There were so many conversations about outreach and community partnerships as a service model for knowledge-sharing, education, and programming, it was as if the whole conference was tagging everything #libraryasincubator.

The exhibition floor at ALA Annual, 2012 in Anaheim, CA

At the Library as Incubator Project, we talk constantly about community knowledge, creation, and partnership as the backbone of turning the library into an incubator for business, for art, for education–you name it.

We focus on the arts because we believe the library is a place to connect and create, but at the core of what we do is a genuine recognition that there are bodies of information and knowledge in every community that can bring people together–even if that knowledge cannot be catalogued or checked out–and that libraries are the place to share it.

As I walked around the American Library Association Conference this past weekend, there was one resounding Big Idea that echoed through the panels I attended and the conversations I had with brilliant librarians from across the country and the globe— partnership.  There were so many conversations about outreach and community partnership as a service model for knowledge-sharing, education, and programming, it was as if the whole conference was tagging everything #libraryasincubator.

I was particularly inspired by Richard Harwood’s talk, Reclaiming Main Street, which I attended on Sunday.   Richard Harwood is the founder and president of the Harwood Institute for Public Innovation; in his talk, he shared some of the key findings from his research on the Main Street Project, which uses interviews as a barometer for social opinion.  Ten years ago, these interviews revealed widespread anger and frustration with social problems such as the widening gap between the rich and the poor, lack of access to healthcare and education, and the digital divide.  Many called the government to accountability and wanted to see policy changes that would help to fix the problems they identified.

Today, Harwood says interviewees have abandoned the hope of a government-initiated, top-down fix and have decided to take matters into their own hands; they no longer say, “The government has to do something about this,” they say, “We need to do something about this.” Essentially, the people on Main Street know what they want American life to look like, and they need to connect with others to enact changes.  Their collective civic knowledge is something Harwood believes libraries can support and and share; libraries, he says, can facilitate public dialogue because they are universally trusted as for-the-good institutions.  The new President of ALA, Maureen Sullivan, was also at Harwood’s talk on Sunday, and spoke to the importance of the Main Street Project to the “Transforming Libraries” campaign, which focuses on helping libraries better engage the communities they serve.

As I walked the exhibit floor at ALA with my iPad, showing off the Library as Incubator Project website and talking with people about libraries and the arts, nearly every conversation I had led back to the idea of libraries as social connectors. The Main Street Project and its indications for engaging communities and enacting small, local change echoes the Library as Incubator Project’s Learn-Make-Share ethos.  We believe the library is a place to connect and create– whether you are making art, or making your community a better place.

If you are as inspired as I am about the idea of libraries as incubators, and want to share your art, your library, or your ALA stories, I’d love to talk with you.  Drop me a line at libraryasincubatorproject @ gmail.com, on Twitter, or Facebook.

~Erinn

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