The Atlas notes that although public libraries come in a variety of shapes and sizes, their unifying function is to be the intellectual glue of a community. In this agreement, I look at some of the efforts made by libraries to understand and respond to their communities’ needs. The literature discussed here is in agreement with the Atlas’ ideas on surveying the community and creating innovative services and spaces.
Evaluation of the community’s satisfaction is one area the Atlas emphasizes for public libraries. Lankes notes, “When determining whether or not to deploy a given feature you must do careful analysis of what users are trying to accomplish.” In his study of Australian public libraries, Bundy (2006) agrees. He found that the proportion of primary and secondary students using the public library was quite high, and those numbers are only increasing. He discovered that users were generally satisfied with the libraries’ wide range of services—but that they also needed more IT support and study space. He also finds there needs to be more libraries in less developed places. Fisher (2003) also concurs with Lankes and Bundy on the importance of surveying the community. She examined how members of a school library community thought of and used the local public library. Unfortunately, she found a high level of dissatisfaction with the library. But, she notes, this information is important in deciding how the library should plan for the future.
The results of surveys like these have an impact on how the library serves the community. In the Atlas, Lankes calls for libraries to create a “seamless interaction of digital and virtual, with physical spaces feeding into digital worlds, and vice versa.” He also notes that participatory tools are popular not simply because people “love” technology but because they fulfill a social need for people to connect with one another. Public libraries are adapting to this new reality in an increasingly electronic world. In this same vein, Cook and Ellis (2008) write of their own experiences updating their public library’s Web site and learning of its teen population’s deep dissatisfaction with it. They found that the teens wanted a more progressive Web site to connect with the library. To investigate their need, Cook and Ellis began exploring tools such as del.icio.us and Flick. Cook and Ellis found that by applying these tools, they were able to encourage participation by members of the community. Buhmann et al. (2009) agree with the work of Lankes, Cook, and Ellis. Buhmann and his colleagues write of their experience with Skokie Public Library’s creation of SkokieTalk, a Web site that allows patrons to interact with one another and add their community-related information. It started in 1994 when members of the community bemoaned the lack of a central source for community information such as child-care options, grocery stores, public transportation, medical facilities, and so on. It began as a simple directory of links and has since grown into a much richer collaboration among participating members of the community, one that more efficiently directs patrons to library resources.
Public librarians have also applied their knowledge of the community to create more innovative uses of library space. As Lankes argues in the Atlas, spaces must be organized “to aid like conversations to progress from agreement to agreement… [towards] the topics that your community sees as crucial not simply to support, but to showcase and move forward.” Blumenstein (2009) is of the same opinion. She documents how the Pearl Avenue Branch Library in San José, California, was able to incorporate environmentally friendly art and architecture in the San Jose libraries. The city of San Jose has a citywide green building policy. Because of the constituents’ commitment to environmentalism, the community was deeply engaged with the building of the library. Similarly, the people of Eckhart Public Library in Auburn, Indiana, rallied to transform a dilapidated garage (originally to be used for library vans) into a space for expanded children’s services (Bushnell, 2009). The library radically changed its construction plans for the garage. Later the community asked that it be environmentally sustainable as well. Following the community’s wishes, today the garage is a certified green building.
Keeping an eye toward the community’s needs also affects the services the public library offers. In the Atlas, Lankes argues that increased member usage comes from members being able to influence their educational system. In documenting the story of Studio I at the Public Library of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County, Czarnecki (2009) finds this to be true. Open since 2005, Studio I uses several forms of technology to allow teenagers to tell new kinds of stories using video cameras and animation software. At Studio I, adolescents are allowed to shape their own learning experience and even contribute to the department by interning or volunteering there. Echoing this idea of pioneering services is the work of the teen services department at the County of Los Angeles Public Library (Delatte, 2009). The theme of the summer reading program of 2008 was “metamorphosis.” Going off the beaten trail, the department created a program that went beyond reading and more toward creating. It created “Project Morph.” Modeled after the television show “Project Runway,” teens brought old clothes to the library and had an hour to reinvent their clothing. Afterward, they walked a catwalk to simulate a fashion show. The project meant that the library had to buy nontraditional items—like fabric markers, assorted trim, and gems—but the program was such a hit that 30 libraries followed suit.
1. Fisher finds that the surveying library is disturbed to discover that the community is unsatisfied with its level of service. I think this is why more libraries don’t evaluate themselves. It’s a fear a lot of libraries have—they are afraid of what they might find. How can libraries overcome this fear? Is there a strategy to accepting negative results and moving on from there?
2. Buhmann et al. describe how SkokieNet has become an impressive platform for community members to connect and learn from one another. But how does this tool differ from Facebook, or other social networking applications that are now in existence? Does SkokieNet better meet the community’s needs? If so, does the fact that it’s locally made—by and for the people of Skokie— have anything to do with its success?
Blumenstein, L. (2009). San Jose’s Green Art. Library Journal (1976), 24–25. Retrieved October 24, 2009, from Library Lit & Inf Full Text database.
Buhmann, M., Greenwalt, T., Jacobsen, M., & Roehm, F. (2009). On the ground, in the cloud. Library Journal (1976), 134(12), 35–37. Retrieved October 24, 2009, from Library Lit & Inf Full Text database.
Bundy, A. (2006). Supporting students: The educational contribution of Australia’s public libraries. Australasian Public Libraries and Information Services, 19(3), 126–136. Retrieved October 23, 2009, from Library Lit & Inf Full Text database.
Bushnell, S. (2009). Library’s green annex brings acclaim, growth. Library Journal (1976), 32. Retrieved October 24, 2009, from Library Lit & Inf Full Text database.
Cook, K., & Ellis, J. (2008). Getting started with Library 2.0: No PhD required. Tennessee Libraries (Online), 58(2), 1–8. Retrieved October 23, 2009, from Library Lit & Inf Full Text database.
Czarnecki, K. (2009). Mentoring over movies and music: Studio i-Style. Voice of Youth Advocates, 32(3), 198–199. Retrieved October 24, 2009, from Library Lit & Inf Full Text database.
Delatte, M. (2009). Project morph: Bringing fashion rehab to Los Angeles Library teens. Young Adult Library Services, 7(4), 11–12, 18. Retrieved October 24, 2009, from Library Lit & Inf Full Text database.
Fisher, H. (2003). A teenage view of the public library: What are the students saying? Australasian Public Libraries and Information Services, 16(1), 4–16. Retrieved October 23, 2009, from Library Lit & Inf Full Text database.