When I was at the Wisconsin Library Association’s annual conference a couple weeks ago, I made a choice not to attend a session called “Library as Incubator Project,” and I have come to regret that choice because I have been thinking about libraries as incubators (of various sorts) ever since. Their session was described:
The Library as Incubator Project seeks to learn how artists (writers, visual artists and performing artists) use libraries in their research, creation and promotion of their artistic work. The presenters are in the process of creating a web resource that highlights artists and projects that have been “incubated,” in part, by library collections, spaces and/or staff. It will also serve as a resource for librarians who want to better serve artists patrons through programming, collections, and partnerships. Laura, Christina and Erinn will discuss their goals for the future of the project.
For me, this connected with something I’ve been thinking about for a while. If libraries need to redefine their role, incubation could be a cornerstone of that - but not just for writers and artists. Libraries can leverage both traditional information resources and services as well as tools provided by the social web, to empower people to become creators of all kinds - and to have a space to do it together with other people.
As I was writing an essay response to an exam question I got to thinking about the ongoing sort of brainstorming occurring at the intersection of libraries and journalism. It occurred to me that libraries could play a big role in incubating (i.e. training and organizing) citizen journalists. Of course there are problems to be resolved with the public library’s close relationship to local government, but I think that could be worked out. I helped co-found the citizen media site Main Street Oshkosh, unfortunately not long before I moved away from Oshkosh. But from that experience, I can see how the library could have helped us build a stronger, more inclusive presence for local news.
Then, a couple days ago, Paul Nelson (Retiring Guy) posted about hacker/maker spaces and libraries. Another example of an opportunity for libraries to incubate - this time artists of a more technological sort.
And then of course there is the older idea of libraries as business incubators which is not, by the way, necessarily separate from any of the above.
A closing thought… a lot of this relates to bringing web 2.0 mentalities offline and into the physical sphere. One reason social media is so powerful in university campus communities is that they have this great shared commons of physical spaces and resources that can be used. They can organize online and act offline (if they want). The shared public spaces available to regular communities seem to be fewer and farther between these days, but for many communities the public library has been a fixture of shared space for many decades. We need to recognize that our digital world makes local libraries more of an asset, not less.