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

john sobol john at johnsobol.com
Thu Jun 30 13:27:19 UTC 2011

Great description Anne, and Shannon yours is inspiring as well, along  
the same lines. What interests me is how these ideas can be realized.  
For my part I have been occasionally flogging a detailed business  
plan for a place that pretty much exactly matches your description  
below for almost a decade. And this is after having built and run  
something called Globalhood, a digital playground for at-risk youth,  
from 1999-2002. It was clear at that time that the sort of mashed-up  
learning environment you're describing was the way to go, but based  
on my lack of success in raising money for a business based on these  
ideas it doesn't seem to have been obvious to anyone else. At least  
not to the people I've talked to.

Or it might be fairer to say that although some of them have loved  
the idea, all have balked at the capital costs involved in building  
real-world infrastructure like this, because it obviously does not  
come cheap. So my question is - apart from the excellence of your  
vision, which I wholeheartedly support - where do you see the money  
coming from for the massive investment that would be required to  
transform libraries into spaces such as you describe? In the current  
economic climate my concern is that funding - be it local or federal,  
private or public - is not readily available, and nor is the  
political will to impose such bold social (and epistemological)  
innovations. Rolf, how has this played out in Denmark and Holland?

I do think such places will come into being sooner rather than later,  
and probably in a very popular format. But my own take is that if  
libraries are to assume this mantle they will have to move fast, both  
because every day that they do not change diminishes their social  
influence, and more importantly, because this sort of mashed-up  
learning/production space can just as easily come out of any of a  
dozen other industries. Libraries are competing with the whole world  
in this respect, and if someone else gets there first and establishes  
this model, what will libraries change into then?

Anyway, I am not meaning to be a downer, since obviously the work  
described by participants here is exactly what is needed, but I do  
want to add these practical concerns to the mix. I don't think we can  
rely on 'a civic-minded Carnegie Foundation of the future', which is  
why my version of this place has a sustainable learning economy built  
into it. (If anyone wants a look drop me a line).

I think libraries are ideally suited to fulfill the role you have  
described below, Anne, and I would like to see them do it, but I tend  
to think this sort of change may have to come from elsewhere.  
(Possibly Anya's book about DIY learning will reveal some of these  
locii). I'd be happy to be proven wrong though, because it would mean  
there was a massive and intelligent alignment around progressive  
social priorities in corporate boardrooms, library offices, union  
halls and city councils. But sorry experience (not quite cynicism)  
leads me to wonder if this is possible, at least anywhere beyond the  
Shangri-la's for adventurous learning that Holland and Denmark always  
appear to be.



On 29-Jun-11, at 2:09 PM, Anne Balsamo wrote:

> I take up this question in my new book in a chapter called  
> “Designing Learning.”   I imagine a future of public libraries  
> where they function as a mixed-reality community based “making  
> space” (or tinkering space), where the mission is not only the  
> stewardship and circulation of cultural infoartifacts of various  
> forms (books, maps), but also the community’s “garage” where  
> members hang out to mess around with tools (which could be loaned)  
> and materials (which could be “harvested” from local basements and  
> garages) in face-to-face cross-generational creative projects  
> (references to Ito’s work is intentional).  Shelf resources are  
> considered evocative knowledge objects...not just “books” or  
> concretized media forms.  The library becomes a process space for  
> the practice of culture making.  Young ones learn how to sew,  
> elders learn how to edit video.  All would be supported by a back- 
> end social networking interest-learning match-making application.   
> Think Telic’s Public School mashed up with the Menlo Park Tech Shop  
> supported by some sort of civic-minded Carnegie Foundation of the  
> future interested in creating the brick and mortar infrastructure  
> of an Open Participatory Learning Network.
> Book will be out in a week or so:
> Designing Culture: The Technological Imagination at Work (Duke)
> Anne Balsamo

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