on participatory librarianship

homework supervisor

homework supervisor

This is Tasha … she is 23 years old! One of my homework supervisors.

I wanted to help people solve problems. I didn’t care about books (well, I did and I do, but this was far from my motivation to go to library school). I already knew I was good with problems, and sharing that ability with others seemed like a no-brainer. This is something I knew long before I knew about participatory librarianship, or Lankes’ New Librarianship, or anything, really. I spent so many years working behind the scenes, and my elevator speech was always something pretty nebulous. “See that thing? I do something which does something which supports something that makes that work.” Not so inspiring …

Participatory librarianship appeals to my activist history—activism and activists enable the community to make better-informed decisions and ultimately change lives. The problems solved this way can be broader, and more important, than anything I ever expected to be involved with.

Of course, all that is focused on my involvement, and not so much community involvement. I haven’t figured out the community involvement piece, especially with respect to where I may end up in Libraryland.

Design seems to an obvious part of this—the design of spaces that encourage participation is really obvious in the images we’ve seen of the DOK center and of other participation-based library spaces (both online and face-to-face). I wouldn’t be surprised if all the examples of participatory rooms/buildings that we see come from Europe and Japan—the lack of real estate for pretty much any purpose in these places forces people to become very creatively efficient with their design and usage of space.

Mathews’ paper designed to inspire library entrepreneurialism made me cringe when I read the title. You may have guessed from earlier reflections that I have a low opinion of things labeled this way: what is identified as entrepreneurial is often not novel at all and is often pretty much useless. Early on, however, this article seemed different: so many of the “what-ifs” identified in the article are already under way and, in my estimation, represent a liberation as much as a liability. There’s a certain ceding of control of resources and that may free the library to focus on the participatory aspects of their service. The key is to get out from managing the things while influencing how these resources are used to enable the community.

So much talk about library entrepreneurialism stays at the 35000-foot level; the most satisfying parts of his paper came near the end. “Real artists ship.” Ultimately, the question becomes one of innovation (and, ultimately, the ability to deliver) in an environment where innovation may not be a real priority.

6 thoughts on “on participatory librarianship

  1. Jamie Davis says:

    Your homework supervisor looks so amazing for 23! Looks like she is pretty easy on you. ;)

    You said,
    “Participatory librarianship appeals to my activist history—activism and activists enable the community to make better-informed decisions and ultimately change lives. The problems solved this way can be broader, and more important, than anything I ever expected to be involved with.”

    This statement really made me react and think, “ME TOO!!!” I initially started my career in social services and when I found that I was not prepared for the every day amount of suffering I would encounter, it felt like a natural move to get my MLIS. I knew I could help people. I love how you worded this. I’m going to keep your quote if you don’t mind to remind me of why I am working at this degree when I don’t know where I will end up. Thank you!

    • RenVen says:

      The statement Henry made that you are referring to made me think of Radical Reference (http://radicalreference.info/). I chose to read “This Book is Overdue!:How Librarians and Cybrarians Can Save Us All” by Marilyn Johnson for the Context Book Report and there is chapter that discusses activism and the Radical Reference group. I thought it was so fascinating to see how librarians came together to provide information to the demonstrators of the Republican National Convention in New York back in 2004. Somehow I can picture Henry among the librarians arming the demonstrators with information after this post :)

      • Henry Mensch says:

        I read Overdue as I started library school a few years ago and have Radical Reference on my “to-do” list. Librarianship enables all kinds of activism: I couldn’t have seen this more plainly than when I did my reference observations and saw local bloggers and activists at the library researching their current work. Looks like a good outcome to me!

        (I did look for a photo of me on the front page of the Daily Pennsylvanian in the mid-1980’s … the photo was taken at a gay rights protest on the Penn campus where I worked as a clerk at the Law School at the time … but couldn’t find it.)

  2. Henry Mensch says:

    Yes … my activism (more explicit and direct in the 1980’s and 1990’s) helped open the world for equal rights for all and helped create more treatment options for people with HIV (at the time these were scarce because the disease was so new and because various agencies involved weren’t acting with the urgency required. We helped prolong and save lives while gaining a better understanding of what we were dealing with. We can do at least as much here.

  3. michael says:

    Henry & Jamie –This rocks! The reasons that have brought you to librarianship are important and will serve you well. I also agree about the last paragraph: it’s so easy to making sweeping statements, it’s harder to get things done.

  4. Laurie Miller says:

    My apologies, “Tasha!” Not Sasha. Laurie

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