[iDC] Is there a future for the pubklic libraries?

Paulina Maria Mickiewicz paulina.mickiewicz at mail.mcgill.ca
Sat Jul 2 13:29:32 UTC 2011

This is a great discussion. What Shannon said about libraries being institutional embodiments of the prevailing and at times competing knowledge systems of their times and places really resonates with the work I am doing on the Grande Bibliothèque in Montreal, where I found that as an architectural intervention into the city and as a “container” for various modes of public interaction, expression and communication, the Grande Bibliothèque in particular can also be understood as an institutionalizing force for a specific type of subjectivity, at least in the Quebec context.
More generally on the question of the future of public libraries though, I have found that there has been a shift in the ways in which that future is being discussed. For many scholars and librarians alike the public library has become the institution of the 21st century. As such I would say that the 21st century library can be seen as an emerging medium that seeks to not only preserve and disseminate collective memory and culture but also to provide access to spaces and networks of knowledge, culture and interaction that together renovate the library’s traditional role as a democratic institution. The library has in fact become a central nervous system for new and emergent media technologies, a space that centralizes increasingly decentralized networks and systems, and a place in which new and emergent media technologies have not only found a home, a place where they can be contained, but a space in which the encounter between citizens and public knowledge and culture is staged (which, I think, resonates with what Shannon has written in her book Designing with Communities).
Lately, I’ve been questioning whether the public library could be considered as not only a storage facility for a multitude of technologies but also a mediating technology in itself, one that contains technological objects but also contains memory, and could be considered, to borrow from Zoe Sofia, as “a technology of re-sourcing: it can be filled from a source, then itself becomes a source of what it has kept and preserved”.
Finally, to add to the question of funding that John brought up, it seems as though there has been a trend towards allocating much public funding for libraries to building architecturally impressive centralized monuments in cities (often as part of a city’s branding strategies) that localize the functions of the public library in the downtown core, creating a kind of mega community centre. With the Grande Bibliothèque in Montreal this has been quite a successful project in that the GB was not built at the expense of more local neighbourhood libraries, however I fear that this is most likely not the case in most cities.

Paulina Mickiewicz
PhD Candidate
Dept of Art History and Communication Studies
McGill University

From: idc-bounces at mailman.thing.net [idc-bounces at mailman.thing.net] on behalf of Rolf Hapel [hapel at aarhus.dk]
Sent: July 1, 2011 1:37 PM
To: 'Anya Kamenetz'
Cc: 'idc at mailman.thing.net'
Subject: Re: [iDC] Is there a future for the pubklic libraries?

Hi Anya,

I can recognize your description of public library functionalities as being free internet cafées and afterschool gathering places for children also from Danish experiences, but – depending of course to a certain degree of the nature of the community – also as a democratic space for meetings, workshops, gatherings, gaming, learning and listening much of which is organized by civic society activists in the community. I look forward to read about the LearnerWeb in your e-book.


Fra: Anya Kamenetz [mailto:anyaanya at gmail.com]
Sendt: 1. juli 2011 18:24
Til: Rolf Hapel
Cc: Janet Hawtin; Jessica F. Lingel; idc at mailman.thing.net
Emne: Re: [iDC] Is there a future for the pubklic libraries?

The way I see libraries functioning most vibrantly in communities today, at a moment of transition, is as free Internet cafes for lower-income people and afterschool gathering places for children.
In my new ebook The Edupunks' Guide (expected release in August) I talk about a really interesting program called LearnerWeb, which is a guided online personal learning plan experience for people whose goals include learning English, learning to read, or getting a GED. http://www.learnerweb.org/infosite/
People generally interact with the LearnerWeb website in a semi-supervised situation like an adult literacy center, social services center, and yes, a library.
On Fri, Jul 1, 2011 at 3:19 AM, Rolf Hapel <hapel at aarhus.dk<mailto:hapel at aarhus.dk>> wrote:
Hi Janet,

Thank you for your comments. I agree that the change of format ultimately is changing the business models of publishing, thus has an enormous effect of the business model of the libraries. Copyright issues are at the core of this development. I believe that your reflection on the library as a future repository or space which can host culturally important data over longer time spans ending with a (big) question mark is very relevant! The need for preserving valuable cultural and polical data is obvious, but it is in my mind not a task for the public library to do that, it must be national repositories that harvest that kind of digital information. The possibility of having networks of libraries host contemporary digital media content (or maybe access to digital media content through metadata repositories) is certainly a possibility - that's what we are doing in Denmark.


-----Oprindelig meddelelse-----
Fra: Janet Hawtin [mailto:lucychili at gmail.com<mailto:lucychili at gmail.com>]
Sendt: 30. juni 2011 12:50
Til: Jessica F. Lingel
Cc: Rolf Hapel
Emne: Re: [iDC] Is there a future for the pubklic libraries?


I am one of the new library sector students.

My concern about the shift in paper owned resources to linked or subscribed digital resources is largely because it changes the kind of access rights users have because copyright is a shifting target.
Format shift brings with it a shift from ownership of an object to tenancy with a hosting site.
You also need to keep paying to keep accessing.

Sometimes it also means that the library is less seen as a space which can host culturally important data over longer time spans? I think the refresh rate of government websites for example will mean it is difficult to compare changing government policies over some years as old data is deleted and replaced with the latest perspectives.
Perhaps libraries can still host that kind of longer perspective?
Perhaps libraries can hold self published zines, local content, local books.
It would be interesting if networks of libraries became more authoritative and integrated as hosting organisations for digital media as content in other hosting sites may well only be there while it is profitable and not offer a longer term cultural asset.

A comfy chair and a net connection are passive aspects of information delivery in that they are only able to deliver relevant information if the wider network has chosen to host the data and it is accessible from that network.

My initial thoughts anyway =)

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