National Library Week, April 4th-10th, 2021
What a year it's been for civic assets, "social infrastructure", like libraries. For much of the last year, public libraries in most cities have been closed, and university libraries have restricted access to students and faculty.
Slowly, libraries have been re-opening, usually with restrictions in terms of the number of patrons at any one time, eliminating most seating, putting computer terminals out of service so that a minimum 6 foot distance between stations can be maintained, etc.
In the interim period, most libraries offered curbside services and vastly expanded online programming.
Unfortunately my County Library system, as a protection measure, stopped subscribing to newspapers, which is a pain. I don't know if this was a common practice across the nation.
This year, National Library Week, with the theme "Welcome to the Library," reminds us how important libraries are and can be to our cities, counties, and neighborhoods.
Past blog entries discussing libraries as civic assets, nodes in a network of civic assets, and as community cultural centers
-- "Boston Athenaeum as a model for what central libraries should strive to be: Culture Centers with lots of books and other resources," 2019
-- "The DC Central Library, the Civic identity and the public realm," 2011
-- "The Salt Lake City Central Library is absolutely incredible," 2013
-- "Civic assets and mixed use: Central Library edition," 2013
-- "The Central Library planning process in DC as another example of gaming the capital improvements planning and budgeting process," 2013
-- "A follow up point about "local" library planning and "access to knowledge," 2013
-- "National Library Week," 2015
-- "National Libraries Week, April 19th-25th," 2020
Issues for me going forward with regard to libraries include:
1. Repositioning libraries as a key element of networks of civic assets as discussed in "Update: Neighborhood libraries as nodes in a neighborhood and city-wide network of cultural assets"".
For this to work there also needs to be an overarching cultural plan for the community, including a "knowledge and media" element ("What would be a "Transformational Projects Action Plan" for DC's cultural ecosystem").
Along these lines, the suburban city of Laval outside of Montreal aims to develop a central library and cultural center in part as a way to anchor arts and arts organizations, probably modeled in part on Montreal ("City moves ahead on cultural center, library," The Suburban).Culture Houses" which aimed to democratize and increase access to arts and culture, Montreal began their program in 1979.
In "Outline for a proposed Ward-focused (DC) Councilmember campaign platform and agenda" I discuss the idea of councilmanic district offices as hubs for democracy. This idea can be equally extended to library branches. From the article:
Create a “Democracy House," a center for involvement in public and civic life in the ward. If the city provided ward council offices, such a facility could also offer space for community organizations, meeting space, etc., but space would be managed using participatory techniques independently of the Councilmember/Ward office.
I don't think planning consulting firms have glommed onto concepts I lay out about civic assets as networks nor what I call "transformational projects action planning" ("Downtown Edmonton cultural facilities development as an example of "Transformational Projects Action Planning"").
4. More creative thinking about co-location of major cultural facilities especially in situations across systems, for example I've suggested that the Trump Administration's decision to eliminate regional installations for the National Archives ("Judge blocks sale and closure of National Archives in Seattle; notes ‘public relations disaster’ by feds," Seattle Times) could be addressed by creating joint libraries between the National Archives and local systems, the way that the Canadian National Archives is building a library jointly with the City of Ottawa ("Modern concept signals next chapter for Ottawa ‘super library," Toronto Globe & Mail).
Besides the forthcoming Canadian example, the classic example of co-location heretofore is in San Jose, California, where the city library's central library and the San Jose State University campus share libraries. Although in Montreal, the provincial library simultaneously serves as the city's central library. I don't know if the city provides some of the operating funds for the facility.
And the State of Maine has a combined archives, library, and museum. More recently, the Brooklyn Historical Society announced it is merging with the Brooklyn Public Library.
5. Continuing to broaden the definition of what the library "collects" and makes available for check out, for example I learned last week that some libraries maintain collections of kitchen implements which you can check out ("You can now check out cooking supplies at libraries," Albany Times-Union).
This is commonly referred to as a "Library of Things" ("The library of things: could borrowing everything from drills to disco balls cut waste and save money?," Guardian) and was pre-dated by the creation of Tool Libraries.
6. Libraries as places to provide spaces for community use. Not just maker spaces, which is a big thing, but more freeform space that can be used by community organizations, and various groups, including music practice ("Libraries with Music Practice Rooms," Public Libraries News) etc.Integrated café at Tårnby Main Library," Model Programme for Libraries
7. Libraries as opportunities for civic social enterprise. Friends of the library bookshops are one element. In San Juan Capistrano, California, the bookshop at the library is the only bookstore in the city, and the city markets it as a bookstore in its promotional materials.
A library in London rented space to a used book store. Another is food service run as a workforce training enterprise, such as the Skid Row Cafe at the Central Library in Los Angeles, and The Kitchen at the Hartford Connecticut Central Library.
8. Figuring out how to expand access to "professional books" as part of collections (university library collections tend to be quite different from public libraries on this score). I know that the California State Library in the past has paid for master subscriptions to online periodicals, which local library systems then had access to. But now that I no longer have access to the Library of Congress, I'm hurting for access to specialized publications. My idea is that state libraries should maintain a professional collection of books and periodicals that is then made available to patrons of the various city and county library systems as part of a shared lending system.The Linden New Jersey Public Library subscribes to more than 100 periodicals. The Woodridge branch of the DC Public Library, in a less well off section of the city, has fewer than 30.
9. Maintaining and expanding periodicals collections. As part of my development of a checklist for evaluating libraries, something that is in process, I've come to realize that periodicals collections need to be evaluated both for breadth, but also specialization. And libraries can introduce people to publications they wouldn't have heard of otherwise.
Out here in Salt Lake City and County, the local libraries do a much better job than the DC public libraries on this score. Although even here, I find there to be a need to expand the variety of specialty publications carried, and to not retreat on newspaper subscriptions.
Here, the Salt Lake Tribune and Salt Lake Deseret News have shifted to one day per week publication, but they produce a digital newspaper five days. I believe the libraries should print off a copy of the digital newspaper each day and put it out for reading.
10. Making school libraries more of a community resource and increasing access when the school is normally closed. Many school systems are de-emphasizing the provision of school libraries, arguing that digital access to materials suffices. But as the public service ads used to say 40+ years ago, "Reading is Fundamental" and the reading habit needs to be developed early and stoked regularly.
Some school libraries open in the summer, even when school is closed, to provide access to media in communities that are under-resourced. For example, in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, the high school libraries open once/month in the summer ("Sioux Falls students nudged toward summer books," Sioux Falls Argus-Leader). And the school library at Meadowlark Elementary in Salt Lake City opens up in the summers. This needs to happen more regularly ("Trend Alert: More School Libraries Staying Open all Summer," School Library Journal)., "School libraries open for summer," Albany Democrat-Herald).
Years ago, I came across a mention that the school libraries in Helsinki are run by the city library system, but I haven't been able to confirm this. In any case, perhaps this should become a standard practice everywhere.