Public libraries in different parts of the world are evolving and becoming more participatory. Two examples of this development are the DOk Library in the Netherlands and the San Francisco Public Library in the United States. Participatory libraries invite users to join activities rather than just find things. (Stephens, M. 2011). Both of these libraries are are also using more interactive technologies. However, they each use some different participatory activities. The different characteristics of each library offer clues about the kind of society they are part of.
Both libraries use creativity to involve patrons. In 1996, DOK merged three of it’s collections, music and film, literature and art.(Jeer & Boekesteijn,2010, p. 2). These collections are closely connected with creative expression and storytelling (p.2). A new building opened in 2007 ( p. 4). One of the projects in the new building is called DOK Agora, the “storyboard of your life (p. 3).” Patrons can share their memories and stories with photos or videos that they can add from workstations in the library (p. 3). Another project involving creativity and exchange of stories is the Heritage Browser (p. 3). This technology involves a digital table which is connected to the city archive (p. 3). Patrons can place their library card on a table which shows pictures of their streets and neighborhoods as far back as 1900 (p. 3). Users can then share these photos with each other and tell stories about them (p. 3). Another creative project is the DOK Studio (p. 3). DOK employees travel to high schools with this mobile studio which allows students to make documentaries and videos for the library web site (p. 3).
San Francisco Public Library (SFPL) also has different activities involving patron’s creativity. The library is currently sponsoring a project making a documentary where patrons tell their stories about the library. This project is part of a campaign to promote public libraries. Library staff have published a web site where they review books. The library is also working on creating a new space for teens on the same floor as the children’s department, which will have mentors and video editing equipment. The teen space is modeled after the You Media space in the Chicago Public Library. In 2011 SFPL sponsored an art event called Art Corner which involved setting up easels outside the library for homeless patrons to draw. The children’s department displays many art exhibits by school children from San Francisco. Currently it is displaying an exhibit about Black History Month. The tables in the children’s room have paper and colored pencils for children to draw.
Though the DOK Library and SFPL have many similar kinds of participatory services their mission statements are different. The DOK Library’s mission statement “is to become and remain the most advanced library in the world”(Geer & Boekestein 2010, p. 2). In contrast, SFPL’s mission statement emphasizes equal access to information and the joys of reading: “The San Francisco Public Library system is dedicated to free and equal access to information, knowledge, independent learning and the joys of reading for our diverse community.” The difference in their missions affect the kinds of participatory services each library provides.
The DOK Library provides more advanced technologies than SFPL. Some of these are controversial. For example, the Heritage Browser uses radio frequency identification (RFID) technology in patron’s library cards to connect with the images in the city archive. In 2005 SFPL had a working group which debated the pros and cons of RFID technology. This committee included staff and administrators and worked with representatives from the American Civil Liberties Union(ACLU) and the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) They raised concerns that RFID technology could threaten the privacy of library patrons. These groups lobbied the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. The budget committee of the board then rejected funding for RFID technology.
Another more current controversy shows that some members of the library community in San Francisco are skeptical of new technologies. This controversy was over a plan to install electronic kiosks in the library which allow patrons to borrow laptop computers with their library cards. The president of the library commission compared the kiosks to “a Pepsi Cola machine where the laptops slide into your lap.”
The services that these libraries provide reflect some differences in the characteristics of their cultures. According to Boekesteijn and Geer, the DOK Agora, the collective storyboard, is “a great way of promoting social cohesion.” The kinds of services these libraries provide show that this community in the Netherlands is more collective in nature than the community in San Francisco.