IMLS meeting, Libraries as Learning Spaces

Miniature human face models made through 3D Printing (Rapid Prototyping) [Wikimedia Commons]

Miniature human face models made through 3D Printing (Rapid Prototyping) [Wikimedia Commons]

On May 15th, I attended an IMLS meeting at San Francisco Public Library on “Libraries as Learning Spaces,” one of three stakeholder meetings devised to focus on broad themes and gather community feedback (the other two themes are digitization and STEM). There were around 60 people attending the meeting (in addition to a livestream audience). I knew only a handful of people at the meeting (which I think is a good thing!). North Carolina State University, for example, represented the research library sector (with Susan Nutter presenting on the fantastically successful Hunt Library). There was no “center” for the meeting — there was broad representation from public and state libraries, academic libraries, library schools, and also a number of researchers and representatives from foundations, and several “miscellaneous” participants. A common theme from the podium was, “I’m so happy to be here, but I hardly know anyone.” The audience was quite engaged — so much so that although I put my hand up several times, the mic never made it’s way to me.

My intention is not to summarize the meeting (there is a Storify from Lisa Waite Bunker that does a nice job of that) but rather to call out a few things about the presentations and discussion that were noteworthy to me.

  • I was expecting there to be at least some discussion about MOOCs – there was nothing. Someone uttered the word once. I don’t even think it was one of the panelists. [You might know that MOOCs, online learning, and the shifts that they may cause in libraries are of interest to me.]
  • The meeting was mostly about public libraries, and mostly about youth and a lot about maker spaces. I don’t know a lot about maker or hands on innovation spaces in research or academic libraries. Am I missing something?
  • There was a focus on skills for librarians, which of course we hear about all the time, but some of the presentations and discussion talked about  using maker and innovation spaces as a way to engage all or more staff in conversations around new skills, innovation, new services.
  • There seems (to me) to be an unreasonable focus on creating learning spaces IN libraries (maker spaces, after school programs, writing programs) when libraries are embedded in communities where there are existing, active and credible examples of all of these already. Why recreate learning spaces in libraries? Why not get libraries and library resources embedded in those other spaces? I think this is particularly true for maker spaces, which require equipment, expertise and space that may not be found in the library. The panel that focused on partnerships never called out the library going outside as a feature of those partnerships (the panel focused more on what makes a good partnership — good content, but not what I would have hoped for).

The evening before the meeting, the Internet Archive hosted a reception for meeting participants. We were led on a tour by Brewster Kahle, who told us the big long story of the IA, starting with harvesting the web and ending with recording television news and investing in employee housing for foundation workers. Since I live locally, I’ve attended functions at the IA many, many times and I am always impressed by the ongoing activities and operations there.

My thanks to IMLS and the San Francisco Public Library for putting together an engaging and thought provoking day.

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