To Rivkah Sass, executive director, Sacramento Public Library (SPL), CA, there is no greater enemy to young children than the “play gap”—the shrinking time to explore, invent, and run amok. Hence the Sacramento Play Summit (SPS), a one-day program for parents, teachers, caregivers, and librarians to discuss play, why it’s important, and how to bring more of it to children.
Human-centered design, a highly creative approach to problem solving, is gaining popularity in libraries as they plan for what lies ahead. Also known as design thinking, it focuses on defining and then resolving concerns by paying attention to the needs, aspirations, and wishes of people—in the case of libraries, not only a library’s patrons but its staff, administration, and members of the community who may not be library customers…yet.
Community engagement is at the heart of Dokk1, the main branch of the Aarhus Public Libraries, Denmark. The system received a $1 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Global Libraries division to “pioneer an innovative library model” with the help of IDEO, a global design company. Its efforts were rewarded with IFLA’s 2016 Public Library of the Year award.
In a June 25 session at the ALA Annual conference in Orlando, John Bracken, VP of media innovation for the Knight Foundation, said that the foundation has been focused on three key questions when working with libraries: What can be done to foster cross-discipline collaboration, possibly learning from projects in other civic sectors such as Code for America, 18F, or the Knight-Mozilla OpenNews collaboration; how can community be put “even more robustly” at the center of the foundation’s work; and how can the foundation help libraries tell their stories to wider audiences? “To succeed, particularly in a time of reduced public investment, it is vital to tell our stories in ways that people can understand the breadth of our work, and on platforms” where the public is present and listening, Bracken said.
“We needed to change the conversation about libraries,” says Gina Millsap, CEO of Kansas’s Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library (TSCPL), the 2016 Gale/LJ Library of the Year. Millsap refers to her ongoing work with the Aspen Institute, an international leadership development nonprofit that has turned a lens toward public libraries. In October 2014, Aspen sparked a conversation about the future of libraries with its release of a report titled “Rising to the Challenge: Re-Envisioning Public Libraries.” TSCPL served as a case study. “The report gave us a framework and concepts to take out to the community,” Millsap tells LJ. As libraries engaged with the report, it became clear that many wanted more hands-on guidance about how to take recommendations from Rising to the Challenge and turn them into practical, achievable goals. In response, Aspen developed a new toolkit featuring 12 chapters of “ACTivities” covering topics such as “The Library as Civic Resource,” “The Library as Literacy Champion,” and “Jobs and Economic Development” to help libraries dig into the work of transformation, released in January as the “Action Guide for Re-Envisioning Your Public Library.”
Last month, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) released a series of articles on the status of public libraries in the UK. The news is dramatic. More than 300 libraries have been closed since 2010—the reported total of 343 includes 132 mobile libraries, with over 100 more on the chopping block—and almost 8,000 jobs have been lost. The advocacy drumbeat for UK libraries has been sounding for some time, with prominent authors and celebrities offering their support. Staring down the numbers reported by the BBC has spurred a barrage of public and professional response—some reinforcing negative stereotypes and others helping to build the case for more investment.