Unconventional Libraries

   This week, and the rest of the semester, I am researching the use of space in libraries. This work is part of a group project that will be presented in a poster session for our final project and I have been amazed at all the things I’ve stumbled across during the course of my research. My group and I are interested in exploring how libraries are changing and using their spaces in unconventional ways to meet their communities’ needs rather than staying within what is considered to be traditional library parameters. We are hoping to prove that the libraries that are being innovative with their use of space see higher traffic as well as greater community involvement and satisfaction. 

    During the course of our research we have come across a number of ways in which libraries are changing the way they make themselves available. From little, free libraries on street corners, to interactive parks and gardens, to structures that embody a new era of technology, libraries seem to be unlimited in what they are doing to adapt and meet the needs of their communities. One of my favorite libraries was created by a community in Germany- built from thousands of recycled beer crates and over 20,000 donated books this library started as a community movement and eventually morphed into their local library. (If you want to see more here is the link: http://www.archdaily.com/39417/open-air-library-karo-architekten/ ) But that is just one example of the many, many different ways libraries are becoming creative with their spaces and how they are used. Old buildings and structures are being repurposed, existing libraries are tearing down walls and bringing the outdoors in, and people are creating libraries almost anywhere one can imagine. But it isn’t just physical spaces that are changing- people are creating new ways to share books outside of the library as well. Take BookCrossing.com for example, this site lets you register your book, create a custom template to place inside, and then encourages you to simply leave your book somewhere where others can find it. If you find one of their books you go to the website, type in the code, and pass it along when you are finished with it. 

   It is truly incredible how creative people and libraries are becoming- I am constantly amazed by the stories and pictures I come across during my research and feel that everything I have found underlines our stance on the importance of innovation in library spaces. Not every community is the same or has the same needs from their libraries- so why should every library be the same? 

Customizable Libraries

   There are many applications and programs available to us now that provide us with the ability to modify them to suit our own needs and interests. It can be seen in everything from our Facebook page to our smart phones and has become so common that we don’t even notice we are adapting programs and tools to our individual preferences. For example, my iPhone is set up with all the apps that I use regularly and they are displayed in a way that is easy and logical for me to use. The way I have my phone set up is as unique as a fingerprint, no two phones will be set up the same way with the same applications. I bring this subject up because the idea was discussed this past week in making it possible for members to tailor and adapt their library in much the same way. 

   I am fascinated by this idea and can see great possibilities in making your library customizable. Imagine getting your library card and then being given the tools to create your ideal library experience- think of how that could change the way people use libraries. You could customize your collections into categories such as books you love, want to read, have read, etc… You could create spaces where your knitting club can share pictures, ideas, and tips. You could post pictures of local events and work with others to develop community specific pages- the possibilities are endless! This could have an incredible impact for libraries and be a wonderful way of bringing libraries to the communities, helping them to become part of the community through tailored and specific programs created by their members for their individual needs. 

   When thinking about the logistics of how a library could implement this kind of program, it appears to me as if we already have all the tools we need to create these kinds of customizable sites. By taking bits and pieces of ideas from other sources such as Facebook, LibraryThing, and tumblr we could create a program that would allow each library member to tailor their library experience. All these different applications and ideas could be tweaked to fit a library and then bundled into one program that all libraries could implement. That way members could go from one library to another and not need to learn a whole new system or create a whole new “profile” at each library. And since we are all comfortable with that form of modification on our other electronic devices, it wouldn’t be hard for it to catch on with members and in fact might increase the library’s usage. This was a fascinating thought given to us this week and I really think there are a wide range of possibilities for libraries to use this now and in the future. 

Communities and their libraries

   This past week we discussed libraries as platforms for their communities and I have been mulling over ideas and thoughts surrounding this subject all weekend. I was intrigued by the idea of libraries providing a space and the tools for community members to use without necessarily needing the librarians to undergo training and classes on how to use and teach about the tools themselves. The notion that the community members will bring their own knowledge and experience to the space and tools provided is a new one and one that I originally had difficulty wrapping my head around. To me, it was logical that the librarians would be the ones teaching and using the tools provided for the members and the idea of someone coming in and asking about a certain tool only to hear, “Sorry, I don’t know how to use it either” was horrifying to me. But, the more I thought about it, the more it began to make sense. I used my own knowledge and ideas to create some scenarios to help visualize how this model would work in an imaginary setting and this idea of a library as a platform for its community really began to appeal to me. 

   For example, I am a gardener and really love hearing about libraries who integrate community gardens and seed exchanges into their programs. I look forward to a time when I will be in a position to help implement or continue the creation of a community/library garden. However, I pictured how a librarian with no gardening expertise would approach creating a garden space for library members who were lobbying for something like that in their community. If the librarian had no expertise but the community members did, it makes sense to provide the tools and the space and let the members create the garden for themselves. Once I thought of this scenario the floodgates were open and I could see many more instances where letting the community use the tools provided would be beneficial to both the library and themselves.  There are so many specialized things out there; groups, clubs, gaming, maker space tools…the list could go on forever and it would be impossible for a librarian to be aware of and an expert of them all. 

   By providing the tools and allowing the community to share their interests and knowledge the library is really providing the perfect space for creativity and innovation. This slightly hands-off approach allows for more freedom of experimentation and collaboration among members. I think this is a really exciting and new way of looking at how libraries interact with their communities and the possibilities are limitless for libraries who embrace this new idea. 

You need a degree for that?

     This past week we were given an assignment where we were asked to create a short video answering the question many of us hear when we tell friends and family we are going to school for a MLIS. “I didn’t know you needed a degree for that!” was the most common phrase I heard from the majority of my friends as well as many musings and observations as to why I needed an advanced degree in order to become a librarian. I thought this assignment was a wonderful way of letting myself explore why I thought I needed a degree in order to become a librarian and pursue a career that I am passionate about. 

     While my video wasn’t anything close to Oscar-worthy and in reality was more of a glorified Power Point presentation I did find it helpful in that it gave me a chance to explore why it was that I returned to school and what I thought a MLIS degree could give me.  My focus during my studies has been on archival and special collections work rather than the public and school library arena and I have noticed that while a lot of the curriculum is geared towards preparing students for the latter type of work there are ways to alter projects and papers to encompass the work that you are interested in doing with a library degree. I have also learned that librarians are doing so much more within their communities than just shelving books and scanning library cards- there is a whole movement for librarians to get out from behind the desks and into their communities and I found this to be particularly exciting. This viewpoint has opened my eyes to how much a librarian can do and really expanded my vision of what I anticipated doing once I complete this program. I had a firm vision of where I wanted to be working upon graduation (an archive, museum, National Park, historical society) and now I am looking at public libraries with a whole new perspective. I really like the idea of librarians as social change agents, teachers, and community members and have learned about librarians doing amazing things across the country to really involve their neighborhoods and members. The idea of blending some archival things into a library setting also intrigued me and made a lot of sense, a library is an excellent place for a community to store and share documents and cultural objects that tell their history. 

     Through this class, and particularly this assignment, I have learned that there is so much a librarian can do and this goes a long way in explaining why we need a graduate degree to be one. Although a part of me still feels that there is something to be said for learning the profession from the bottom up without the need for formal education, a degree program introduces you to all that a librarian can be and gives you perspectives you might not get elsewhere. This program has encouraged me to think and expand my knowledge of what a librarian is and has really shown me that we do so much more than just shelve books, and for that I think that we do need a MLIS degree. It gives us a chance to explore all the avenues of librarianship while giving us an open perspective and an innovative approach to all that we can achieve as librarians and archivists. 

Libraries as Stewards of Cultural Heritage

As we moved through and finished the Atlas of New Librarianship we shifted our focus to think about WHY libraries are important and I found this to be a thought provoking question. Many people feel that libraries are important for different reasons and what some may find to be that what they consider the most important isn’t the same as what their neighbor or friends think. This helps us notice that there are multiple reasons why libraries are important and all of those factors play in to the need to provide libraries and nurture their community involvement. Dr. Lankes outlines some of the services that libraries provide including being a center of learning, an economic safety net, and a steward of cultural heritage (among several other significant services). 

Having just completed my CAS in Cultural Heritage Preservation I was immediately drawn to learning more about exactly how libraries are carrying out the work of being stewards of cultural heritage. I am already familiar with libraries being a place where community members will drop off old collections and items found in attics or basements, things that they feel are important to their town or community, I have noticed this to be the case especially when there is no local museum or historical society that would collect those kinds of items. It is a logical thing to connect your local library as a place to collect and preserve papers and items of local significance, and happily it looks as if many libraries are up to the task.

When I first moved to New York I was living in a small, rural town with a little two-room library. I spent most of my time there trying to learn as much as I could about my new home, the history and stories behind the town I was living in. There was one whole room dedicated to local history and it was full of scrapbooks of newspaper clippings, hand written journals, photograph collections, and various miscellany dedicated to the town. People would bring in things they thought should be in that room and there were a few people who were kind of self appointed local historians who were often around if you had questions or wanted to learn more about a specific thing. Now, this room was not properly organized and it was a little hard to find specific things ( I think the boy scouts came and organized it a couple years ago to earn some badges) I found this to be a fascinating place and a wonderful extension of their local library, as a person new to the area it was incredibly helpful for me to learn about the place and get a feel for its history. 

As I continued my research to see how other libraries were working as cultural heritage stewards I came across numerous examples ranging from my own experience discussed previously to huge digitization projects being carried out by larger libraries, and websites set up where community members can upload and share their stories and photographs. It is  inspiring to see how many libraries are recognizing that need of communities to collect and preserve the things that tell their history and stepping in to provide a space for them to do that. As we shift to a more community-centered way of thinking and libraries begin to become more actively involved as an integral part of their communities I think we will begin to see more and more libraries finding ways to incorporate local cultural heritage collections with their main collections. Dr. Lankes points out that cultural heritage items are “rich information sources” and “an active, interactive thing” and those two statements really speak to what we have been discussing all semester. Part of the new librarians’ mission statement is to “facilitate knowledge creation in their communities” and what better way than to collect, preserve, and make available those collections that tell the story of our collective histories? 

Creativity and Imagination in Librarians

This week we read the final thread in The Atlas for New Librarianship which covered the topic of librarians. By this point we have covered facilitating knowledge, improving society, and the role of libraries in communities and I think that discussing actual librarians was the perfect way to sum up what we’ve learned about new librarianship. Librarians bring a core set of values to their profession but they also need specific skills and competencies in order to do their job to the best of their ability. I appreciated Dr. Lankes pointing out that while librarians need to know specific technologies and techniques to function in today’s library setting these skills might be obsolete or unnecessary in the future. This brings up an interesting point and one that I think all librarians should keep in mind when carrying out their duties; skills make us competent and great librarians but it is our values that we carry with us and unite us with the librarians who came before us and will precede us in the future. 

What are these values? We discuss many values that all librarians can and should share among which are continuous learning, service to our community, collaboration, empathy and respect, self reflection, openness, and what I consider extremely important: creativity and imagination. Of course we want to best serve our communities and provide a safe, comfortable space for our members to explore, learn and grow. I feel that these are values that are kind of no-brainers, as the old saying goes; we should always strive to treat others the way we want to be treated, but imagination and creativity are so important and are often overlooked when other realities such as budgets take center stage. Sometimes imagination is stifled or ideas considered too outlandish, impossible, or just plain wrong and I think this is a serious issue that should be addressed by all new librarians. 

We are lately seeing a trend of wider acceptance of imaginative and creative library ideas and innovations and I think that is really exciting. In my last post I discussed some Movers and Shakers who were coming up with creative ideas to fit their particular libraries and communities and this trend seems to be growing. With this in mind I think it is the responsibility of a new librarian to shake up old ways of doing things, embrace new ideas, and really get involved with imagining what possibilities are out their for their own libraries. As Dr. Lankes says, “The best days of librarianship are ahead of us.” (Lankes, 2011, p. 185) and that is a very exciting thought for me as I complete my studies and enter this new world of librarianship. 

Librarians Improving Society

This week we read about improving society, specifically the role librarians play in their communities and the responsibility we have to “facilitate knowledge creation” (Lankes, 2011, p. 117) among our members. The Atlas for New Librarianship discusses the core values librarians have that help guide us in our interactions within our community which are learning, openness, intellectual freedom and safety, and being intellectually honest not unbiased. These values remain with us regardless of the changes we see in technology and library trends, we simply take them with us as we adapt and change to new library strategies. 

What really stuck with me throughout the reading this week was the phrase, “…librarians are activists…dedicated to real change through doing.” (Lankes, 2011, p. 118). When I first see the word activist I think of someone zealous in their beliefs and loudly vocalizing those beliefs to anyone who will listen. While I think this can be admirable I’m not sure I can see a generation of librarians marching out to chain themselves to trees and vandalize unethical corporations. This got me thinking about what it really means to be a librarian and an activist, so I did some searching online to see what I could find. I ran across many interesting personal blogs written by librarians who had opinions about librarians as agents of social change and similar themes and while I found these to be fascinating reads I was really looking for something more, some specific examples that were realistic to a MLIS student and future librarian. What I found was an incredible article in the Library Journal, “Movers & Shakers 2013.”  ( http://lj.libraryjournal.com/2013/03/people/movers-shakers-2013/movers-shakers-2013/) If you haven’t seen this site I highly recommend checking it out. It is inspiring to read about librarians all across America coming up with incredible ideas to help their communities. From Audrey Barbakoff who redefined adult library service at the Bainbridge Island Library by identifying and targeting the largest demographic of non-library members, to Soraia Magahalaes who advocated for the re-opening of the Amazon State Public Library which had been closed since 2007, to our own Lauren Britton (an SU alumni) who proposed and helped create the Fayetteville maker space known as the “Fab Lab” complete with 3-D printers, there are many examples of librarians who are working for the improvement of their communities in a variety of different ways. 

Reading about these “movers and shakers” was a great inspiration for me as a future librarian, we don’t need to incite revolutions to be activists for our communities. We just have to stay true to our values and understand that we are “OF the community not FOR the community.” (Lankes, 2011, p. 118).