angeles is at the center of controversy. Little Free Libraries embody community participation and action.

The Little Free Library (LFL) movement has quickly caught on across the US. The dollhouse-sized miniature libraries are found on front lawns, parks, and public squares coast to coast. LFLs house books and magazines for community members. Circulation is free and runs on an honor system. The motto: “Take a book. Return a book.” As @michael pointed out in this Module 5 article, LFLs support literacy, stewardship, and community. They’re also examples of low-tech, high value localized collections that offer community enrichment and connection in public space. LFLs are a manifestation of community participation, action, and improvement. Who could object?

Rest assured, every community has someone who relishes being a killjoy. As this recent Los Angeles Times article explains, one L.A. homeowner has been ordered to remove the LFL he built in the parkway (grassy strip between the road and sidewalk) in front of his house. An anonymous angry neighbor complained to city hall. Such complaints happen often enough that LFL leadership published this guide for dealing with code enforcement complaints.

As Michael Casey notes, participatory libraries today face difficult times given the naysayers and prognosticators of doom. The story of upheaval caused by a tiny wooden book box in L.A. resonates with #hyperlibs and participatory libraries today. It illustrates the challenges we face trying to enlist participation for library initiatives. From this episode we can glean some cautionary lessons:

  • Obstacles to participation are inevitable – Know that there will be obstacles to participation. Participation requires time, effort, teamwork, investment, motivation and sacrifice — all the things that stoke resistance in some people! The sooner we identify the inevitable obstacles the faster we can develop options to address them.
  • Obstacles may be homegrown – We may think participation obstacles will come from cowardly, cautious, listless managers talking about “Nobody will use this service.” Know that resistance can easily come from within. The angry neighbor who reported the LFL was from the same community that overwhelmingly loved this service. We rely on participation from people close [geographically and/or digitally] to the service. They’re not always allies.
  • People are obstacles – Know that the people we want to participate can be fickle, defeatist, and negative. Some just won’t commit to an initiative, or they commit half way, no matter how great it is. They share none of our enthusiasm for participatory service. They’re naysayers who stomp on ideas. Despite how cool, populist, and innovative DOK’s user-generated content is, I’m sure killjoys griped about having to provide the photos. These kind of people are not the majority, but they do exist.
  • Institutions are obstacles – Perhaps the biggest obstacle is the institutional framework in which libraries operate. Public libraries are bureaucracies. They are functions of municipal government, which is historically and colloquially equated to bureaucracy par excellence. As discussed in my Context Book Review, pervasive red tape — codes, rules, standards, policies, protocols, processes — suffocates innovation in government. The offending LFL in the parkway is a problem solely because a long-ago-written ordinance defines parkway placements as dangerous “obstructions.” The well intentioned code does not account for the LFL’s actual use or context. Codes notoriously do not evolve with the times, largely because bureaucracy makes change difficult to achieve. Know that this kind of stifling environment undercuts motivation we need for participatory service.

Knowing these lessons ahead of time makes us better prepared to respond to the inevitable obstacles facing participatory service. Leadership is needed to deal with obstacles and ensure participation. Planning ahead, forecasting challenges, developing alternatives and creative solutions, exhibiting courage — these are hallmarks of strong leadership toward these ends. It pays off, too. As this article reports, the owner of the LFL in L.A. is fighting back, as is another LFL owner in Shreveport, Louisiana. Precedent and momentum are on their side. Just check out 9-year-old Spencer’s LFL story and video!

 

Jonathan is a Los Angeles Urban Planner and MLIS student at SJSU’s School of Information. Jonathan’s professional interests include library design, libraries as public space, and the role of public libraries in urbanized communities of color. His work has been published in UrbDeZine, Public Libraries, Public Library Quarterly, and SJSU  SOI’s Student Research Journal. He earned his M.A. in Urban Planning from UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs in 2005 and studied political science and architecture as an undergraduate. Jonathan will complete the MLIS in 2016.
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