[iDC] iDC Digest, Vol 76, Issue 15

Rolf Hapel hapel at aarhus.dk
Fri Jul 1 18:03:58 UTC 2011

This is truly interesting, Shannon. Your suggestion that it is difficult (if not impossible) to think about libraries apart from epistemology is probably completely true, the difficult part then is to figure out what the content of the current or rather upcoming epistemology will be and then translate that into a praxis in the library. And I tend to agree in your idea of an epistemology privileging the integration of thinking and making, thus creating libraries that incorporates public gathering spaces (which most public libraries do) and flexible spaces that accommodate access to and production of media in multiple formats. Important then to provide a broad variety of space for people meeting, discussing, working together, expressing themselves, performing and producing in various formats - now and here in the analogue world.


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Emne: iDC Digest, Vol 76, Issue 15

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Today's Topics:

   1. Re: Is there a future for the pubklic libraries? +
      epistemology vs. pedagogy (Shannon Mattern)
   2. Re: Is there a future for the public library (Rolf Hapel)
   3. Re: Is there a future for the pubklic libraries? (john sobol)


Message: 1
Date: Thu, 30 Jun 2011 02:41:29 -0400
From: Shannon Mattern <shannon at wordsinspace.net>
Subject: Re: [iDC] Is there a future for the pubklic libraries? +
	epistemology vs. pedagogy
To: idc at mailman.thing.net
Message-ID: <3C54A9C1-2C96-4E69-BF8D-689A0C456030 at wordsinspace.net>
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What a happy coincidence that Liz Losh and John Sobol are discussing shifting epistemologies at the same time that Rolf Hapel is inquiring about the future of public libraries. Liz describes the difficulty of separating epistemology and pedagogy; I?d suggest that it?s equally difficult to think about libraries apart from epistemology. Libraries are institutional embodiments of the prevailing ? and at times competing ? knowledge systems of their times and places.  

There?s been an ongoing conversation, to which Anne Balsamo has made really valuable contributions, about the integration of hackerspaces or techshops into libraries. Critics tend to see these production facilities as outside, and perhaps even inimical to, the core function of a library (as if libraries were ever purely intellectual institutions ? as if the rifle ranges, barber shops, and bowling alleys in Carnegie libraries supported their ?knowledge-provision? functions!). But of course this judgment is based on the privileging of a particular (literate, rational?) epistemology. What if, instead, we were to privilege the integration of thinking and making, bricolage, embodied and social knowledge, etc.: what kind of an institution would represent that epistemology? Probably a library that incorporates public gathering spaces (which most public libraries do) and flexible spaces that accommodate access to and production of media in multiple formats.

Others have proposed that the library could and should be an institution that draws attention to the *politics* of knowledge, that encourages patrons to question the interests of those creating and distributing information ? and those providing the infrastructure for its creation and distribution. Of course techshops, and even the media production facilities that currently exist in some public libraries, serve as sites of ?democratized? media production. Digital distribution?s more tricky. Some folks ? including one of my students, Rory Solomon ? have been investigating how the public library might become home to a ?truly public? internet.

Access will continue to be an issue, although those of us with the means and inclination to participate in a mailing list like this one tend to forget it. Libraries will continue to serve people who don?t have Internet access at home and who can?t afford books ? let alone smartphones or Kindles. And even for those who do have the financial means to gain access, at home or on their own devices, to all the info their hearts desire, the library could still serve an important role in providing *context* for that information. Whether people want that context is another question. Adrian Johns, in a recent presentation at Columbia University, said that librarians advocate for themselves as professionals who perform important skills-based, critical educational roles. Of course they *should* (there seems to have always been an implied morality at the heart of the library) perform those roles, and of course people should avail themselves of these ?information mediation? services. But w  ill they?

I?ve found in my own research that publics tend to be most invested in their public libraries when they?re meaningfully involved in their operations ? when they?re invited into discussions regarding design, programming, acquisitions, etc. (I know Rolf has done a good deal of this at Aarhus; I studied public involvement in Seattle.) In these cases, the ?public? refers not only to the audience the institution serves, but also to the stakeholders who shape the institution into what it is.

Shannon Mattern, The New School
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Message: 2
Date: Thu, 30 Jun 2011 07:25:47 +0000
From: Rolf Hapel <hapel at aarhus.dk>
Subject: Re: [iDC] Is there a future for the public library
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Cc: "mailto:digitalculture at newschool.edu"
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Thank you, Anne, for your inspiring thoughts on the future of the public library.  I really look forward to reading your coming book. The idea of the library becoming a process space for the practice of culture making in the framework of an open participatory learning network is great and very much in line with the thinking of our "Urban MediaSpace" -project, where we allocate plenty of physical space for all kinds of workshops, labs etc. to be used by the general public, partners, research and knowledge industry. Your image of a mash-up between various types of learning institutions to explain your vision makes me reflect on our thinking of the generalized 'mash-up library', a metaphor for the fact that the services of the library in the future will come from a variety of non-library sources including the users themselves.

And thank you, Jessica, for your rich entry - I will look through the links later, despite your warning :-). Your description of the library as a place that instills the ethics and values of the local community is undoubtedly true in US and UK, but hasn't been that clear in the rest of Europe. However, it has become more relevant to think of the library as community space and a lot of efforts have gone into the development of 'third spaces' for interpersonal connections, where one of the highlights are found in e.g. the relatively new main library in Amsterdam. In Denmark, the deconstruction of the traditional public library has led to a concept of 'Citizens Center' where third sector volunteer activities meets public sector services including library services. The label 'public library' is still preserved, though.


Rolf Hapel



City of Aarhus
City Hall, 8000 Aarhus C
Phone +45 89 40 93 00
Mobile +45 29 20 83 56


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Message: 3
Date: Thu, 30 Jun 2011 09:27:19 -0400
From: john sobol <john at johnsobol.com>
Subject: Re: [iDC] Is there a future for the pubklic libraries?
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Great description Anne, and Shannon yours is inspiring as well, along the same lines. What interests me is how these ideas can be realized.  
For my part I have been occasionally flogging a detailed business plan for a place that pretty much exactly matches your description below for almost a decade. And this is after having built and run something called Globalhood, a digital playground for at-risk youth, from 1999-2002. It was clear at that time that the sort of mashed-up learning environment you're describing was the way to go, but based on my lack of success in raising money for a business based on these ideas it doesn't seem to have been obvious to anyone else. At least not to the people I've talked to.

Or it might be fairer to say that although some of them have loved the idea, all have balked at the capital costs involved in building real-world infrastructure like this, because it obviously does not come cheap. So my question is - apart from the excellence of your vision, which I wholeheartedly support - where do you see the money coming from for the massive investment that would be required to transform libraries into spaces such as you describe? In the current economic climate my concern is that funding - be it local or federal, private or public - is not readily available, and nor is the political will to impose such bold social (and epistemological) innovations. Rolf, how has this played out in Denmark and Holland?

I do think such places will come into being sooner rather than later, and probably in a very popular format. But my own take is that if libraries are to assume this mantle they will have to move fast, both because every day that they do not change diminishes their social influence, and more importantly, because this sort of mashed-up learning/production space can just as easily come out of any of a dozen other industries. Libraries are competing with the whole world in this respect, and if someone else gets there first and establishes this model, what will libraries change into then?

Anyway, I am not meaning to be a downer, since obviously the work described by participants here is exactly what is needed, but I do want to add these practical concerns to the mix. I don't think we can rely on 'a civic-minded Carnegie Foundation of the future', which is why my version of this place has a sustainable learning economy built into it. (If anyone wants a look drop me a line).

I think libraries are ideally suited to fulfill the role you have described below, Anne, and I would like to see them do it, but I tend to think this sort of change may have to come from elsewhere.  
(Possibly Anya's book about DIY learning will reveal some of these locii). I'd be happy to be proven wrong though, because it would mean there was a massive and intelligent alignment around progressive social priorities in corporate boardrooms, library offices, union halls and city councils. But sorry experience (not quite cynicism) leads me to wonder if this is possible, at least anywhere beyond the Shangri-la's for adventurous learning that Holland and Denmark always appear to be.



On 29-Jun-11, at 2:09 PM, Anne Balsamo wrote:

> I take up this question in my new book in a chapter called  
> ?Designing Learning.?   I imagine a future of public libraries  
> where they function as a mixed-reality community based ?making space? 
> (or tinkering space), where the mission is not only the stewardship 
> and circulation of cultural infoartifacts of various forms (books, 
> maps), but also the community?s ?garage? where members hang out to 
> mess around with tools (which could be loaned) and materials (which 
> could be ?harvested? from local basements and
> garages) in face-to-face cross-generational creative projects 
> (references to Ito?s work is intentional).  Shelf resources are 
> considered evocative knowledge objects...not just ?books? or 
> concretized media forms.  The library becomes a process space for the 
> practice of culture making.  Young ones learn how to sew, elders learn 
> how to edit video.  All would be supported by a back-
> end social networking interest-learning match-making application.   
> Think Telic?s Public School mashed up with the Menlo Park Tech Shop 
> supported by some sort of civic-minded Carnegie Foundation of the 
> future interested in creating the brick and mortar infrastructure of 
> an Open Participatory Learning Network.
> Book will be out in a week or so:
> Designing Culture: The Technological Imagination at Work (Duke)
> Anne Balsamo

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