Stronger Civic Connections Despite Technology.
Binding Civic Access & Community Empowerment
Public information – alerts, events, minutes, master plans, development applications, ballot measures – is routinely demoted in a resident’s regular media consumption. This neglect is caused less by an inherent perception of unimportance as by the negative reinforcement of poor, unappealing, or inaccessible presentation and design.
As public libraries continue their evolution in the digital age – embracing broader forms of learning, more platforms for information, and an active role as social, cultural, and civic destinations – a critical component of their desired services falls through the cracks of established library operations. A special, interdisciplinary effort is needed to develop a public forum that recontextualizes and presents civic information that is accessible, immediate, and rewarding for all.
Civic literacy is a critical interdisciplinary challenge of the 21st century
As the complexity and mystery of public processes grates against narrowing public bandwidth for participation, the level of discourse has suffered, with evident and dire repercussions. It is the responsibility of no single civic organization to cultivate an active, compassionate society…or even to pursue access to the tools of democracy for all citizens. The idiom “it takes a village to raise a child” still has currency today – but what does it take to raise and sustain participatory citizenry, especially now that our villages are virtual?
Public libraries lack the means of extending services to meet emerging community needs and reach all residents
Library service is undergoing redefinition. But while the newest trends in library programming address digital divides, no program bridges the gap between the library’s ambitions / potential and its very limited resources. Oakland, California, is no exception – here, the public library recently codified its values in equity, diversity, community, and empowerment. OPL also launched a Race and Equity Task Force to identify ways for more Oaklanders to “level up.” The City, meanwhile, now embraces a tech-driven pursuit of #Tequity. Elsewhere, civic architecture is employing the best ideas of commercial design to invite activity in non-intimidating and comfortable environments. “Third places” are becoming scarce in the region’s dynamic economy that has exacerbated disparities.
In Oakland, a strong civic identity may catalyze solidarity and engagement
Over 100 Oakland respondents to this project’s online survey voiced concerns and values corresponding with six general themes: culture/diversity; solidarity (neighborliness); resilience (stability); accessibility; opportunity (equity); and leadership. However, the survey responses also reflect fragmented perspectives between community groups – notably between wealthy new arrivees and vulnerable established residents. While libraries cannot solve housing crises, they can cultivate interest in and momentum towards building sufficient social space for everyone – a grassroots development of social equity. The right interface could inspire participation and draw diverse people toward a revitalized and recontextualized sense of neighborhood, building empathy and solidarity.
An Oakland Interpreter can grow from the library’s current values of celebrating, informing, and connecting – while disposing of outdated methods broken over time
A successful civic space: uses a coherent voice and brand that reflects the city and its citizens; organizes its offerings as indispensable civic resources; builds partnerships with organizations to amplify services, extend reach, and emphasize value; utilizes new approaches to engagement that increase participation in civic events and programs; and aligns with city efforts of lowering barriers to services through #Tequity and through clarified, equitable services.
Project images & captions follow
Another session at 2018 CityLab, Equitable Libraries, conducted by a member of OPL’s Racial Equity Team, discussed with attendees barriers to effective library use and opportunities to improve services.
Following problem identification and community engagement (establishing a public mandate), architectural programming examined how OPL branches can physically meet needs for civic spaces, drawn from built leading practices:
To put services “in front of” more Oaklanders, interactive kiosks and a mobile app could work with other local organizations to channel relevant information including local news and events, cultural opportunities, city issues, and public resources.
The project was defended in June, 2018, in Toronto. A presentation has yet to be made to stakeholders at Oakland Public Library.