A Digital History for Florence-Firestone | Emerging Technology Plan

Florence-Firestone monument sign


The County of L.A. Public Library will develop and implement a digital history website for the Florence-Firestone community in South Central Los Angeles, called “Florence-Firestone: A Living History.” This digital history website will be a:

  • Global, 24/7, one-stop knowledge center for the history of Florence-Firestone
  • Repository for government documents on, about, or related to Florence-Firestone
  • Archive of historical resources including historic newspaper articles, photos, and digitized personal ephemera on Florence-Firestone
  • Web database housing oral history video/audio interviews of Florence-Firestone community members
  • Living bibliography on Florence-Firestone, updated monthly throughout the year
  • Source of pride, accomplishment, and empowerment for the Florence-Firestone community


Florence-Firestone is an unincorporated community located six miles south of downtown Los Angeles. The 3.5 square mile neighborhood is surrounded by the cities of Los Angeles, South Gate and Huntington Park and located within the area known as South Central Los Angeles. Florence-Firestone’s origins trace back to the 19th century when the originally named Florence and Graham districts were founded as outposts along the routes of the Southern Pacific and Pacific Electric railroads. The County later rebranded it as Florence-Firestone in homage to Florence Ave and Firestone Blvd, major east-west thoroughfares that traverse the community

Florence-Firestone has always been a diverse community. Throughout its history the community has functioned as an origination point for waves of new arrivals: European settlers in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, African Americans throughout the 20th century, émigrés from Mexico since the 1960s, and, more recently, Latinos from Central and South America. According to the 2010 Census, Latinos comprise 90% of the community’s population.

Following the Los Angeles uprisings of 1965 and 1992, Florence-Firestone experienced considerable disinvestment. The community has also endured socioeconomic problems such gangs, crime, poverty, unemployment, and low home ownership rates. Yet despite these challenges Florence-Firestone has remained resilient and headstrong. Community pride abounds and the County has contributed increasing resources to rebuild Florence-Firestone.

Despite its longtime existence and deep connections to the greater L.A. region, Florence-Firestone has no published history. No books have been written about this community. No in-depth scholarship has been done charting its development. Press coverage tends to focus on social ills, like crime or overcrowded housing, rather than the positive contributions and rich history of this place. Local history has suffered as a result.

“Florence-Firestone: A Living History” fills this gap by serving as the authoritative, global, 24/7, one-stop knowledge center on the Florence-Firestone community!


Convince Florence-Firestone stakeholders that by developing a digital history website they will preserve and promote the area’s local history which will enhance the community’s pride, profile, and reputation, because more people will know and care about Florence-Firestone and the important contributions of this vibrant community.

Vicinity Map

Vicinity Map


The project will use these resources to develop the digital history:

Community history resources

Digital history resources

Example sites



“Florence-Firestone: A Living History” is the authoritative resource for preserving and promoting the ‘living history’ of Florence-Firestone — a history that spans past, present, and future. Understanding the origins of the Florence-Firestone community tells us where we are now, where we are heading, and how to thrive when we arrive in the very near future!


Proposed usage guidelines are as follows:

  • Any person, corporation, business, nonprofit, government department, community group, or other entity can use the materials
  • Material usage is free of charge
  • No person, corporation, business, nonprofit, government department, community group, or other entity may charge fees for use or reuse of these materials
  • Attribution is required


The following parties will determine project policies:

  • Library management (ensure consistency with department and County policy)
  • Community leaders (ensure positive community image and local support)
  • Users (ensure optimal acquisition and usage)
  • Project Manager and staff (ensure policy implementation)

Example policies

Proposed policies

  • The website shall be accessible 24/7 online, except for occasional maintenance during local non-peak hours
  • The website and materials shall remain free of charge and available for public use
  • Maintenance is the sole responsibility of the County Library
  • Any person, corporation, business, nonprofit, government department, community group, or other entity can donate materials
  • No compensation will be given for donated materials, oral histories, interviews, ephemera, or other additions to the collection
  • Donated materials are not tax deductible
  • Donated material content must be on, about, or related to Florence-Firestone
  • Donated material shall not be obscene
  • Staff reserves the right to refuse any donated material
  • Oral history interviewees shall consent in writing for use of their recording, name, and likeness
  • Cataloging of material is the sole responsibility of the County Library
  • Attribution is required
Annual Florence-Firestone Street Fair on Compton Ave

Annual Florence-Firestone Street Fair on Compton Ave


Staff time will come from regular work hours and approved overtime. Additionally, the project will obtain funding from grants and crowdsourced donations. Grants will be sought from reputable nonprofits. Crowdsourced donations can come from any eligible donor. Crowdsourcing allows donors to have a personal stake in this project.

Staff time

  • Project Manager = full-time during development phase, part-time after launch
  • County staff = full-time/part-time depending on assignment
  • Volunteers = part-time (no compensation; Library will certify community service hours worked and issue Certificate of Appreciation)
  • Interns = part-time (hired as temporary Librarian Intern under item’s current salary)

Leadership grants to pursue

  • Institute of Museum and Library Services ($10-15k)
  • National Endowment for the Humanities: Office of Digital Humanities ($5-10k)
  • American Library Association ($1-5k)
  • California Library Association ($500-2k)

Crowdsourced donations

  • Indiegogo (Project Manager preferred)
  • Kickstarter
  • Fundly



The project’s design can be prototyped. It will function as a toolkit for developing goals, policies, programs, and website interfaces for similar community digital history websites. To achieve this, we will use open source software for the platform. Design decisions and reasoning will be documented for future consultation.


Budget calls for 6 months to launch:

  • Gain project approvals (3 weeks)
  • Staffing and call for volunteers (3-4 weeks)
  • Workspace (2-3 weeks)
  • Research (3 weeks)
  • Call for materials (continuously open)
  • Training (2-3 weeks)
  • Procurement (2 weeks)
  • Begin receiving materials (continuously open)
  • Conduct oral histories (2-3 weeks)
  • Develop website (4 weeks)
  • Upload materials (1 week)
  • Promote (continuous after start)
  • Beta testing (1 week)
  • Launch
  • Evaluate (continuous after launch)

Project flow dependencies

Some steps are sequential, some overlap:

  1. Gain proposal approval
  2. Staffing and call for volunteers
  3. Workspace acquired concurrently with staff selection
  4. Project research on digital histories and the community. Initial research phase intense, tapering off as project matures
  5. Call for materials publicly posted early and made continuously available
  6. Training conducted once core staff is in place
  7. Equipment procurement concurrently with training
  8. Begin acquiring materials concurrently with website design
  9. Begin oral histories; minimum of three video interviews for launch
  10. Website interface finalized (but will not yet go-live)
  11. Materials uploaded onto website
  12. Marketing and promotions begin
  13. Beta testing begins
  14. Launch project website
  15. Evaluate and refine website


The project needs approval from the following parties:

  • Library Director
  • Library Manager (Project Manager’s supervisor and evaluator)
  • Managers from contributing County departments
  • Library’s intern coordinator (if interns are used)
  • College intern coordinator (if interns are used)
  • Donors of material (waivers for use)
  • Interviewees (waivers for use)

If there’s a “No”

Management will be briefed on the project prior to their approval. The Project Manager will deliver presentations in person or online (via Web services like Panopto or Go-to-Meeting). We are confident the project will garner support. If management has reservations, we will address all areas of concern. We are open to reasonable recommendations to the program.

Florence-Firestone, since 1924!

Florence-Firestone, since 1924!


The core project team consists of a Project Manager, County staff, interns and volunteers. Donors are part of our larger partnership and are considered integral team members. The project will use the following recruitment methods to develop a core team and donor base:

Internal call for participants

  • Librarians, library assistants
  • Other County staffers
  • Posted on internal blog
  • Shared through County communication channels

External call for participants

  • Interns (LIS, History, Archival studies students)
  • Volunteers (high school students, retirees, community members)
  • Posted on Library website and social media

Call for donors

  • Potential donors are community members, stakeholders, longtime residents, advocates and activists, historians, County/State service providers
  • Project will request archival resources, documents, pictures, mementos, ephemera from donors
  • Call will go out on Library website, social media, community meetings, outreach events, local newspapers, schools, local churches

Staff/contributor hours

  • Project Manager will work full-time during development phase; part-time after launch
  • Library staffers will work on project during regular duty hours, and approved overtime; Project Manager and staff members will determine hours
  • Volunteers will work a schedule prearranged through Project Manager
  • Interns will work for at least one semester/quarter, with scheduled minimum hours prearranged through Project Manager and Intern’s College Supervisor
  • After project launch, staff will consist of the Project Manager working half-time on project, and at least one library staffer working full-time, to ensure proper service function


All staff members, interns and volunteers involved will receive training, which ensures possession of basic skills and knowledge for project excellence.

Staff will receive training in

  • Content management systems
  • Web 2.0
  • Oral history and interviewing
  • Video documentation for Web 2.0
  • Digital preservation
  • Basic archival methods

Delivery methods

  • Webinar
  • Workshop/seminar
  • MOOC

Training design and delivery

  • Library management and Project Manager (selection of vendors; development, delivery and assignment of training)
  • Library trainers and Project Manager (in-house training sessions)
  • Vendors (webinars, workshops, seminars)
  • University faculty (webinars, workshops, seminars, MOOCs)

Training schedule

  • Online format offers flexible delivery
  • On-site format is ideal for technical, hands-on instruction
  • Schedule for library staff, interns: weekdays, 10-30 hours per week during development phase
  • Schedule for volunteers: weekdays or weekends, 10-20 hours per week during development phase
  • Reserve time for refresher training or new staff/intern/volunteer training after project goes live


The project will be marketed within and outside the organization to maximize exposure and develop a positive and sustaining “buzz.”

Within the County Library:


  • Promote at Florence and Graham branch libraries in Florence-Firestone (staff meeting, marketing flyer in English/Spanish, flyer at check-out and with issuance of new library cards, in-branch marketing booth, banner on building)
  • Promote to Library staff (staff meeting, marketing flyer in English/Spanish at HQ and branches)
  • Offer brown bag lunches with Project Manager and staff (also provides opportunities for training, public speaking, leadership development)

Internal communications

  • Send “all staff” memo from Library Director announcing the service
  • Promote service via Library’s internal blog (inaugural post, periodic updates, guest articles, noteworthy acquisitions)
  • Post flyer to online employee time sheet center

Social media

Establish standalone accounts for the digital history website on the below platforms -and- promote through the County Library’s main accounts:

  • Twitter
  • Instagram
  • Facebook
  • Pinterest
  • Tumblr
  • WordPress blog
  • Vine Videos
  • Ello (new, invite-only social network)

Outside the County Library:

  • County Supervisor’s website, social media, and press releases
  • Community Connection newsletter articles
  • Local newspaper ads and article write-ups
  • Community “walk and talk” outreach (major commercial corridors, selected residential tracts)
  • Promote on the Metro Blueline Lightrail. Florence Ave Blueline Station is one block from Florence Library branch. Firestone Blvd Blueline Station is five blocks from Graham Library branch. Slauson Ave Blueline Station is within the community. Partner with Metro to do outreach in trains and platforms, and post in-train advertisements
  • Florence-Firestone Community Leaders group, and three subcommittees
  • Florence-Firestone/Walnut Park Chamber of Commerce
  • Block clubs and Neighborhood Watch
  • Schools (elementary, middle, high school, charter school, magnets)
  • Other County departments with close community ties (Planning Department, Community and Social Services, Sheriff)
  • Colleges and universities (history, sociology, arts, urban planning, iSchool departments)


Benchmarks and Performance metrics include:


  • Survey users
  • Survey staff
  • Survey beta testers
  • Survey donors

Web analytics

  • Website hits
  • Visitor time on website
  • Downloads per day/month/year
  • Search result ranking
  • Social media buzz

Stories and Visioning:

Project narratives; Stories we’ll tell

  • Builds and strengthens community
  • Brings people together under common interest
  • Unites community advocates and activists
  • Streamlines research
  • Encourages neighboring local histories

Project Legacy:

Ways to expand service

  • Website serves as template for other community digital history projects
  • Project serves as toolkit for developing similar community-based websites
Florence-Firestone identity signage

Florence-Firestone identity signage


Obstacles to Participation: The Little Free Library Edition

This Little Free Library in Los Angeles is at the center of controversy. Little Free Libraries embody community participation and action.

This Little Free Library in Los Angeles is at the center of controversy. Little Free Libraries embody community participation and action.

The Little Free Library (LFL) movement has quickly caught on across the US. The dollhouse-sized miniature libraries are found on front lawns, parks, and public squares coast to coast. LFLs house books and magazines for community members. Circulation is free and runs on an honor system. The motto: “Take a book. Return a book.” As @michael pointed out in this Module 5 article, LFLs support literacy, stewardship, and community. They’re also examples of low-tech, high value localized collections that offer community enrichment and connection in public space. LFLs are a manifestation of community participation, action, and improvement. Who could object?

Rest assured, every community has someone who relishes being a killjoy. As this recent Los Angeles Times article explains, one L.A. homeowner has been ordered to remove the LFL he built in the parkway (grassy strip between the road and sidewalk) in front of his house. An anonymous angry neighbor complained to city hall. Such complaints happen often enough that LFL leadership published this guide for dealing with code enforcement complaints.

As Michael Casey notes, participatory libraries today face difficult times given the naysayers and prognosticators of doom. The story of upheaval caused by a tiny wooden book box in L.A. resonates with #hyperlibs and participatory libraries today. It illustrates the challenges we face trying to enlist participation for library initiatives. From this episode we can glean some cautionary lessons:

  • Obstacles to participation are inevitable – Know that there will be obstacles to participation. Participation requires time, effort, teamwork, investment, motivation and sacrifice — all the things that stoke resistance in some people! The sooner we identify the inevitable obstacles the faster we can develop options to address them.
  • Obstacles may be homegrown – We may think participation obstacles will come from cowardly, cautious, listless managers talking about “Nobody will use this service.” Know that resistance can easily come from within. The angry neighbor who reported the LFL was from the same community that overwhelmingly loved this service. We rely on participation from people close [geographically and/or digitally] to the service. They’re not always allies.
  • People are obstacles – Know that the people we want to participate can be fickle, defeatist, and negative. Some just won’t commit to an initiative, or they commit half way, no matter how great it is. They share none of our enthusiasm for participatory service. They’re naysayers who stomp on ideas. Despite how cool, populist, and innovative DOK’s user-generated content is, I’m sure killjoys griped about having to provide the photos. These kind of people are not the majority, but they do exist.
  • Institutions are obstacles – Perhaps the biggest obstacle is the institutional framework in which libraries operate. Public libraries are bureaucracies. They are functions of municipal government, which is historically and colloquially equated to bureaucracy par excellence. As discussed in my Context Book Review, pervasive red tape — codes, rules, standards, policies, protocols, processes — suffocates innovation in government. The offending LFL in the parkway is a problem solely because a long-ago-written ordinance defines parkway placements as dangerous “obstructions.” The well intentioned code does not account for the LFL’s actual use or context. Codes notoriously do not evolve with the times, largely bureaucracy makes change difficult to achieve. Know that this kind of stifling environment undercuts motivation we need for participatory service.

Knowing these lessons ahead of time makes us better prepared to respond to the inevitable obstacles facing participatory service. Leadership is needed to deal with obstacles and ensure participation. Planning ahead, forecasting challenges, developing alternatives and creative solutions, exhibiting courage — these are hallmarks of strong leadership toward these ends. It pays off, too. As this article reports, the owner of the LFL in L.A. is fighting back, as is another LFL owner in Shreveport, Louisiana. Precedent and momentum are on their side. Just check out 9-year-old Spencer’s LFL story and video!


Can Web 2.0 Save Government?

Citizenville: How to Take the Town Square Digital and Reinvent Government, by Gavin Newsom, with Lisa Dickey

Citizenville coverIn February 2013, California Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom swung by the Los Angeles Public Library in Downtown LA on a book tour for Citizenville. Downtown was abuzz. Newson is well known in Southern California as the young, photogenic, progressive former San Francisco mayor who’s admittedly just biding time in the Lt. Governor’s Office until Governor Jerry Brown is termed out. I was excited about the chance to hear Newson discuss improving government by using new technology. Having worked at the lumbering County of L.A. for years, I knew we could use a kick start. Unfortunately, deadlines for SJSU papers were mounting and I didn’t make the talk. Instead, I gave my colleague who was going $30 to snag me an autographed copy. The next day I got the book, smiled at Newsom’s semi-personalized autograph, then placed Citizenville in the “to read next” pile on my bookshelf. Life got busier, and Citizenville ended up sitting there for two years until I saw it on our #hyperlib book list.


“Thanks, Gavin! I’ll read it in two years.”

In hindsight, it was better that I waited. Truth is, two years ago I was generally averse to social media. I assumed people were still posting their mood (MySpace style) and random inanities in status updates. Times have changed; I’ve seen the light. Today I use social media as a tool for networking and communications. I see that emerging technologies can improve government and information services. The timing seemed right for Citizenville.

The Social Web pervades our daily lives. You likely have a Web 2.0 enabled smartphone or tablet with you now. Today you probably posted a photo on Instagram, or “liked” someone’s latest selfie there. You’re typing into a computer that likely has Facebook open, and you’re checking status updates while you work. When you need a break, you might grab your smartphone and check out Brittany Furlan’s latest goofy Vine clip (she’s an award-winning social media celebrity). To decide your lunch spot you’ll browse some trustworthy Yelp reviews. During lunch you send a Snapchat to your friends. Later at home, you settle into some House of Cards binge watching, courtesy of Netflix’s streaming service on your Web-enabled TV. You tweet at the show before the night’s over.

Rubiks CubeSocial media has made it easy, efficient, and instantaneous to connect with the world.

Government also pervades our daily lives. You wake up in a home built properly because of local building and zoning codes. You drive to work safely because of traffic lights and speeds limits providing by government. If you hit a pothole en route, you can call city hall from your smartphone to complain to the Mayor. You have reception because the city has permitted sufficient cell towers in your area. You begin your 40-hour work week, where you earn a wage, and enjoy required lunch breaks, all of which are established by fair labor laws. After work you stop for gasoline and a Snicker bar at the gas station, not realizing that the gas pump and cash register have been inspected by the County to ensure pricing accuracy. On your way home, you stop at a restaurant and, seeing the Health Department’s A-grade in the window, you know it’s safe to eat there.

City HallWe interact with government daily. In this era of heightened connectivity, you’d expect us to be better connected with government. Yet the public/government interface remains stuck in analog. This disconnect is what drove Newsom to write this book. Citizenville explores how Web 2.0 can be used to improve government.

Newsom embraces bold ideas. As a 26-year old wine Bay Area entrepreneur, he rewarded his employees for their best failed ideas to encourage more “out of the box” thinking. As Mayor of San Francisco, he spearheaded efforts to provide universal healthcare and allow same-sex marriages in the city, a full decade before these causes went national. Newsom’s forward-thinking perspective drives this book.

Citizenville injects private sector thinking into the public sector. To research the book, Newsom traveled throughout the U.S. to “engage the collective wisdom of people outside government” (p. xvi). Interviewees included technologists, researchers, entrepreneurs, start-up developers, and a handful of retired big-name politicians. A common recommendation among them was to build Web 2.0 features into government.

FarmVille“Citizenville” is a play on FarmVille, the popular social media game where players work together to cultivate simulated farms online. FarmVille represents the best features of the Social Web: a fun way to engage, connect, problem solve, and collaborate. Government lacks these features. Using emerging technologies, ordinary people will be able to do extraordinary things in civic life. Says Newson, “Citizenville is more than just a game; it’s a new way of thinking about the relationship between people and their government. It’s a world in which the old one-way, top-down, bureaucratic, pre-Internet hierarchy is replaced by a truly democratic, bottom-up, social civic engagement… where the solutions are, increasingly, in our own hands” (p. xxi).

The following themes inform Citizenville:

  1. Government must be transparent
  2. Data must be used to create useful tools
  3. Government must engage people digitally
  4. People must be allowed to bypass government
  5. Government must be innovative, entrepreneurial

Newsom begins with a critical assessment of government today. “Bureaucracy — e.g. government — is slow to adapt at best. At worst, it’s openly hostile to change” (p. 5). He methodically builds his case, chapter by chapter, for using emerging technologies to improve government. Cloud computing makes information portal and accessible (Chapter 2). Open data ensures transparency and empowers constituents (Chapter 3). The procurement process for acquiring services and contracts should be replaced with open competition (Chapters 5, 6). All chapters reinforce the point that emerging technologies must be harnessed to increase civic engagement. We can incentivize participation in governance by modeling services after games (Chapter 6). Social computing improves communication and offers feedback loops to representatives. Bureaucracy — the hallmark of our negative experiences with government — must be wiped out. Innovation should be built-in and encouraged at all levels of government. Echoing Brian Mathews, Newsom says government must Think Like a Startup to stay viable in the 21st century.

Citizenville aligns well with our course content. Hyperlinked libraries are rooted in Web 2.0 and enhance opportunities for participation. Similarly, Newsom sees social computing as the best way to advance participation in government. Social networking, crowdsourcing, cloud computing, and gameification can be used to engage the populace in dynamic, meaningful, and effective ways — ways that exceed the value of traditional town hall meetings that, says Newsom, cater to the loudest shouters. Emerging technologies empower people by providing ways to be better informed constituents, and by offering fluid, timely, and direct communication channels with government. In many respects, the hyperlinked library expresses the core values of Citizenville, USA.

Librarians have been ahead of the curve with using emerging technologies to improve service. Public libraries were one of the first government functions to automate services. Librarians blazed the digital trail by offering free internet access early on. Librarians today must hold fast to this pioneering spirit. This can be difficult because government is slow and inefficient. An important lesson librarians can glean from Citizenville is this: innovation in government is challenging and discouraged, but always worth it. Our constituents expect and deserve easier information access.

Red Tape

Remove red tape!

As Citizenville frequently reminds us, bureaucracy stifles innovation. Librarians must find ways to cut red tape. They must develop workarounds, or better yet, they must shred red tape in their organizations. Librarians cannot fear experimentation. Tinkering means progress. Moreover, in conceiving new programs and services, librarians should welcome failure. It’s a sign that you tried something. And if you’re going to fail, fail well by learning and growing from it (pp. 204-207). In pursuit of innovation, librarians should embrace emerging technologies which can be used to engage other innovators. Contrary to popular myth, innovation is not a solitary pursuit; innovation is a collaborative, process-oriented endeavor.

Newsom unequivocally advocates moving government online. Notably, this service approach has long been in use in public libraries, which embraced digital technology decades ago. Today’s hyperlinked library represents a natural step forward. The exchange of information is becoming robust and collaborative. Users are experiencing more customized reference services both in person and online. Digital collections are expanding. OPACs are taking on Web 2.0 features. Today we’re seeing Goodreads book reviews pop up alongside catalog searches. Going forward, we’ll probably see instantaneous user feedback online, enabling administrators to adjust library services in real time.

No doubt social computing improves government and information services. Web 2.0 enhances our ability to interact, give and get feedback, register our opinions, disagree, share and collaborate,  gain insights, and participate in governance, civic life, and the democratic process. Emerging technology is sleek and alluring with its promise of advancement.

Yet it would be shortsighted to regard social computing as a panacea for improved government. This is the mistake Newsom makes in his zeal to push  government online. The book’s unacknowledged sixth theme is that new technology is the solution to better governance. There’s no acknowledgement of the digital divide that persists today. For all its benefits, emerging technologies cannot replace the stimulus of public space. This is nowhere more evident than in the public library. More than just an info-pository, the library doubles as community, social, and educational space. Public libraries provide core municipal services: a place for voting, a place to acquire language and literacy, a place for acculturation. In urbanized areas, libraries serve as safe spaces that provide an alternative to street life and gangs. Public libraries are spaces where several generations come together under one roof for shared experiences. As recent history has shown, public libraries are also spaces of resistance. We lose sight of these virtues when we romanticize technology as THE solution.

Occupy Wall Street Library

The People’s Library at Occupy Wall Street

Ultimately, this shortcoming does not devalue Newsom’s otherwise insightful take on improving government service. Innovation and engagement are core values that government must embrace to be effective in the 21st century.


Newsom, G. C., & Dickey, L. (2013). Citizenville: How to take the town square digital and reinvent government. New York: Penguin Press

Libraries, change, and the future

You gotta see me change

See me change, Yeah I’m leavin’ town

On a midnight train, Gotta see me change

Change, change, change, Change, change, change

Change, change, change, Change, change, change

Woa, change, change, change

~ “The Changeling” by The Doors

(Rocking out to The Doors while reading this is encouraged)

Change is supposed to be temporary. We know change as that transitional, unsettling state between more reassuring times. In our imagination, and as it plays out in life, change happens but then things stabilize. Or at least that’s how it used to be. As the foundational readings underscore, our present era — the hyperlinked, Web 2.0 era — is defined by the characteristic of change. This portends substantial shifts for public libraries.

We knew change was coming. As the below Google Ngram shows, we’ve been increasingly discussing “change” over the last 200 years (Fig. 1). We shouldn’t be surprised that change is now a constant state. Yet some libraries are fairing better than others in this tumultuous time. Recall that libraries are institutions mired in traditions; they’re slower to evolve because of it. Moreover, our public libraries operate under the added burden of entrenched municipal bureaucracy. Combine traditions and bureaucracy and we see why public libraries are less responsive to change. But evolve they must, lest they be outsourced or shuttered.

Figure 1: Google Ngram for the word "change" from 1800 - 2008

Figure 1: Google Ngram for the word “change” from 1800 – 2008

How should public libraries respond to change? The foundational readings provide direction. Spanning 20 years of thought, the readings outline for librarians a change-accepting mindset and practical approaches to utilize to thrive in this time of permanent change.

Michael Buckland’s 1992 ebook Redesigning Library Services: A Manifesto lays out what’s needed for effective future public library service. Written during the beta days of online libraries, the manifesto calls out public library leaders for failing to plan for service in the coming digital age. “It seems that the relative stability of the past century is but a prologue to another period of radical change” (Buckland, 1992, Ch. 1). Change is a recurrent theme throughout Buckland’s piece. Libraries must deal with considerable change: technological change, the change from Paper to Automated to Electronic library, changes in user populations and cultures, and service delivery updates needed to respond to these changes. Digital resource delivery is championed as a way to keep public libraries relevant and effective in the 21st century.

Michael E. Casey and Laura C. Savastinuk examine the impact of social media on libraries in the 2007 book Library 2.0: A Guide to Participatory Library Service. They wrote this book on the cusp of the social web transformation. The iPhone was emerging as the dominant social web-enabling on-the-go device. Social media was transitioning from 1.0 Friendster and MySpace to 2.0 Facebook and Twitter. Blogs, social tagging, and what I call “sharing as default state” were becoming the new norm. Following Buckland, Casey and Savastinuk argue for evolving to digital services and Web 2.0 to ensure the library’s survival. Change is core to Casey and Savastinuk’s thesis. Change is part of their essential ingredients for library 2.0. Change is expected for incorporating 2.0 technologies. The authors provide a “framework for change” to secure buy-in, understanding, and implementation of library 2.0 services. Change is the modus operandi of library 2.0. As Casey and Savastinuk lay out, library 2.0 entails sharing, collaboration, participation, empowerment; it’s also attuned to the emotional needs of library users. Rooted in the social web, Library 2.0 reflects the zeitgeist of today.

Buckland told libraries to think digitally because the Information Age was coming. Casey and Savastinuk told libraries to think socially because the social Web 2.0 had arrived. Brian Mathew’s 2012 white paper Think Like a Startup naturally carries the conversation forward. In this era of exponential innovation — exemplified by tech startups — libraries and librarians must start operating entrepreneurially. In today’s environment, he says, “Change is going to be difficult, but the good news is that we know it’s necessary… In fact, this theme of change has become part of our landscape. Change is the new normal. Change is the only constant” (Mathews, 2012, p. 3). He follows with a 10-point manifesto explaining steps to become a change-ready, entrepreneurial library:

  1. Be forward thinking to anticipate user needs and desired ends. Learning delivery is no longer the purview of brick-and-mortar buildings; be digital, be online
  2. Hire innovators and encourage innovation in library culture
  3. Think like a start-up: embrace change, make the library a platform, embed innovation in library culture
  4. Learn to fail well: be daring enough to try and to learn from failure, listen to feedback, evolve, look for gaps to innovate
  5. Employ a method: Build, Measure, Learn (start-up method) or Learn, Build, Measure (UX method)
  6. Aim for 3 essential qualities: usability, feasibility, value
  7. Deemphasize assessment which limits innovation
  8. Develop a Strategic Culture instead of that boring strategic plan
  9. Use a telescope for seeing up and over. Ditch the microscope peering narrowly downward
  10. Implement, do it, make it happen!

SHHHHHHH TO CHANGEIndeed, change is the MO for 21st century libraries. Stability is ephemeral. Disruption is normal. Librarians must embrace this paradigm shift. The foundational readings make it clear that: 1) Technology will continue to advance our world and the library mustn’t fall behind, 2) The social web is upon us and libraries must adapt to it; yet libraries must also look ahead for the next era, be it Web 3.0 or some as-yet-named experience, and 3) Library survival requires innovation, courage, future-thought, and follow through.

Of course this is effortless to proclaim in the abstract. In reality, it’s going to be challenging to carry out this new way of thinking for certain public libraries whose institutional cultures, internal protocols, and operational standards resist change. How can we convince reticent library administrators to embrace change, new technologies, and future-thinking? Below are a few of my ideas premised on a plausible deliverable of a public library today:

  • Grab their interest “modestly” — Sounds oxymoronic but it works. Bureaucracies think new is scary and change is disruptive. A workaround is necessary. We can coax hesitant library administrators into supporting innovative projects, programs, and services if these offerings don’t appear all that scary or disruptive. We can show the benefits of technological change through a modest demonstration project, like a digital community history. Check out these examples from public libraries in East Los Angeles and New York City. Digital histories encompass traditional and innovative archival methods and they’re well supported by constituents.
  • Assure them it’s easy — Technology, change, and the future can appear complex to hesitant administrators. And yet we know that today’s technology is easy enough for babies to learn. We must parlay that ease. We must demonstrate to decision makers that it’s not that difficult to pull off.
  • Build a team — Managers like teams because they want staff working together to solve problems. Give them that. Enlist a group of people with a variety of skills. Don’t just focus on tech-savvy Millennials. Enlist people of all ages with project management, writing, coalition building, and people skills. A team effort sends the message that the project is widely embraced — and a team effort will help get it done.
  • Fund it — Ease management’s knee-jerk and predictable budget concerns by seeking grants to fund the project. Grant funding is available from organizations like IMLS, ALA, and the CA State Library. Decision makers are especially supportive when some other agency is paying.
  • Get buy-in — Management is always more willing to approve when the community supports the project. Gaining assistance from allied agencies bolsters your chances. Thus we must conduct outreach and get buy-in from constituents. We should enlist other agencies whose specialized knowledge helps our efforts. It would be foolish for decision makers to disregard constituents’ will, especially when assistance from partners makes the project that much easier to accomplish.
  • Do it — Whatever it is we envision, our ideas and passions must be turned into action and results. Our team must complete the demonstration project. We must implement it. The community deserves it, we deserve it, and our reticent managers who rolled the dice both expect and deserve it. We will deliver.
  • Market it — We must be cheerleaders for our demonstration project. We must sustain interest which supports longevity. We must broadcast it throughout and beyond our target communities. In addition to analog ‘word of mouth’ mentions, we must take to the social web to share the project globally via tweets, likes, forwards, Facebook status updates, Instagram pics, Snapchat and Vine video clips, tags, hashtags, Tumblr blogs, and whatever new web outlets emerge on the horizon.

Change is unsettling. It’s nerve-wrecking to be out of your comfort zone. Yet it is those moments that yield learning and growth. Public libraries have limitless opportunities for future-focused development in this era of permanent change. Librarians must embrace change as a way of life.


Buckland, M. (1992). Redesigning library services: A manifesto. American Library Association. Retrieved from http://sunsite.berkeley.edu/Literature/Library/Redesigning/html.html

Casey, M. E., & Savastinuk, L. C. (2007). Library 2.0: A guide to participatory library service. Medford, NJ: Information Today. Retrieved from http://287.hyperlib.sjsu.edu/readings_media/library-2-0-a-guide-to-participatory-library-service-2/

Mathews, B. (2012, April). Think like a startup [White paper]. Retrieved from http://vtechworks.lib.vt.edu/bitstream/handle/10919/18649/Think%20like%20a%20STARTUP.pdf?sequence=1


Hello from Pasadena, CA

Greetings! My name is Jonathan Pacheco Bell. By day I work as an urban planner for the County of Los Angeles. By night I work towards the MLIS at our newly renamed SJSU iSchool. I started the MLIS program in 2010 and have been making steady progress part-time. My projected graduation is early 2016; I’ll be here awhile longer 😉

Three years into professional planning practice, I felt bored, lethargic, and uninspired, with cob webs filling up my head. Municipal planning can be very bureaucratic and overly cautious. Try to get a permit at your local city hall and you’ll know what I mean. I needed to get back into academia where one could think and act boldly. After scanning options, I liked that I could tailor this MLIS program into a broad-based research degree that provided opportunities to improve my writing, analytical, and research skills along with professional training in LIS. Thus far in the program I’ve gotten some articles published and served as a graduate researcher for an innovative national research project on YA library spaces. How many other iSchools can offer that to master’s students?!

I’m warming up to social media and Web 2.0. For years I was guarded and just didn’t want to be online or findable. I’ve softened my stance over the last year after seeing the effectiveness of engaging people through Web 2.0 technologies at work and at home. (Twitter has been surprisingly useful and effective). Library and information services are moving to Web 2.0 to be more inclusive and to reach wider user populations. I don’t want to be left behind as the world moves forward around me. In this class I’ll learn about cutting edge technologies and approaches that are expected of library services today. That’s new learning for me. And that’s exciting–that feeling of your brain expanding (sometimes from headaches) from new learning and eureka moments. It’s why I came back to school, after all!

My main area of interest is in public libraries. This traces back to my many positive childhood memories in my local library, bolstered by my five years of paraprofessional experience at LAPL Central Library throughout undergrad, right on up to my current practice in community building and planning. The public library is many things. It has been called the people’s university. It has been heralded as a safespace for young people seeking an alternative to gangs and crime. It is sometimes a reliable babysitter for older and younger siblings. It is a place for books, socializing, and internet access. The public library is all that. And more. The public library is a core public service, public space, and public good. New technology can make the public library even better.

Connect with me here:


P.S. I miss Stephen Colbert dearly