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Inside, Outside, and ONLINE: Building Your Library Community
Hill, Chrystie (2009)
USA: American Library Association
ISBN: 9780838909874
175 pages
Many public libraries have successfully adopted survival strategies designed to carry them across and into the new millennium. Significantly, these have often been more related to people, communities and human relations as they have been to changing information systems and communications technologies. Public librarians have recognized, and made the most of, the unique benefit they offer their communities: the rare facility of public, social space, a forum supported by free access to documents, texts, information and communications, all further enhanced by professional services tailored precisely to the public’s needs. By responding to social change and the potential of multiple communications modalities they have banished perceptions of the library as a place of cultural rectitude and instead, they have fostered library space as one of the few havens where professional service respects public autonomy. Where else, but in a public library, is it possible these days to find this combination of civic space, service and public sociality?
Chrystie Hill is dedicated to promoting the cause of this model for libraries, based as it is in beliefs about social capital theory, in the library as an institution for social good and as an enabling force for situated social networking. Her book is the product of a project set up with a colleague, Steven Cohen, to analyze just how libraries are able to facilitate community building and the development of social networks. The project involved interaction with many librarian colleagues via surveys, interviews, an online blog and a website: Indeed, numerous contributions from these sources serve to richly support and generously illustrate the thrust of Hills argument throughout the book. The research never set out to produce a formula for community building, but as Hill points out, it revealed patterns which inform the basis of a theoretical and contextual framework; these also serve as headings for the substantive chapters of the book: Assess, Deliver, Engage, Iterate, Sustain. Each chapter is embellished by theory, anecdotal comment and exemplary case studies drawn from participants in the project. An Appendix comprised of selected questions and answers further documents participants’ responses. Separate lists provide references informing the study as well as a selection of additional resources for the benefit of the reader. A subject and author index provides a key to the body of the text.
Whilst I tended to read this book in terms of public libraries, Hill advocates that community building applies equally to all types of libraries, including school libraries, and that community building occurs inside and outside the library as well as online. Within the Australian context, and based on personal experience of public libraries in my own state and city, I believe that that our public libraries and State Library, come closer to realizing the concept of public space as a social forum far more authentically than other civic spaces (beaches, parks, street malls, transport and city squares) whose boundaries are increasingly encroached by entrepreneurial public/private partnerships, governmental constraints and other effects of economic and social change. In relation to this, it is especially interesting to note how the meaning of the term ‘community building’ has been differently understood in various sectors of our profession. Across the past ecade or so, within the context of academic and school libraries, the concept of community building generally referred to ‘information literate communities’ or ‘communities of learning’. The dynamic of this form of community building was based on the educational role of the library, involving a one-way, pedagogical thrust from library to clients, whereas Hill’s more recent interpretation of community building promotes a more outward-looking, socially responsive interaction between community and library service. Bearing in mind the somewhat threatened status of many school libraries in the current economic climate, Chrystie Hill’s outlook may be of value to school library profession.
Reviewed by Dr Susan Boyce
Member of the Synergy board