National Library Week, April 12–18
National Library Week, sponsored by the American Library Association, gives us an excuse to consider the role of the library in the community in a more rigorous way than we might otherwise do.
-- press release
The belief that digitalization means that the library is dead has been proven wrong decidedly.
The Salt Lake City Central Library is perhaps my favorite library outside of big university libraries or the Library of Congress, incorporating exhibit and gallery space, a green roof open to the public, and with a library store, gallery, cafes, and community space on the ground floor, complemented by an auditorium, meeting facilities, a separate children's library, and an arcade. An outbuilding connected to the library includes the local NPR station and the community writing center sponsored by the community college system. Photo: Brian Grimmett, "Salt Lake City Library Asks For Property Tax Increase," KUER-FM/NPR.
The reality is that libraries, being the civic asset open to all, have always been more than repositories for books or other printed matter--although printed matter remains important--they are civic and cultural centers. According to the ALA, that is the case:
According to The State of America’s Libraries Report ... academic, public and school libraries are experiencing a shift in how they are perceived by their communities and society. No longer just places for books, libraries of all types are viewed as anchors, centers for academic life and research and cherished spaces.This is true at many different scales:
- for the community at large, the central library of a library system plays that role
- for neighborhoods and subdistricts of cities and counties, branch libraries do so--and in Montreal, some of the branch libraries have community cultural centers as well
- for schools, the school library can be that kind of space
- for specialized knowledge needs many library systems offer special collections such as for local history, health and wellness, African-American studies, children and/or youth, heavy duty research (like the 42nd Street Library in New York City, which is comparable to a university library in its breadth of resources) and programs
- for special populations (youth, children, etc.) special spaces within libraries fill that role.
And there is a gap in "library planning," as most libraries don't take a broader cultural planning approach when developing and executing their program, including in how libraries are designed and constructed.
-- The DC Central Library, the Civic identity and the public realm
-- The Salt Lake City Central Library is absolutely incredible
-- Civic assets and mixed use: Central Library edition
-- The Central Library planning process in DC as another example of gaming the capital improvements planning and budgeting process
-- A follow up point about "local" library planning and "access to knowledge
-- Bike-based library outreach
The basic idea is that "local DC" lacks a preeminent cultural facility that serves local functions as opposed to the "nationally-serving" cultural facilities in the city such as the Kennedy Center, the Library of Congress, Smithsonian Museums, etc. and that an expanded Central Library could fill that role in part, by acknowledging the need and adding the required facilities--auditorium and cinema, exhibit and gallery space, etc.--and creating congruent programming.
But at the same time, the various roles of the library should be defined more directly and strengthened through co-location of related programs and initiatives, and the development of new programs.
The central library's knowledge, information, and media role can be expanded by synergistically co-locating related projects and organizations--which could be nonprofits such as the Foundation Center Library or Provisions Library, WPFW-FM, etc., as well as for profit publishers and media organizations. Why not incorporate a news-stand into the ground floor facade, or include a bookstore
Programs could be developed to support literacy and lifelong learning (once called "adult education"--models include the Idea Store program in Tower Hamlets borough, London, which merged and expanded library and adult learning functions in new spaces located in activity centers (shopping districts) and the Discovery Centres in the UK Hampshire district. This year the Idea Store offers over 900 lifelong learning courses.
The civic role could be developed by putting at "the library" government functions that are externally focused, such as the Serve DC volunteerism program and the city unit that assists nonprofit organizations in landing grants.
If the city had an independent "Dept. of Neighborhoods" like Seattle (such functions currently reside in the Mayor's office and the offices of the individual councilmembers) it could be located at the Central Library, it could be located here, with a training and capacity development program open to ANC Commissioners and members of civic organizations. A conference center could support public programming and provide space at low cost for civic groups, etc.
Combined, these functions--at both the central library and neighborhood branch scales--can help cities address social exclusion and build wide-ranging engagement programs that work to bridge social and economic needs for traditionally underserved communities.
Some interesting resources on libraries include:
-- "Why public libraries are glamming up," Ken Worpole, Guardian
-- "Work begins on Drumbrae's new library, day care centre, and youth cafe," Guardian
-- "Next Time, Libraries Could Be Our Shelters From the Storm," Eric Klinenberg, New York Times
-- Branches of opportunity, Center for an Urban Future, NYC
-- Making Cities Stronger: Public Library Contributions to Local Economic Development, Urban Libraries Council
-- The Engaged Library: Chicago Stories of Community, Urban Libraries Council
-- "Is it time to rebuild Public Libraries and Make Techshops?," Make Magazine (2011)
-- "21st century Libraries: The Learning Commons," Edutopia
-- Tower Hamlets' Idea Stores: Are They Working?, masters thesis
-- The four spaces – A new model for the public library (Denmark)
-- "Marketing strategies for visibility," Journal of Librarianship and Information Science
-- 21ST CENTURY LIBRARIES: CHANGING FORMS, CHANGING FUTURES, Building Futures, UK