Today I read a blog post about The Smithsonian crowdsourcing its vision on YouTube. As Beth Kanter writes on her blog:

The Smithsonian has opened the conversation up to the world and is inviting people to submit a one-minute video sharing their vision for the Institution’s future. The question they’re asking: Given the news ways of acquiring and sharing knowledge through technology: the internet, social networking, video sharing, and cell phones—where do you see the Smithsonian’s museums and websites going in the future? How can we make education more relevant to you in a digital age?

When I read that I first thought, “What a great idea.” Then I thought, “I wonder if any libraries are doing this?” Then I asked myself, “Isn’t this at least in part what teen librarians try to accomplish with youth participation? If so, are there differences between crowdsourcing and youth participation? Do we want to employ aspects of crowdsourcing into youth participation? Should we start to call youth participation crowdsourcing?”

crowdsourcing in 8 steps from wikipediaAs usual, I had a lot of questions. The difference I see between traditional youth participation and crowdsourcing is in the number of possible participants in each. Usually libraries that implement youth participation work with a finite number of teens on planning, implementing, and problem-solving. But, crowdsourcing is different in that the number of participants is open. As the Wikipedia article on crowdsourcing says, “Problems are broadcast to an unknown group of solvers in the form of an open call for solutions.” (I love that phrase “open call for solutions.”)

Opening up teen services planning and implementation to crowdsourcing could have many benefits to the library and to the teens in the community. First, if this is an “open call for solutions” then it’s possible that the responses will be from a wide-variety of teens and not just those who are already using the library. Thereby making it possible for the library to better serve the entire teen community. Also, it’s likely that crowdsourcing will make it possible for more people in the community to know how the library is serving teens and what the library is trying to accomplish in order to meet the needs of teens successfully.

Social media is perfect for crowdsourcing. If you want to get started I have some ideas:

  • Put out a call for videos on You Tube (just like The Smithsonian) in which teens answer a particular question about a library program or service.
  • Use wikis for developing programs. Teens can work together on the wiki to plan the program, they can develop the description, the marketing, and the implementation plan on the wiki they creeate and maintain.
  • Use something like Twitter to have teens come up with the name for a program. Send out a message via Twitter, ask for resopnses, use a hashtag to gather the responses, and then select (with teens) the best title for the upcoming program.
  • When you are thinking about new furniture for the library ask teens to find furniture they like and post photos (with a library related tag) of that furniture on Flickr.
  • Start a meme on Facebook that asks teens to list their favorite of something – movies, TV shows, magazines, web sites, books, etc.

You can definitely crowdsource all aspects of planning and implementation of library services to teens. The ideas above include programming, space, and collection development. Once you start to think about it, you might come up with more ways to crowdsource your services. If you have some thoughts, add them to the comments.

About Linda W Braun

Linda W Braun is a YALSA Past President, the YALSA CE Consultant, and a learning consultant/project management coordinator at LEO: Librarians & Educators Online.

2 Thoughts on “Crowdsourcing, Youth Participation, Which Is It?

  1. Helpful post! Since we should be getting our users input anyway about programming and services, web 2.0 offers up a chance to reach more – and makes their response much more fun. If one of your crowdsourcing questions is asking for a video response, that offers a cool tie-in to a program to learn the necessary tools and equipment using the library’s materials. Neat!

  2. Nice post Linda. Know that this call-to-action on YouTube is related to our overall Web and New Media Strategy effort – – an effort that is organized on a public-facing wiki that we invite you and your readers to participate in.


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