Last week was National Library Week
Last year's post on the subject links to a lot of good reports and resources on creative approaches to the creation of libraries, including at the neighborhood scale.
I argue that libraries need to be repositioned as central neighborhood civic assets with more dimensions than "just books" as community knowledge and cultural centers.
-- "The DC Central Library, the Civic identity and the public realm
The reality is that libraries are moving in this direction, and maybe in some cases too far, as many people argue that in the digital age we might not need libraries at all.
1. A couple weeks ago the Washington Post Sunday Magazine had a couple stories on libraries, on the director of the DC Public Library ("Meet the man who is turning D.C. libraries into a national model") and the community outreach and involvement activities of a librarian at the Anacostia branch ("She's a children's librarian, but you might be surprised"). I was impressed with the latter article especially.
There is no question that in the past few years, DC's public library system has become much more focused on outreach, programming, and connecting with the neighborhoods around the branches. For example, the Petworth branch is a meeting point for neighborhood walks, other branches show films, etc.
2. But DC's public library system is hardly a national model of excellence. That headline is hyperbole, and a symptom of how because DC is the capital of the still strongest nation in the world, people believe whatever we do, ordinary or not, somehow qualifies as world class.
I don't believe that there is anything being done by the city's libraries that other systems in the US or Canada have already been doing for years.
And I argue we had an incredible opportunity to be not just best in the nation, but maybe the world, in a reconceptualized and extended central library, along the lines discussed above as a premier knowledge, learning, and cultural space unlike few others.
It is a tragedy that this opportunity will be lost to the city for at least two to three generations.
3. Note that the highly touted ("The New Cathedral: D.C.'s Rebuilt Public Libraries Draw Praise for Design and Purpose," DCist) neighborhood library rebuilding program was important (preceding the current director), but again, not exceptional, as similar programs in San Diego, Los Angeles, and Seattle long preceded it.
As I mention the opportunity was lost to do new uses of space and integrate a broader cultural "remit" at the Central Library, the same is true with all of the rebuilt libraries, with the possible exception of Deanwood, which is integrated into a community center. The rebuilding of the Anacostia branch in its same poorly located site, is a particular loss of an opportunity.
Imagine it having been reconceptualized as comparable to one of Tower Hamlets' Idea Stores--a combination educational center (adult learning) and library.
Although I'd have extended it even further, making it a combination educational center with participation of community colleges and universities, the base for a new and systematic adult/continuing education program in the city, and the location of a world-class workforce education initiative.
4. Libraries are moving into the "maker space" realm in force. The Dutch were there first, more than a decade ago ("The Maker Movement gains ground in Dutch libraries, but US libraries have been embracing this more recently too, including DC's central library.
I am particularly intrigued by how the DC central library has added The Memory Lab. ("The DC Public Library's New "Memory Lab" Lets You Digitize Old Photos and Videos," Washingtonian) which allows people to convert old media formats to current ones.
5. On Sunday, the Post had a couple of community op-eds on libraries. "A library where everybody knows your name" argues that library systems should focus on being smaller and community spaces, and not so much on bigger spaces in more regional locations.
While I agree about the necessity of libraries as community spaces, and that libraries need to be "remixed and repositioned" generally, breadth and location still matter.
However, there is no question that community space needs should be planned in a more rigorous and complete fashion beyond the library--the most common space outside of elementary schools--along the lines of the "integrated public realm" and system of civic assets that has been discussed here before.
For example, his point about the Mount Rainier community library misses the point that while it is small, seemingly supporting his point about smaller facilities, it is centrally located on a major street, next to the town hall and a bus transit hub, so it gets a lot more patronage than it would despite its size and if it were in a less prominent location.
"Library as Incubator" project/website which aims to link artists and libraries and foster the use of the space in libraries to incubate art production and arts initiatives.
This is a good illustration of the importance of having flexible spaces that support cultural production in a more systematic way through a more creative utilization of libraries as community and cultural spaces.
7. There was a recent report about how the zine library from the now defunct Solidarity radical library in Lawrence, Kansas was donated to the University of Kansas research libraries Wilcox Collection of Contemporary Political Movements.
Do Zines Belong in OC's Public Libraries?," OC Weekly).
Provisions Library used to be located on Connecticut Avenue NW in DC and was a member library with publications relevant to community organizing and activism. It didn't get enough membership and is no longer extant in the same way, but has an affiliation with the George Mason University School of Art.
I think more libraries need to develop special collections of this kind of literature, just as much as digital conversion equipment.
Why shouldn't libraries offer free space to collections like Provisions?
8. Other special collections that I think should be adopted by more libraries include Dallas' Urban Information Center, on cities and municipal government, so that citizens can be more knowledgeable on civic matters and issues. Although such a collection would be best augmented with programming.
And somewhere I saw a mention of an arts book circulating library in association with an arts center. Yes, most public library systems participate in inter-library loan programs but it is difficult to find more specialized publications in arts or urbanism etc. Outside of university libraries it is very difficult to find such publications. Public libraries should do more acquisition and development of such special collections.
9. I believe I've mentioned how some libraries in Orange County, California have installed library kiosks in train stations, such as at the ARTIC railroad-bus station in Anaheim. Fullerton was first ("Fullerton installs $35000 book vending machine," Orange County Register).
I think that's really cool, although some Republican Congressman in West Virginia disagrees, seeing it as a waste of money. I can't seem to find the weblink now.
WRT the latter, I think it's more an indicator of the increasing irrelevance of Congress, not libraries.
The Toronto Public Library system has taken up the idea too, installing a station at the city's Union Station, and is considering doing so at subway stations ("Toronto library to roll out book-lending machine at Union Station," Toronto Star).
But it turns out in North America, maybe Edmonton was first, installing such a machine in 2010 at the Century Park light rail station.
10. On a negative note, if you don't turn in your library books you can go to jail, maybe, at least in Tecumseh, Michigan ("Michigan couple faces jail over lost Dr. Seuss library book," AP).
Although this isn't what it seems. As has come out in Ferguson, Missouri and other places, court fees charged to defendants can be onerous and are often used as a revenue source by local governments ("After Ferguson, States Struggle To Crack Down On Court Debt," Pew Charitable Trusts). The couple refuses to pay the "economic diversion fees" being charged to them as part of the case. From the article:
Although the couple admitted they were negligent in returning the books, they think it's unfair to each be charged a $105 "diversion fee" to the Lenawee County Economic Crimes Unit in addition to fines owed to the Tecumseh Public Library, WXYZ-TV reported.It's an interesting element, given that library systems often face rights and freedom of expression issues over book banning proposals.
The American Library Association should probably come out against the imposition of such fees in association with library fines and lost book legal cases.
11. CSPAN's Book TV programming on the weekends is usually quite interesting. We don't watch it very often but did last weekend, and ended up buying one of the books mentioned, a graphic novel, which we will be giving as a birthday present.
I think somehow, public library systems need to work more with CSPAN on rebroadcasting that programming on local community/library cable channels and in libraries--although maybe that defeats the purpose of reading by encouraging people to watch television.