reflecting on technology and the participatory library

Work with schools, Bronx Traveling Library : people using bo...

cc New York Public Library Visual Materials

The potential to improve the library’s usability and engage the patron though new technologies makes sense because people are already successfully using technology to access information through other means.  I, myself was frustrated with the inability of library technology to measure up to my experience as an online consumer.  As Lankes, Silverstein, Nicholson & Marshall (2007) suggest, I might be more interested in our community library’s OPAC if I were allowed to manipulate the interface and search results to my liking or take an interest in the collection should I be able to read other local reviews or submit my own.  But, the lack of engagement, the lack of potential, has left me indifferent, only visiting when I am checking to see if they have a title after perusing the reviews elsewhere.

“We adapt to what we adopt.”  Buckland (1997)

So, the idea for libraries to make use of emerging technologies is more than welcome.  Change is passing the reluctant library by and forward thinking is barely allowing libraries to maintain their momentum and cultural relevance.  I agree, there are many barriers and issues to overcome, and, no, we should not forsake our traditional library users, but, the opportunity is great for those who step out of their comfort zones to explore how they can better meet the information seeker’s needs and engage him/her in new ways.

“The library and its leadership need to be shaping that future today by crafting services that people want now.”  Casey & Savastinuk (2007)

Lankes, et al. (2007) proposed the conversation theory to help libraries/librarians understand how they might develop a relationship with their users and potential users in their communities to find out how to better serve them.  In both Casey & Silverstein (2007), and Lankes, et. al. (2007), the emphasis on feedback brought to mind the “askhole” (please pardon the crude imagery, but it will prove a point).  While I have seen many library friends share this meme, I’m afraid that librarians are capable of the same ingratitude.  If we solicit information from the library user regarding improvements to library service, are we not obligated to demonstrate a show of faith and attempt to meet those needs or at least explain when we can or why we are not able to?  Trust is established when conversation goes both ways and we demonstrate we are listening to and acting on those criticisms and requests.

I see marketing as a continuum of that conversation as we play close attention to our user demographics, needs and how to inform them of our services.  Casey & Savastinuk (2007) briefly use the business words “competition,” “market” and “customer” before returning to the verbiage librarians seems more comfortable with.  This left me wondering why libraries are afraid of adopting ideas from the business world.  Kathy Dempsey encourages libraries to carefully examine how they could market their library services to their stakeholders and has a wonderful diagram for The Cycle of True Marketing (2012).  I came across a SlideShare by David Armano (2008) that capitalizes on micro interactions and direct engagements in the business world that I believe also fit the participatory model in libraries.

 “The best knowledge comes from an ‘optimal information environment’.”  Lankes, Silverstein, Nicholson & Marshall (2007)

I value that the role of technology proposed in our course readings is as an enhancement, not an end unto its self.  The threat of becoming consumed by technology and losing sight of the mission of the library while attempting to integrate it into the library programs and services is real.  I also appreciate the emphasis that the participatory library model does not undermine the values and principles of librarianship or that the well thought out mission should guide decision-making.

Yes, I’ve already bought into the participatory model of libraries and librarianship, but it isn’t without an ear for criticism.  It is important to listen to the whole conversation…not just to the part that shares the same viewpoint.


Armano, D. (2008). Micro interactions + direct engagement in a 2.0 world.  [website] Retrieved from

*Buckland, M. K. (1997). Redesigning library services: A manifesto. Chicago: American Library Association.

*Casey, M. E., & Savastinuk, L. C. (2007). Library 2.0: A guide to participatory library service. Medford, N.J: Information Today.

Dempsey, K. (2012). The cycle of true marketing. [website] Retrieved from

*Lankes, R. D., Silverstein, J., Nicholson, S., Marshall, T. (2007). Participatory networks: The library as conversation. Information Technology & Libraries, 26(4), 17-33.

*The Hyperlinked Library foundational readings