Distributed Structures in Libraries

Anarchist Librarian tee shirt from TopatoCo.

My brain has been kind of reeling with stuff since last week.  I’ve been on a kind of personal philosophical rampage about the future of library science and it’s been bubbling inside of me until I get to the point of trying to push this into something that at least sounds coherent.  Compound this with the fact that I’ve been spending the last several weeks writing original music, reconnecting with friends, traveling the country, and going through end of the year performance evaluations and well, needless to say, blogging just took a backseat.

So, what I want to talk about today is about library anarchy.  Please don’t panic.

One of the things that I try to keep a pulse on is how business and government are changing.  I take a lot of cues from the tech sector where I see the most innovation especially in terms of redesigning the work model.  Google goes a hell of a long way to redefining work with their 20% time model.  This allows an employee time to pursue other ideas and things that intrigue and interest them, keeping them motivated within the work space by giving them an entire work day to explore and play.  I thought that was pretty radical.  And then I saw the Valve employee manual.  This is a radically different workplace, one that has zero boundaries between an employee and the CEO.  Let’s add to this picture Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s theory of Anti-Fragile economies as being part of a distributed system.

Libraries by their nature as government service agencies are inevitably bound up in bureaucratic muckety muck.  We are built on hierarchies and structures and layers of protocols, policies, procedures, and rules.

But what if we explored doing things entirely differently?  And I’m not talking just about dropping Dewey and using BISAC categories or roving librarianship.  But I mean, what about a radical overhaul of public library work and meaning for our staff?  I’m going to throw out some insane and probably dangerous library ideas now.

  • Dissolve and distribute central libraries into local collections that have unique and deep research pockets around a city.
  • Expand staff categories to cover emerging literacies in areas like engineering, ecology, biology, and design.  The MLIS is awesome, but it’s not the same as being able to show someone how to fabricate their own shoes and coathangers on local equipment.
  • Eradicate hierarchical barriers between staff members on all levels.  You will always discover unknown talents in everyone that adds to the overall value of the system, and they should all have a voice.
  • Move from centralized activities to networked activities designed at a local level.  There is value in centralized organization and development of activities in that it certainly saves time, but the fewer voices in the mix, the more homogenous the product.
  • Actively invest in distributed public educational and productive endeavors

Why?  Why am I advocating at this exact moment for a total overhaul in the way we do things?

Because this is the way the world is changing right now.  There is now an entire generation of people who have grown up in the internet age who have an entirely different worldview, an entirely different perspective on work, and we are quickly moving into a place in the future where society and culture are radically redefined.

We have already begun the process of transforming the library from a place of media consumption and engagement to a place of media creation and interaction.  But media is expanding beyond the printed word, the recorded sound and video.  We are slowly becoming a culture of shared, distributed manufacture, locally grown products, and crowdsourced brainpower.

Where libraries have been in the past, as a repository for those who could not on their own access information, we are going to be serving as the place for those who on their own cannot access this new world.  For those who can’t print their own book, or to replicate their new shoes, or upload their new locally produced television show, let us be that place.  In order for us to be flexible enough to do these things let us explore how we can appeal to generation who can make it happen.  Let’s look at how we can change the work environment to accommodate the kinds of radical new thinking needed to transform us into the true 21st century library.

We are what we have always been.  Let us look to being that and so much more.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s