Public Libraries and the Role of Information

When the topic of libraries arise in communities, one of the first responses from members of the public has usually been books.   However, over the last while, I have noticed a shift in the public perception of the role libraries can play in communities.  I am starting to hear the community talk about the library (and library staff in the community discovering community need), as a place for community information.  This includes a place to inspire (or be inspired), to gather, and to seek, provide, or create information.

I have been thinking about what this means, and what potential application the community led approach (see here or here)  would have on this vision by community.  First I have to ask myself, how do people seek information?

People can gather information from a number of sources (none of which libraries necessarily have a monopoly on).  Sources may include:

  • Conversations (two way conversations – or large group conversations)
    • For example – creating a social space for larger conversations for immigrants and long time residents of a community.  These conversations allow for a sharing of information – and assist in integrating both immigrants and long time residents… they begin to develop relationships, trust, and share information.
  • Information out (a teaching style where people are passive recipients of information from ‘experts’)
    • E.g. Outreach and most programming in library branches
  • Written materials (this landscape is changing rapidly – especially for books)
    • Books, serials, etc.
  • Visual
    • For example… I was talking with a branch manager the other day, who talked about how quiet her branch was one day.  She began thinking about her networks and friends in the community: since they weren’t at the library where were they?  With the World Cup on – guess what – they were at the local pub.  Then it dawned on her, people were seeking information in a social setting, and they identified the pub as the social location where they could gather with other fans to watch the game.  So, why not also livestream the games into the branch (we have the technology)… also making the library a place where people can gather to watch events? (especially if they were under 19 – the legal drinking age, and didn’t drink)..
  • Audio (e.g. CD’s, DVD etc)
  • Computers  (internet, web 2.0 and now 3.0, and a mixture of some of the above)  ect..
  • And a relatively new source of information for communities – instead of coming to the library to retrieve information, people are coming to the library to create information.  A number of things can be done with this community generated information – it can be displayed, catalogued (yes – librarians would enjoy that!), stored etc..

If we as library staff decide to be involved, and position the library, as a place where community is actively involved in the information process – staff along with community will need come to an understanding of the role they each play in the interaction.  For community and libraries, evaluation will be key.  Only community members, as participants, creators and consumers of information, can define what worked (did not work) when they are trying to satisfy their information needs.  Thus, community members involvement in the entire process is essential.

This new vision for libraries would also mean that libraries would have to look at repositioning job descriptions and duties for all library staff.  This mainstreaming process [integrating community-led services across all aspects of library services – “where work is not just bolted on” and assigned to a few staff, Vincent, 2001] would build upon library staff expertise of sorting and retrieving pre-existing information – to facilitators of information creation and exploration.   What a dynamic and exciting future libraries would hold, not only for our communities, but also for our staff!

~ Ken


Filed under community development, public libraries

3 responses to “Public Libraries and the Role of Information

  1. Pingback: Shifting the Role of Academic Libraries and Librarians? | Social Justice Librarian

  2. Pingback: People Who Can and Should Influence Change in Libraries | Social Justice Librarian

  3. Pingback: Meeting People Where They Are | Social Justice Librarian

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