UTS Library Retrieval System, 2015.
Photo : Jackson Mann, courtesy of UTS Library

Participatory Libraries and the Possibility of Making a Mess

Anja Bock
Libraries are becoming leisure destinations and personal hotspots. Far from the connotations of uptight and dusty, they are now “zones” for “connecting” — to experience-driven information providers, digitally distributed publications and social media, as well as to an increased range of programs specifically designed to engage the community. Neither “patron” nor “user” seems to be the word for the clientele of the contemporary library, who may just as likely be chatting or surfing as reading or researching. Perhaps “library-goer” is more apt. It emphasizes the passage through the library space, which is no longer (and never was) a simple container for the free exchange of books but, rather, a sort of machine for defining one’s identity.

But before enumerating the gains of this paradigm shift, let’s take a brief (nostalgic) account of the losses: the loss of card catalogues, stiff-backed wooden chairs and “sexy librarians”; of adventuring through dimly-lit stacks and the spark of delight when the book right beside the one you were looking for proves to be the one you really need; of the feeling of humility when the pile of books on our desk is greater in mass and height than we are ourselves (not to mention the relative weightiness of the knowledge the books contain); of plodding through sustained arguments rather than clicking through modular, easily digestible digital sound-bites; and perhaps most notably, of actual paper and ink books, which are now disappearing into the mysterious underbelly of the new hypermodern library only to be retrieved by staff or robots.

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This article also appears in the issue 89 – Library - Library

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