Participatory Librarianship

Yesterday I had the chance to attend a meeting at ALISE about participatory librarianship. (The main focus was on bringing participatory librarianship ideas to library education.) I’d read about the concept of participatory librarianship about a year ago when the ALA Office of Internet Technology Policy (OITP) and Syracuse Univesity published a report (and launched a web site) on the topic. However, after looking at the information all those months ago I didn’t spend much more time thinking about the ideas expressed.

The Participatory Librarianship site defines the concept this way:

Simply put participatory librarianship recasts library and library practice using the fundamental concept that knowledge is created through conversation. Libraries are in the knowledge business, therefore libraries are in the conversation business. Participatory librarians approach their work as facilitators of conversation. Be it in practice, policies, programs and/or tools, participatory librarians seek to enrich, capture, store and disseminate the conversations of their communities.

Isn’t this what those serving teens in libraries try to do every day – have conversations with teens, and those in the community that support and serve teens, in order to provide better programs and services?

Throughout the meeting I took notes of some of the key ideas (sound bites) expressed by participants. Three of these include:

  • If libraries are in the information business then they are also in the conversation business. In other words as a part of the information gathering and seeking process librarians and searchers need to have real conversations about the process, the information, the tools, and so on. Searchers and librarians participate in discussion in order to succeed in the process and to develop ideas.
  • Let users design systems if they are using them. This means that customers – teens and adults – get to mashup and customize tools libraries/librarians provide. For example, instead of forcing users to stick with the technology tools that they find hard to use, why not find ways to give them tools that they can customize in order to make their use more meaningful and easy? For example search widgets, wiki tools, and so on.
  • In the library field we want problem-solvers who can communicate with the community. For those of us working with teens, that seems to mean looking at the barriers to successful teen service in the library and then going out and having conversations with community members, colleagues, administrators, and teens in order to find possible and effective solutions.

There’s a lot to think about within this idea of participatory librarianship and the world of teen services. Why not start a conversation at your library about what the concept is and how you can start integrating it in order to enhance your programs and services – to teens and to the community at large?