Libraries and Their Ever Shifting Roles

By | October 21, 2014

Each of the readings harks back to two main themes: public and community space. I have been to this small library called Mellow Pages in Bushwick a couple of times for different events. Each time I got a sense that this library’s main purpose is to create community (its small space, emphasis on public events, location, book loans, zines, small press books, etc). You can either pay for a membership, or loan books of your own to share. In Shannon’s piece “Little Libraries” she quotes McMullan who states that “The opportunity to share might be especially appealing…drawing inspiration from the open source movement, little library founders and patrons aim to transform books that were purchased as commodities into resources for the local commons” and these little libraries “can offer literature that wouldn’t be found in public library.” I found this interesting because these little libraries seem to emphasize a more participatory community space, while public libraries can offer much much more in terms of resources, and even serve as a “safe space.”
In this week’s readings it becomes apparent that the future library is not just a place where books live. In Shannon’s article “Library as Infrastructure,” it becomes clear that libraries take on ever-shifting roles. Libraries are known to serve as a safe place that is open to the community/public.
For example, Ruth Fakils expands on this by stating, “This includes, but is not limited to, [serving as] keepers of the homeless … while simultaneously offering latch-key children a safe and activity-filled haven. We have been asked to be voter-registration sites, warming stations, notaries, technology-terrorism watchdogs, senior social-gathering centers, election sites, substitute sitters during teacher strikes, and the latest — postmasters.”  It becomes clear that with shifting societal needs the library as an institution becomes one of the only places that can feasibly handle all of these roles.
It is definitely not “public library” vs. “little library.” I believe that they are good friends, that serve different roles. I just wanted to put them in conversation with each other so that we realize it will never be “this or that,” but instead the library will continue to shift depending on societal changes, whether it be a shift to digital (as we see in DPLA), or as a primary resource for the older generation (David Giles).

One thought on “Libraries and Their Ever Shifting Roles

  1. shannon Post author

    Excellent, Ariana. I’m glad you’re thinking about how these various kinds of libraries can work together in an “ecosystem,” with each providing unique collections and services, serving different publics, etc.


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