In a recent blog post, Cory Doctorow laments that society has run out of public spaces. “What used to be public squares and parks are now malls.” he says, adding that libraries are one of the few remaining public spaces.
The idea of the library as a commons involves several concepts: In the commons, users are at the center, each person adds more value to the commons and the commons is a place for collaboration. Some libraries have evolved to counteract the fact of disappearing public spaces, using different methods. One of these involves the use of interactive technologies to make the library more like a two-way conversation between users and library staff (Lankes, D. 2007), than a one-way conversation.
In some libraries, technology has given users more opportunities to interact with the library and each other. One of these technologies is Drupal, an open source content management system (CMS) with a large community of users on the internet. While clicking around the Internet in Google it’s easy to find many Drupal groups, meetings, lists, and camps located all over the world. A site called Drupal Groups shows that more than 100 public libraries around the world are using Drupal.
In an article she wrote in 2008, Meredith Farkas extols the virtues of Drupal. She defines Drupal as a program that gives libraries a way to manage web content. Drupal enables librarians to add web content to their sites and create pages which are both static and dynamic, she says. Using Drupal, they can also add different types of content to their site, including blogs, wikis, and forums. Drupal enables librarians to make their web sites more interactive than in the past.
The first library to use Drupal was the Ann Arbor District Library (AADL), in 2005(2008). The AADL Web site gives users the option of adding comments on its homepage.(Casey, M. @ Savistinuk, L.C., 2007). Users can also add comments on its virtual card catalog (2007).
Another library that uses Drupal is the Skokie Public Library. Its homepage has colored, clickable, blocks of content, with subject headings. It also has a link to SkokieNet, an interactive blog about the Skokie, a Chicago suburb.
The organization of SkokieNet provides clues about how Drupal works. Many types of content are integrated on one page. It has a subject directory like Yahoo, and also provides links for users to add different forms of content at the top, including videos and stories. Some content under the subject headings looks more static than interactive, such as information about the Skokie Consumer Affairs Commission under the subject heading “Consumer Affairs.”
Another feature of Drupal is that it allows library staff to moderate content and gives different levels of permission to different users. For example, the library staff gives some Skokie organizations permission to publish their work without moderation, but they moderates input from teens and anonymous users.
Drupal has both pros and cons. It can do more than other CMS, but it has a steeper learning curve (Roehm, F.E, personal communication, April 11, 2013). However, it provides the features that enable interaction between users on this site and other around the world.
Do virtual commons offer the same kind of personal interaction as physical commons? Can technologies like Drupal replace in-person contact? That’s a question for someone who is evaluating libraries of the 20th and 21st century to answer.