The first idea that comes to mind when I hear the words Participatory Library is great idea, but you got to participate to make it work. What? I have been the administrator that sets up blogs for my university. The potential blogger will come back from a conference or committee ranting and raving as to how useful and easy blogs are to use. The blogger will request that a blog be set up for such-and-such purpose. After approval, I setup the blog in our campus’ WordPress site, explain that they can log in using their Active Directory username and password, and hand-off the blog stating that they can contact me if they have questions or would like to request a particular theme. Mostly what happens is that the blogger will have a few inspired posts and then the content stops.
Blogs need one thing to keep them alive: content. They feed on a constant diet of new ideas but sadly it has been my experience that most blogs starve to death due to a lack of content. There have been exceptions: a student blog of their experiences on campus (maybe they are graded on it) and the library’s News blog is going strong. But this is where participation takes on its two-way definition. The library’s LibNews blog is one-way communication. We allow comments and engage serious responses but mostly all we get are spam-bots (over 1,000 / week automatically filtered).
How do we encourage, foster and grow our participatory library? How do we engage out patrons? My library has a Facebook page and we allow for tagging in the catalog record. I think we need to take a more proactive role to be more participatory. I think we are like other libraries in that we can say that we have a Facebook account, blog, Twitter account or an enhanced catalog but we just enable the said feature, put it out and do not promote it. We forget to feed the blog monster.
There are two difficulties: the staff and the patrons / students. Both have the same excuses, “We’re too busy to write a blog or comment on blog.” So, we need to give the staff and patrons reasons to want to be participatory. Why would they want to create a post or leave a comment? Staff can be arm-twisted into writing entries; making the processes part of their jobs perhaps. Students cannot be manipulated as such. We have to give them something positive to comment on. Ask questions out right to the students, “Do you like the new Mac computers on third floor?” Create simple surveys or polls. Post informative information. From this class and others to follow, I hope to bring fresh ideas like these to my library’s meetings and change the culture from one that sits behind the service desk to one that might not even have a desk at all.