What We Can Learn from DIY Libraries

Posted by Alessandra Morgan on March 23, 2012 in Blog.
DPLA research assistant Allie Morgan weighs in on the lessons DIY libraries hold for the DPLA.

I found this interesting article by Lane Wilkinson via Twitter this morning that discusses what institutional libraries can learn from DIY “micro” libraries. These tiny libraries have been popping up in payphone booths and miniature houses and boxes around the world, and they remind us that while librarians, library services, and “knowledge creation” are important, they aren’t the only things that define what a library is.

“I think institutional libraries can learn a lot from these tiny upstarts. DIY libraries reinforce that libraries are social institutions. […] DIY libraries have no circulation policies, no collection development policies, no reference assistance, no substantive organization of information, no archival mission, no information literacy programming – you get the idea. […] Clearly, communities are not formed around DIY libraries because of social justice, empowerment, knowledge-seeking, or access to information; they are formed around the desire to share (and share in) stories.”

I think John Palfrey’s desire to “recreate the evocativeness and warmth” of a physical library in a digital space is right-on, but there is debate (rightfully so) about how feasible this is without the inclusion of popular fiction. As the discussion about the content and audience of the DPLA continues, I think it would be useful to keep in mind what DIY libraries can teach us even in regards to the digital realm. These tiny libraries are quite popular and successful, and are so without most of the trappings of institutional libraries. Their holdings are whatever people see fit to leave or donate, and people are still drawn to form communities and interact through them. Regardless of the size or form – large buildings, shelves in phone booths, digital spaces – DIY libraries remind us of the “It” of public libraries that can sometimes be overlooked, the facilitation of a “shared literary experience”.

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