Voyage of the mind: #TheLibraryProject

Often a relationship with writing starts with reading. My relationship with reading goes back a long way as I am sure it does with most people. I think the first thing that i really loved reading (apart from comics like Tintin) was newspapers – they gave an insight into a whole new world.

Newspapers are also closely linked to my interest in science as, it wasn’t long before I started making clippings of articles on scientific findings from the newspapers and keeping them in an index file box. I have the same habit for writing (although much less organised). I wonder often about my interest in archives and index files – and why searches through newspapers and documents gives me so much joy – but that’s moving off track.

When I moved to Manchester to study, one of my favourite places was the Medical Library in the Stopford building. It was open ’til really late and I used to spend hours there reading articles completely unrelated to my area of study. And that to me is the joy of a library – its a voyage of the mind – you can start browse the shelves and happen across a book on the history of the universe and end up reading about monkeys in Peru. I am not sure there are monkeys in Peru but you get my point.

Whilst a student, after teaching at the Saturday School at the West Indian Centre on Carmoor Road in Longsight, i used to spend hours in the African Book shop reading about Black History. It was the kind of education I never got in school or university that gave me a sense of black achievement and contributions through history (to science, to literature, to culture), of black people’s resilience in the face of adversity, of activism and pride that i still draw on today. It was eye opening to hear at a Manchester meeting about the recent riots in the UK that people felt that their libraries didn’t serve their needs as a black community wanting access to a black cultural perspective on history. If the books were there they were difficult to find… how could libraries be more culturally specific in the presentation of their books?

I’ve had some amazing conversations about libraries over the past few months both online and offline with people in Newcastle, Sheffield, Manchester, New Zealand, San Franscisco – gosh all over – I am keen for the conversation to expand and grow and to involve more people that care about books, libraries and the value they bring to society at a time when libraries are changing and more importantly engage with those not online who might be creatively innovating libraries in ways we can’t imagine.

It all started with the closure of libraries in Manchester and @noveltyshoe came home one day wanting to document the closure of libraries, starting by taking pictures of the libraries including those that are closing. We started doing that and then also started collected online content about libraries and began wondering about the communities that love libraries.

Futurologist, Thomas Frey, based at the Davinci Institute, has looked at emerging trends and notes that ‘Libraries today find themselves at the intersection of four fundamental crossroads of change – literacy, books, education, and work’. He identifies ten trends and recommends that libraries:

  • evaluate the library experience
  • embrace new technologies
  • preserve the memories of your own communities
  • experiment with creative spaces so the future role of the library can define itself

In the UK, the Future Libraries programme was established to help public library services and other local public services to ‘work better together to deliver services designed around the needs of the public’ and there is a UK community of practice to support learning across this programme.

I’m not sure if these are trends, but there is a divide between the worlds’ rich and the world’s poor and this limits access to space, technology, culture, knowledge and education. So there is an opportunity and a need to look at these trends and consider how future libraries and indeed the concept of a book itself might evolve to enable culturally diverse, migrant and deprived communities to engender aspects of Article 27 (1) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states that:

“Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits”

So I’ve dreamed up a collaborative project to innovate the concept of the future library to ensure it can realise its social benefits. Amazing things can happen when people from around the world work and learn together. So i can’t imagine trying to do it alone, indeed there are many out there doing it already. Its just a question of connecting people and doing the thing that libraries are a pioneer of… sharing knowledge openly!

A recent favourite impromptu library is the People’s library set up by Library Science student, Daniel Norton, at the ‘Occupy Wall Street‘ camp in downtown Manhattan

“The collection’s inspired by what’s taking place here,” Norton said. “We have a lot of people who are full of dissatisfaction with a government that doesn’t have their interests at heart.”

Donated by protesters and people sympathetic with their cause, the books are divided by category, including History & Resistance, Government Change, and Fiction. Particularly popular are books about politics, history, and how to effect change in government. The books are loaned free, on an honor system. Read more about this library and the ethos behind it here.

Another is this mini Library set up in an empty phone box in a village in North Yorkshire.

These People’s Libraries encapsulates in a nutshell, the kind of library i am on the look out for.

SO – if you’re a library that wants to widen your social impact, or a person or group hosting an alternative people’s or pop up library that does or could serve a social purpose or want to apply your digital skills to a social project, get in touch, make a comment, follow the hashtag …. the project could do with a better name for starters!?

The Library project

Working collaboratively with people to…

  • Find fantastic examples or case studies of library/ book projects with a social purpose and to document them
  • Find libraries wanting to widen their social benefits
  • Connect communities wanting access to specific knowledge e.g. Portland homeless/ street people
  • Evaluate and share the experience of these communities
  • Explore the possibilities of technology to add value to the libraries e.g. what if, for example, this concept of collaborative consumption could be applied to libraries and the people needing the content contained in them?
  • Facilitate bringing these communities together in creative space(s) to innovate the future of libraries concept, ensuring that the social value is at the centre of the innovation
  • Archive the project through an alternative library accessible to all – because ultimately its access that is becoming more important than ownership and of course, its more sustainable.

Creative Commons License
The Library Project by Squirrel Nation is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Thanks to everyone who’s contributed to the concept so far, in particular the network of RSA fellows on Linkedin where the idea was initially seeded, shaped and got an overwhelming response.


4 thoughts on “Voyage of the mind: #TheLibraryProject

  1. We need to provide services that are accessible and useful to everyone, regardless of age, disability, gender, origin, race, sexual identity or any other factors which may cause disadvantage. Everyone has a right to the same degree of consideration in terms of how their needs are met, culturally, sensitively and appropriately.

  2. Hi erinma, have you contacted with the people who runs the book stall in oxford road in front of the mmu student union? they have been tried to close so many times when it’s very popular. They sell 2nd hand books very very cheap.
    I know one of the guys who works there. He’s an highly environmental and Palestine activist. What I like of the store is that they re-use old cardboard boxes to trasport their books. Forget about plastic! And they are in the street! B R I L I A N T !

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