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LIVING LIBRARIES As engines of civic transformation

This is a KITCHEN-TALK Trend book

Designed for conversations around a warm cup of coffee!





HOW-TO USE/ READ Read the trend and the examples(s) given underneath it and try to think of what could you do at your own library. The trends are chosen for their common intention to empower citizens in their daily lives.

LEAVE A SIGN OF APPROVAL On the right of every trend is a column, where you can leave a sign of approval. Simply use one of the dots provided and place it in in the column next to the trends you find particularly meaningful.

Put your vote here!

Letting the solutions emerge by becoming the catalyst and providing a platform for peoples imagination & expressions to take root


A team of 108 eighth-grade students at REALM Charter School in Berkeley, CA let their curiosity take the lead in designing their school’s own reading space, which they call X-SPACE. They launched a Kickstarter campaign to collect money and have already raised over $43,000 out of a goal of $75,000. Funds will provide approximately $30,000 for 3,000 books; $20,000 for construction materials, lighting, fixtures, hardware; $15,000 for technology; and $10,000 for software, subscriptions, periodicals and E-books.

Creating an informal structure, easy access to resources and a offering directed towards a real need is instrumental in community support in running a service.


Above, a street library started by Hernando Guanlao to share his own joy of reading. The idea is simple. Readers can take as many books as they want, for as long as they want - even permanently. The library is running for its 12th year successfully serving the community. The informal nature and open access makes the community take responsibility of this library and consider it their own, often contributing new books to it. The library works also because the locals do not have access to a library for miles and books are expensive to purchase.

Open not only implies that the library open its resources to all equally but also means that it makes its benefits felt outside its physical walls in other organisations and public spaces.

Libraries have a responsibility to act for public good and cannot be content by being passive archives of knowledge. Creating and constructing become a way for the library to engage the people in co-learning.


A scanning booth at the Public library of Delft, involves the citizens to document heritage materials like picture and letters that add to the historical repositories of the city.

A library of tools opens up in Seattle which aims at helping people to fix and upcycle the products they already own.

The library as a space that encourages public imagination on concerns that affect the citizens but are more than often out of their influence. For example to imagineer visions of what knowledge might look like in future and other speculative questions.

CULTURAL IMAGINATION The idea of speculative design opens up a space for the public to imagine its near future. And to an extent question issues in society and perhaps even to debate over them. The objective is to describe whatis and what-might-be. It does not describe far off imaginary worlds but attempts to bring closer to present day reality alternative visions of future that are marginalised by dominent ideas in society. The format of speculation can be many - Storytelling being one of the strongest ones. But this can also be done through creative media and objects etc.

Such public imagination exercises can also take the form of criticism towards dominent thought e.g. Design of a wi-fi free zone in the library as a speculative space for introspection and deep concentration, which is contrary to the always-connected human being. Or a drone that is used for literacy rather than war. Or Knowledge that is human in origin rather than found on a webpage.

Libraries have a unique position to re-claim public space because of the human centered values they stand for. A space can be claimed in parks, empty parking lots, under a tree! wherever people can congregate and interact with each other.

(Re)CLAIMING PUBLIC SPACE The library takes with it a safe congenial atmosphere wherever it goes. Taking it into private teritory. unused spots in the city not only rejuvinates the city but creates a sense of the ‘public’.

The story corps are an organisation dedicated to capture citizen stories and encourage citizen journalism. In effect, giving a voice to the unheard heros of the neighbourhood (people who have worked towards the benefit of the community) and creating a atmosphere of tolerance and inclusiveness.

There is more than one way to learn and gain knowledge. Knowledge can also be understood as tacit, experiential and social. The digital age reduced the ‘search’ for knowledge to a web-portal. Libraries can differentiate themselves by redefining what knowledge and learning might mean.

HUMANKNOWLEDGE The instructables is a library of everyday trips and tricks and hacks contributed by a large number of people. The library manifests itself online but also as craft/ maker activities in schools & libraries.

The urban foraging networks are an example of a community driven knowledge creation. Where a bunch of people interested in urban farming and alternatives to food production create their own tools, maps and activities around foraging for food.

Seed-libraries facilitate the exchange of seeds in between gardening enthusiasts. Apart from the exchange they facilitate knowledge on local and ecological seed varieties and help people to farm in cities.

The power of participatory mapping and sense-making has been proven in crowd sourced information. The challenge that libraries are ready for is to make that information meaningful to their own community.

COLLECTIVE INTELLIGENCE Ushahidi is a famous example of crowd sourced information on natural disasters and epidemics.

Fixmystreet lets the public point out damages to the city so that they can be fixed by the municipality.

The idea of positive deviance belives in everyday ingenuity and creativity of people to solve their own problems. The role of the libraries in this case could be to identify and spread these best practices.


The approach, developed from work done by Tufts University nutrition professor Marian Zeitlin in the 1980s—has roughly three steps. First, engage the people needing change in the process; they must take part in discovering answers to their problems to adopt changes. Second, identify “positive deviants”—people who seem to have succeeded compared with others, despite having the same resources. Finally, work with communities to pinpoint what the positive deviants do differently, and figure out how the whole community can adopt these successful practices.

Libraries can support the collaborative exchange of goods and services. And also support bottom-up inititives for cooperative society like alternative-currencies.


Not-in-my-backyard to Yes-in-my-backyard. This trend emphasises that we can no longer disregard and turning a blind eye to the problems facing civil society. And encourage everyone to take shared responsibility.


Reversing NIMBY cultures to become YIMBY cultures. We’re creating a platform for making suggestions about how to improve your neighbourhood or environment, and then turn those proposals into projects. We do this in order to start constructive conversations within and around government and other relevant institutions. The image on the left is work by the Helsinki Design Lab to encourage citizens to take responsibility for their neighbours and neighbourhoods.

Libraries can broker ideas to create tiny-publics around issues of concern or create ideas around new ways of community living.


The above example is of communities coming together around the environmental concern of public lakes and parks. Here a park is used by the community for entertainment, education activities, school filed trips, urban gardening and other social activities. This shifts the responsibility of the parks from the government to the public. The bigger need is new community partnerships (with government, private companies) to create a more sustainable future for the way our parks (or other public spaces) are used and maintained. The same idea of ‘common people’ coming towards a community activitiy like sewing circles, recycling drives etc form a part of the commons movement.

Adhocracy is a flexible, adaptable and informal form of organization that is defined by a lack of formal structure. It operates in an opposite fashion to a bureaucracy. And is aimed towards direct democracy.

ADHOCRACY Adhocracy not only offers organisations and communal interest organisations the opportunity to open up their work to democratic decision making. Adhocracy also opens up the possibility for all citizens to bring in their own views and ideas, to offer these ideas up to fair discussion, and then to conclusively and communally shape it into an effective decision. The idea of adhocacy is closely linked to the concept of liquid-democracy or directdemocracy

The examples here show public voting as a mechanism for adhocracy. This could also be a way to accumulate crowd critique or towards other political ends. What differentiates it from ‘politics as usual’ is that it is easy to access, safe, transparent and informal.

SUGGESTION ON HOW TO SELECT A POTENTIAL CHALLENGE FOR YOUR LIBRARY The richness of the topic that you choose for the library/project is an essential part of determining the libraries likelihood of generating something useful by the end of it. A good topic is neither too small in scale, nor too grand. It is relevant to you, the talent you hope to attract and your organization’s networks. Of these factors the question of scale is the hardest to determine, and in some ways the most important. Topics that balance scale well take a big, general theme and connect it to a focused, specific entry point, allowing this connection to be traversed back and forth by the project team. Your project will benefit from being able to work between scales, exploring the thematic issue through specific examples, and testing the relevance of specific possible solutions against the broader concerns of the big picture. Selecting something as broad as ‘ageing’ as a Studio topic, for instance, requires that the team spend an undue part of their week trying to define the term and what it includes. Conversely, something as narrow as ‘cutting costs in the system of home visits to bedridden elderly citizens’ is so specific that it may not really be a strategic issue. Use these four criteria to select a theme and its specific entry point. Criterion #1: Importance Ideally the topic you select will be relevant to your entire organization, not just your team. Topics which matter to others in your organization will make it easier for you to lean on the full resources available to you in-house. This generally makes your life easier! Criterion #2: Relevance On a conceptual level, thinking about who the topic matters to is a way to test the broadness of your topic, and on a more practical level it impacts your ability to recruit members. You will want Studio members from outside your immediate sphere because they are best able to see the things that insiders are blind to by habit, but unless the Studio topic is relevant to these people you will have a hard time recruiting them. Criterion #3: Networkability Assessing your ability to build a network around the topic is a way of thinking about how much of an uphill battle it will be to prepare for the project. You will want to avoid topics which cannot stand on their own because they are too abstract. There is some interesting work to be done around how we measure and evaluate effort in any number of areas from the economy to performance—but on its own ‘measuring’ is too vague to motivate coherent discussion without requiring the participants to develop some applications to test the ideas, which would eat up precious time during the week. Good Studio topics ask the participants to respond to a specific problem couched within a big picture challenge. Criterion #4: Scale Rich topics occupy a sweet spot between being too broad or too specific. Whereas criteria 1-3 are primarily useful in determining how difficult your task will be as the organizers of a project, criterion 4 affects the outcomes. Topics which satisfy criterion 4 have a richness that results from their balanced scale.

BLANK PAGE For your comments & suggestions...

OTHER QUESTIONS OF VALUE What do I(we) value? How do I (we) want to contribute? What can I (we) construct here? That is personally meaningful?� Who gets left out? and who is included? What is the story that I (we) want to tell about us?

Talk to 1-2 other colleagues and show them this work-book. Ask them what they think is meaningful for them ?

This KITCHEN-TALK trend book is brought you you by student(s) of Umea Institite of Design. With the aim of inspiring new citizenempowering services in public libraries. This book if free for download, sharing and use and can be found here-

Living library trends work book  

The workbook is meant as a inspiration source for public libraries (and other public organisations) who are interested in working for positi...

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