Librarians as Citizen Experts

Last week, I participated in the TEDxMidAtlantic 2013 event held in Washington, DC. This year’s TEDx event focused on starting new ideas and initiatives to promote local innovation. During the event, I listened to more than 50 presentations, including speeches from General Stanley McChrystal, Former Commander of the United States Forces, Shiza Shahid, CEO of the MalalaFund, and Lale Labujo, Founder of OmoChild.

All the presentations had something in common: everyone saw a need in their community and used their talent and expertise to develop a creative solution. For example, Misra Walker from New York created the House of Spoof to host gallery shows for emerging artists and to provide a creative outlet for at-risk youth from the Bronx. Similarly, Pierce Freelon and Apple Juice Kid traveled all over the world creating Beatlabs or music labs to provide talented youth with expertise and equipment to develop their musical capabilities. While I was listening to their presentations, I kept thinking that Beyond Access Member libraries could make great partners in similar projects.

One presentation focused on the intersection between education and technology. Lisa Guernsey, Director of the New America Foundation’s Early Education Initiative, has studied the impact of e-books on children and has published articles on the adoption of e-books at libraries. According to her research, digital books can help increase children’s literacy rates, particularly those with disabilities.

Technology has the power to help improve people’s lives. We all possess the power to initiate change, in ways both small and large. One of the most exciting moments of the event came during Liz Ogbu’s talk on redefining urban spaces. Liz, who is trained as an architect, works to create safe spaces with vulnerable communities, including undocumented workers. She said these undocumented workers are “citizen experts” because they know their needs and opportunities better than anyone else.

The concept of a citizen expert is not new. The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) considers citizen experts essential actors in development. After all, who knows more about transportation needs than the person who takes the bus to work every day? By definition, a country’s population contains all available skills and knowledge — citizens are the best consultants and librarians are no exception.

Librarians know the needs of their communities and are acting upon this knowledge to develop services that respond to these needs. Just take a look at some of the projects that have been developed by Beyond Access Members.

How are you translating your community insights into new services? Let us know in the comments below!

Comments

  1. BWATO ROBINSON

    This information is really helpful especially for us in the developing world we need to take advantage of using both community and Public Libraries for the total development and empowering programmes .Goverments must start treating public libraries as political,social and economic catalysts if meaningful human development is to be realized.

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