Marginalia: Little Libraries in the Urban Margins–I Can Dig It!

In 21st Century Libraries, Books, History on May 23, 2012 at 3:03 pm

Very Unique!

I stumbled upon an article online entitled, Marginalia: Little Libraries in the Urban Margins, written by Shannon Mattern. I was glued to the page and could not stop reading her essay. The pictures that accompanied this article, brought the 21st century library alive to me. After reading Mattern’s work, it became apparent to me that the concept of a library is very important today–it needs to be redefined. I then began thinking about my first graduate presentation that I gave last year on mobile libraries. I believe they are the vehicles that we need to keep the existence of libraries open in the future. Moreover, I feel that individuals can pick up the torch and create/open their own libraries too. This is a two-way street in my opinion. What are your thoughts? *I have included a snippet of the article in this post and a link to finish the essay. 

A few years ago libraries were flying high. I wrote a book about the so-called “third wave”library-building boom of the ’90s and early aughts, a boom made possible in part by the bubble. Today, nearly a decade later, our cities and their libraries find themselves in a very different situation. While libraries are welcoming record numbers of visitors and breaking circulation records, library budgets are facing drastic cuts, some of those flashy new buildings are often shuttered, and cities are resorting to the privatization or outsourcing of library services. Meanwhile, many services that patrons once relied on libraries to provide — specifically the provision and preservation of information in multiple formats — are now accessible elsewhere, including in our living rooms, and even in the palms of our hands.

Libraries are about much more, of course; they exist not simply to store and provide access to information. Advocates argue that libraries continue to serve crucial civic and social functions, and their tenacious faith is reinforced by a flurry of recent street-level library activity. The last few years have seen the emergence of myriad mini, pop-up, guerilla and ad-hoc libraries, which are part of the phenomenon that Mimi Zeiger, in herInterventionist’s Toolkit series for this journal, calls “provisional, opportunistic, ubiquitous, and odd tactics in guerilla and DIY practice and urbanism” — to which I might add,librarianship. Nowadays we have libraries in phone booths and mailboxes, in public parks and train stations, in vacant storefronts and parking lots. Often these are spaces of experimentation, where new models of library service and public engagement can be test-piloted, or where core values can be reassessed and reinvigorated. They are also often an effort to reclaim — for the commons, for the sake of enlightenment (or does this term now carry too much baggage to be used without scare quotes?) — a small corner of public space in cities that have lately become hyper-commercialized, cities that might no longer reflect the civic aspirations of a diverse public. As DePauw University librarian Mandy Henk puts it, “They … show the power of self-organization and what people can build working together, outside of traditional institutions. Building and using them is a form community empowerment.” [1]

These new library projects might seem to emerge from a common culture and uphold a common mission — a flurry of press coverage in late 2011 represented them as a coherent “little library” movement. But in fact they don’t. They have varied aims and politics and assumptions about what a library is and who its publics are; their collections and services differ significantly; and their forms and functions vary from one locality to another. I want to attempt here to identify a loose, and inevitably leaky, typology of “little libraries” — to figure out where they’re coming from, how they relate to existing institutions that perform similar roles, and what impact they’re having on their communities.

Finish Reading: Marginalia: Little Libraries…

Article Republished via Design Observer

© 2003-2012 Observer Omnimedia LLC

  1. I love this whole blog. I’ve been reading a lot of articles about guerrilla libraries that are popping up all over cities. There’s also Little Book Libraries that are just stands for people’s yards where they can share books, and also Brooklyn Brownstones miniatures have been created by local artists to house small libraries in city parks. I just love everything about it, except the drastic cuts of course.

    Thanks for sharing this, I will be sure to read the article you mention first.

  2. As I was reading this blog, I imagined an extra mailbox being added to the housing complex where I live and inside could be books from anyone in this area who placed holds on materials. That would be a nice service.

    • I actually found a mobile library chair the other day. I posted it on Facebook and received so much feedback. I want to make me one now. Thanks for reading this post. I hope all is well with you. 🙂

  3. Pretty nice post. I just stumbled upon your blog and wanted to say that
    I’ve really enjoyed surfing around your blog posts. In any case I’ll be subscribing to your feed and I hope you
    write again very soon!

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