As I’ve discussed in recent posts, libraries are forced to reevaluate their purpose in these changing times. It is no longer enough to house books and information because with the help of the Internet, people are able to access that information from home. I have noticed some patrons who used to be regulars have stopped coming to the library. When they do occasionally stop by, it’s to ask about the download library. Some of them apologize and explain “I have a Kindle now.” I can understand that it is much more convenient to download a book to your Kindle from the comfort of your own home than to travel to the library and check out a book (assuming that the book is available). But for me, libraries have so much more to offer than reading material. This is where the term “participatory culture” comes in.
More and more libraries are taking part in participatory culture. What does this mean, exactly? It means that libraries recognize that their patrons should play an active role in the library. People are not merely “vessels to be filled with a body of knowledge” as Cadwell would say. Learning isn’t just memorizing what someone else has told you. It’s a process that involves the creation as well as the consumption of content.
Participatory culture can take many forms in libraries. Libraries are providing their patrons with makerspaces, 3-D printers, and state of the art computer labs to enable them to create art that is sometimes added to the collection. This is wonderful, but it is also expensive and time consuming to start these types of programs. I think participatory culture can come in many forms, and even basic programs or displays can go a long way to create this kind of atmosphere at the library.
Here are three examples of simple ways we encourage participatory culture at the Ellsworth Public Library:
1. Patron Picks
This new display (which was a patron’s idea) lets people highlight their book recommendations.
2. Comment Cards
We include a comment card in the back of all new fiction books. Patrons are encouraged to rate the book (on a scale of 1-5) and write their comments.
3. Name the mascot
The library now has a mascot, but it needs a name. Instead of choosing the name, we are asking our patrons to vote!
How does your library encourage patron participation? Do you think that input from patrons is vital to the library experience? I would love to hear what you think in the comments.
- MLA Conference Recap #1: Making Stuff with your Patrons (thelupinelibrarian.me)