The Way it is
At the moment, national governments focus mainly on issues at macro-economic level, trying to solve global effects of economic instability. Meanwhile treasuries are (almost) empty and public spending is being cut across the board. This has direct consequences for the viability of public amenities, also for libraries.
Libraries will need to strategically re-position themselves to secure a timely transformation and remain (or become increasingly) relevant. It would create great opportunities if they did so strategically, by broadening their focus. Information is arguably a religion and the library could be its church. However, the sheer amount makes it increasingly harder to ‘make sense’ of available information and solidify it into useful knowledge.
The Community as a Partner
On a micro-scale, economy and welfare are gradually left more to communities to take care of themselves. This makes the public a relevant new stakeholder, with its own demands, interest, solutions and means. As such, communities can be valuable partners in development.
Growing responsibility in livelihood enhancement stimulates active involvement on neighbourhood level, as well as on municipal level. This more structural and more significant type of grass root development is waiting to start living up to its full potential. Many people are, by nature, interested or involved in (physical) development on different scales; from NIMBY (not in my back yard) to long-term perspectives for their living-, working- and recreational environments as well as for the city they live in and have affection with.
“The library could transform into an institution that informs the public on its interests on the one hand and ventilates public opinion on the other, translating it to usable input for investment initiative and (local) government policy.”
Bridging the gap
This time of transition, is also one of great new opportunities, especially in green-tech. People are loaded with ideas and concepts and ready to put them into practice. They are vital to the re-ignition of spatial and economic development. There are wonderful examples of city-farming, oases in cities that bring food and its production closer to consumers, raising their awareness and sense of ownership reducing the cost of especially logistics. These are mostly examples of private initiative, many of which have a hard time getting there. If at all they do.
The system (governance and corporate interests) still lacks will, ways or means to reach out to full public participation. For public, government and private parties to effectively embrace each other, there’s need for experiment. In a process of trial and error, successful examples can add to (the development of) viable alternatives. A reflective practice! That’s where people need assistance and guidance. To find each other, to fine-tune their stakes, through series of decisions (many in specialized areas), through procedures and legislation, etc. They will need knowledge and know-how.
Making Information work
While antiquated development processes are still mainstream, people need help to hear and be heard. It is now more important than ever, that interaction between bottom-up and top-down is facilitated or even strategically directed.
We have a long way to go in making information more interactive and have public collaboration better structured. We need to try to bridge that gap. We should collect and structure public opinion and professional input, feeding strategic policy making. We could identify and stimulate private initiative, revealing strengths and weaknesses and advise policy makers on embedding private initiative in their medium and long term strategies.
“If we could organize a catalyst for information, education, participation and integration between all different stakeholders, we’d create a much needed addition to (free, but without context) information exchange, mainly through internet.”
The Neo Library
Libraries could become just that, specializing in making available information usable and integrating information streams. That would help bridge the gap between availability of information on the one hand and public awareness and collaboration on the other. In such a role, they would stimulate and support civil empowerment and help catalyze its consequences towards meaningful and effective cooperation.
The library could be the place to turn to for (local) governments and other stakeholders (e.g. housing corporations and real estate developers) when seeking interaction with the community. It shall maintain its function as a guardian of cultural capital and knowledge. But beside that the library could become an active hub of information and knowledge exchange, involved in education, awareness and public collaboration programmes.
Libraries have always been forefront in accessibility of information, why not do so now? Become the embodiment of the internet! With solid knowledge of (technological) opportunities and innovations, libraries can actively inform communities on sustainability and energy transition, livelihood issues and ways to organize and act. On Aruba, the Biblioteca Nacional has already positioned itself accordingly.
Through their Green Education programme, the Aruban library is actively involved in society at community level and gives direction and guidance toward (cultural) education, and emancipation.