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Opinion | To Restore Civil Society, Start With the Library - The New York Times
"Is the public library obsolete?

A lot of powerful forces in society seem to think so. In recent years, declines in the circulation of bound books in some parts of the country have led prominent critics to argue that libraries are no longer serving their historical function. Countless elected officials insist that in the 21st century — when so many books are digitized, so much public culture exists online and so often people interact virtually — libraries no longer need the support they once commanded.

Libraries are already starved for resources. In some cities, even affluent ones like Atlanta, entire branches are being shut down. In San Jose, Calif., just down the road from Facebook, Google and Apple, the public library budget is so tight that users with overdue fees above $20 aren’t allowed to borrow books or use computers.

But the problem that libraries face today isn’t irrelevance. Indeed, in New York and many other cities, library circulation, program attendance and average hours spent visiting are up. The real problem that libraries face is that so many people are using them, and for such a wide variety of purposes, that library systems and their employees are overwhelmed. According to a 2016 survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, about half of all Americans ages 16 and over used a public library in the past year, and two-thirds say that closing their local branch would have a “major impact on their community.”

Libraries are being disparaged and neglected at precisely the moment when they are most valued and necessary. Why the disconnect? In part it’s because the founding principle of the public library — that all people deserve free, open access to our shared culture and heritage — is out of sync with the market logic that dominates our world. But it’s also because so few influential people understand the expansive role that libraries play in modern communities.

Libraries are an example of what I call “social infrastructure”: the physical spaces and organizations that shape the way people interact. Libraries don’t just provide free access to books and other cultural materials, they also offer things like companionship for older adults, de facto child care for busy parents, language instruction for immigrants and welcoming public spaces for the poor, the homeless and young people.

I recently spent a year doing ethnographic research in libraries in New York City. Again and again, I was reminded how essential libraries are, not only for a neighborhood’s vitality but also for helping to address all manner of personal problems.

For older people, especially widows, widowers and those who live alone, libraries are places for culture and company, through book clubs, movie nights, sewing circles and classes in art, current events and computing. For many, the library is the main place they interact with people from other generations.

For children and teenagers, libraries help instill an ethic of responsibility, to themselves and to their neighbors, by teaching them what it means to borrow and take care of something public, and to return it so others can have it too. For new parents, grandparents and caretakers who feel overwhelmed when watching an infant or a toddler by themselves, libraries are a godsend.

In many neighborhoods, particularly those where young people aren’t hyper-scheduled in formal after-school programs, libraries are highly popular among adolescents and teenagers who want to spend time with other people their age. One reason is that they’re open, accessible and free. Another is that the library staff members welcome them; in many branches, they even assign areas for teenagers to be with one another.

To appreciate why this matters, compare the social space of the library with the social space of commercial establishments like Starbucks or McDonald’s. These are valuable parts of the social infrastructure, but not everyone can afford to frequent them, and not all paying customers are welcome to stay for long.

Older and poor people will often avoid Starbucks altogether, because the fare is too expensive and they feel that they don’t belong. The elderly library patrons I got to know in New York told me that they feel even less welcome in the trendy new coffee shops, bars and restaurants that are so common in the city’s gentrifying neighborhoods. Poor and homeless library patrons don’t even consider entering these places. They know from experience that simply standing outside a high-end eatery can prompt managers to call the police. But you rarely see a police officer in a library.

This is not to say that libraries are always peaceful and serene. During the time I spent doing research, I witnessed a handful of heated disputes, physical altercations and other uncomfortable situations, sometimes involving people who appeared to be mentally ill or under the influence of drugs. But such problems are inevitable in a public institution that’s dedicated to open access, especially when drug clinics, homeless shelters and food banks routinely turn away — and often refer to the library! — those who most need help. What’s remarkable is how rarely these disruptions happen, how civilly they are managed and how quickly a library regains its rhythm afterward.

The openness and diversity that flourish in neighborhood libraries were once a hallmark of urban culture. But that has changed. Though American cities are growing more ethnically, racially and culturally diverse, they too often remain divided and unequal, with some neighborhoods cutting themselves off from difference — sometimes intentionally, sometimes just by dint of rising costs — particularly when it comes to race and social class.

Libraries are the kinds of places where people with different backgrounds, passions and interests can take part in a living democratic culture. They are the kinds of places where the public, private and philanthropic sectors can work together to reach for something higher than the bottom line.

This summer, Forbes magazine published an article arguing that libraries no longer served a purpose and did not deserve public support. The author, an economist, suggested that Amazon replace libraries with its own retail outlets, and claimed that most Americans would prefer a free-market option. The public response — from librarians especially, but also public officials and ordinary citizens — was so overwhelmingly negative that Forbes deleted the article from its website.

We should take heed. Today, as cities and suburbs continue to reinvent themselves, and as cynics claim that government has nothing good to contribute to that process, it’s important that institutions like libraries get the recognition they deserve. It’s worth noting that “liber,” the Latin root of the word “library,” means both “book” and “free.” Libraries stand for and exemplify something that needs defending: the public institutions that — even in an age of atomization, polarization and inequality — serve as the bedrock of civil society.

If we have any chance of rebuilding a better society, social infrastructure like the library is precisely what we need."

[See also: "Your Public Library Is Where It’s At"
https://www.subtraction.com/2018/09/11/your-public-library-is-where-its-at/

"I’ve seen for myself real life examples of virtually all of these use cases. It really opened my eyes to how vital a civic institution the libraries in my community are. But I take mild exception to the emphasis that Klinenberg places on a library’s ability to “address all manner of personal problems.” That phrasing gives the impression that a library is a place you go principally to solve some kind of challenge.

While that’s often true, it’s also true that a library is a building that’s uniquely open to any purpose you bring to it. Your business there could be educational, professional, personal or even undecided, and you don’t need to declare it to anyone—you can literally loiter in your local public library with no fear of consequences.

Even more radically, your time at the library comes with absolutely no expectation that you buy anything. Or even that you transact at all. And there’s certainly no implication that your data or your rights are being surrendered in return for the services you partake in.

This rare openness and neutrality imbues libraries with a distinct sense of community, of us, of everyone having come together to fund and build and participate in this collective sharing of knowledge and space. All of that seems exceedingly rare in this increasingly commercial, exposed world of ours. In a way it’s quite amazing that the concept continues to persist at all.

And when we look at it this way, as a startlingly, almost defiantly civilized institution, it seems even more urgent that we make sure it not only continues to survive, but that it should also thrive, too. If not for us, then for future generations who will no doubt one day wonder why we gave up so much of our personal rights and communal pleasures in exchange for digital likes and upturned thumbs. For years I took the existence of libraries for granted and operated under the assumption that they were there for others. Now I realize that they’re there for everybody."
ericklinenberg  libraries  culture  publiclibraries  2018  community  education  self-directed  self-directedlearning  books  publicspaces  ethnography  nyc  neighborhoods  thirdspaces  openness  diversity  us  democracy  inequality  cities  atomization  polarization  khoivinh 
january 2019 by robertogreco
The Tables on Vimeo
"A look at the powerful connection between a pair of outdoor ping pong tables in the heart of New York City and the unlikely group of people they’ve brought together, from homeless people to investment bankers to gangbangers."

[via: https://kottke.org/18/08/the-community-of-the-tables ]
film  documentary  tabletennis  pingpong  2018  nyc  parks  publicspaces  bryantpark 
september 2018 by robertogreco
Floating Library
"The Floating Library is a pop-up, mobile device-free public space aboard the historic Lilac Museum Steamship berthed at Pier 25 on the Hudson River in New York City for September 6- October 3, 2014. The people-powered library is initiated by artist Beatrice Glow and brings together over seventy participants to fortify a space for critical cultural production by pushing boundaries under the open skies that are conducive to fearless dreaming.The ship’s main deck will be transformed into an outdoor reading lounge to offer library visitors a range of reading materials from underrepresented authors, artist books, poetry, manifestoes, as well as book collection, that, at the end of the lifecycle of the project, will be donated to local high school students with demonstrated need. Ongoing art installations include a Listening Room that will feature new works by six sound artists in response to literature, site-specific paper rope swings, The Line, by Amanda Thackray, and Leading Lights by Katarina Jerinic in the Pilot House.

During this action-packed month, there is free public programming with over twenty roundtables, performances and workshops that will shine a spotlight on maker culture, DIY politics, sustainability issues and community engagement.Some highlights include bookmaking with Center for Book Arts and Small Editions, a modular furniture building workshop with Reid Bingham, live recording session with HeritageRadioNetwork, a Sensory Walk Workshop with the Movement Party, Lighght Reading with Ugly Duckling Presse, a multimedia sound performance by Pauchi Sasaki in the Petty Officer’s Room – a space akin to being inside the belly of a whale—, and SeaChange: We All Live Downstream ( a participatory voyage initiated by Mare Liberum and 350.org) will disembark onboard for three days of office hours after traveling for three-weeks on small boats made of paper connecting climate change activists along the Hudson.

Through collective placemaking, the Floating Library intends to recodify how we occupy public spaces by bringing activities that are typically confined within privileged institutional walls— such as reading, writing, researching, questioning and debating—to open space. Resituating these activities to the public sphere is a proposal to dismantle the unequal distribution of knowledge/power. Given the Lilac is America's only surviving steam-powered lighthouse tender and is undergoing restoration, orchestrating the Floating Library aboard an industrial archaeological artifact draws parallels with the balancing act we collectively perform to navigate uncertain times and shifting currents. The project intends to catalyze cultural momentum and foment future coalitions between artists, visionaries, cultural activists and scholars that will outlive the temporary library structure.

While libraries are temples to worship ideas and knowledge production, they have also contributed to social stratification as print culture invented the literate class that possesses esoteric knowledge/power. The Floating Library hopes to catalyze the dismantling of this hierarchy by making education more accessible through free workshops and roundtables that encourage horizontal exchange, stretch the social imagination, and cultivate a public space dedicated to scholarship. The library will engage the public as a laboratory that brainstorms, identifies, develops and experiments with modalities to activate art and education as progressive research for socio-political transformation.

Historically, coffee houses and salons have served as rehearsal spaces for intellectual and cultural movements. Yet, in New York we have lost such places where one can read or converse without loud music, a customer carrying on a phone conversation aloud, and keyboard chatter. Public green spaces are going extinct. Reading on the subway is claustrophobic. Our apartments are chicken coops. We have the Public Library, but the indoor space regulates and censors our behavior and thoughts. Given this dilemma, Floating Library intervenes as an expanded site for participatory practice and civic engagement. It is an antidote to the disappearance of mental and physical space in the increasingly urbanized and cyberized world.

To enjoy this unplugged zone, library visitors will power-off their mobile devices and vow to respect quiet space. There will also be designated spaces for Reading, Writing & Drawing, Dialogue, Scanning, and Listening. The ship’s main deck will host a quiet reading ambience. Readers can BYOB (Bring Your Own Book) or browse the library.

The library afloat on water is always on the verge to sail into the distance just as books contain the magic to transport our minds to unknown terrains. A reader is a dreamer/traveler/pirate as to open a book is to embark on an adventure into the wider world as well as dive deeper into oneself. Given this, the Floating Library celebrates boats and books to map a path towards a waking life, self-organization, citizen autonomy and fertile imagination."
libraries  floating  boats  nyc  pop-ups  steamships  2014  floatinglibrary  placemaking  publicspaces  socialstratification  knowledge  power  scholarship  publiclibraries  reading 
september 2014 by robertogreco
Digital Public Spaces - FutureEverything
"This publication gathers a range of short explorations of the idea of the Digital Public Space. The central vision of the Digital Public Space is to give everyone everywhere unrestricted access to an open resource of culture and knowledge. This vision has emerged from ideas around building platforms for engagement around cultural archives to become something wider, which this publication is seeking to hone and explore.

This is the first publication to look at the emergence of the Digital Public Space. Contributors include some of the people who are working to make the Digital Public Space happen.

The Digital Public Spaces publication has been developed by FutureEverything working with Bill Thompson of the BBC and in association with The Creative Exchange.

Editors: Drew Hemment, Bill Thompson, José Luis de Vicente, Professor Rachel Cooper

Publisher: FutureEverything, 2013

Contributions: Tony Ageh (Controller, Archive Development, BBC); James Bridle (Writer, Artist, Technologist); Neville Brody (Royal College of Art); Jill Cousins (Executive Director, Europeana Foundation); Steve Crossan (Head of Google Cultural Institute); Paula Le Dieu (Mozilla Foundation); Drew Hemment (CEO, FutureEverything / Lancaster University); Andrew Hiskens (State Library of Victoria); Naomi Jacobs (Creative Exchange, Lancaster University); Bill Thompson (BBC, Archive Development / Royal College of Art); Jeremy Myerson (Royal College of Art); Kasia Molga (Artist); Mo McRoberts (BBC, Archive Development); Emma Mulqueeny (Rewired State); Jussi Parikka (Winchester School of Art); Paul Caplan (Winchester School of Art); Aaron Straup Cope (Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum); Marleen Stikker (The Waag Society); Michelle Teran (Artist); Rachel Cooper (Director, Imagination Lancaster, Lancaster University); Charlie Gere (Lancaster University)

DOWNLOAD HERE

About FutureEverything Publications

Each year FutureEverything proposes, develops and responds to particular themes. These themes are provocations, designed to open up a space for debate and practice, made tangible through art and design projects. FutureEverything Publications seek to contribute to an international dialogue around these themes."
culture  publicspaces  digital  digitalpublicspaces  digitalspaces  2013  jamesbridle  tonyageh  nevillebrody  jillcousins  stevecrossan  paulaledieu  drewhemment  andrewhiskens  billthompson  jeremymyerson  kasiamolga  momcroberts  emmamulqueeny  jussiparikka  paulcaplan  aaronstraupcope  marleenstrikker  michelleteran  rachelcooper  charliegere 
august 2013 by robertogreco
Public Address
"Public Address is a group of public artists creating work throughout San Diego County and beyond. You can see what we're up to by checking out our calendar and our San Diego public art map. We advocate for the arts by organizing educational seminars and supporting artists' rights, and by writing public policy documents. Browse our library and supporting links to learn how artists work and think about public art."
sandiego  art  artists  publicspaces  publicart 
march 2013 by robertogreco
The Quiet Ones - NYTimes.com
"In his recent treatise on this subject (its title regrettably unprintable here), the philosopher Aaron James posits that people with this personality type are so infuriating — even when the inconvenience they cause us is negligible — because they refuse to recognize the moral reality of those around them. (James’s thesis that this obliviousness correlates to a sense of special entitlement is corroborated by my own observation that the crowd on Amtrak, where airline-level fares act as a de facto class barrier, is generally louder and more inconsiderate than the supposed riffraff on the bus.) It’s a pathology that seems increasingly common, I suspect in part because people now spend so much time in the solipsist’s paradise of the Internet that they carry its illusion of invisible (and inaudible) omniscience back with them out into the real world."

"It’s impossible to be heard when your whole position is quiet now that all public discourse has become a shouting match."
publicspaces  sharedspace  consideration  society  attention  davidfosterwallace  listening  distraction  2012  trains  noise  etiquette  publicspace  amtrak  quietcar  slow  quiet  timkreider 
november 2012 by robertogreco
DAILY SERVING » Summer of Utopia: Interview with Ted Purves
"I feel like a project is successful if we have had substantive encounters with people, if we have created spaces where a kind of exchange—whether it’s family history, or talking about why something should or shouldn’t be in an art museum, or sometimes it’s just swapping recipes—some form of animated or engaged dialogue comes out, or some sort of story emerges. It means we learn something, a story can be brought forward from that, that’s when things are successful. Another high-five moment comes when there is something compelling to look at. A lot of times when you see a social practice show, it’s either a room full of crap to read, or it looks like a place where they had a party and you didn’t get to go. I’ve been to a lot of those, and they’re not satisfying! You either wish they had just printed a book you could take home and read in your own chair—because it’s not very comfortable to sit in a museum—or you wish that you’d been at the party."

[via: http://randallszott.org/2012/05/25/ted-purves-aesthetics-social-practice-personal-economies/ ]
urbanism  rural  cities  urban  suburban  suburbia  suburbs  belief  via:leisurearts  democracy  alteration  change  perception  lemoneverlastingbackyard  wrongness  weirdness  glvo  openendedness  seeing  art  aesthetics  fruit  dialog  publicspaces  publicspace  workinginpublic  disagreement  decisionmaking  debate  negotiation  unplanning  thebluehouse  temescalamityworks  susannecockrell  sharing  2010  overlappingeconomies  capitalism  economics  utopia  thomasmore  socialpractice  tedpurves  dialogue 
may 2012 by robertogreco
Adam Greenfield on Connected Things & Civic Responsibilities in the Networked City - YouTube
"Adam Greenfield of Urbanscale, LLC discusses the many technologies used to collect and convey information around public spaces, and the ethical issues underlying them, as well as a proposal for how technologies could be better harnessed for the public good. Jeffrey Schnapp of the Metalab moderates.

The Hyperpublic symposium brings together computer scientists, ethnographers, architects, historians, artists and legal scholars to discuss how design influences privacy and public space, how it shapes and is shaped by human behavior and experience, and how it can cultivate norms such as tolerance and diversity."
publicgood  hyperpublic  urbanism  urban  publicspaces  ethics  metalab  tolerance  behavior  human  publicspace  privacy  internetofthings  connectedthings  cities  civicresponsibilities  networkedcities  berkmancenter  civics  2011  urbanscale  jeffjarvis  adamgreenfield  spimes  iot 
february 2012 by robertogreco

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