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Welcome to Free-Range Knowledge, a blog that will document my investigation of how libraries have served and will continue to serve the general public as well as any other tangents that I find intriguing.

A little bit about myself and my personal relationship with libraries. I was born and raised in Northern Virginia and migrated across the country to Seattle, Washington. Even though I have utilized resources of public and academic libraries throughout the years, my interest in libraries expanded during my graduate studies at the University of Washington. My thesis work investigated how we could plan an urban library network with an offering of specialized amenities in the public branches instead of centralizing unique resources in the main library and each branch being a homogeneous stamp of one other. The branches could reflect their local community and promote cross-pollination of neighborhoods. I will further develop these ideas in a later post.

You may be wondering where the blog’s name comes from and how it relates to libraries. It is a combination of two thoughts, one where are libraries headed and two what are libraries' purposes. In Expect More: Demanding Better Libraries for Today’s Complex World, David Lankes, Professor at the School of Library and Information Science at the University of South Carolina, writes that libraries have never been about tablets, scrolls, or even books but they have been about facilitating knowledge through conversations. These conversations can occur either internally or externally with others and require four steps to successfully occur. First is access to the tools. These tools have changed era to era and continue to be expanded upon but everyone who participates in these conversations must have the ability to obtain these resources. Second, educate others on how to use these tools. Even if one has access to a book, they must first know how to read for them to be able to utilize the book and to fully participate in the conversations. Thirdly, a safe environment is needed and that is not just physically but intellectually and now digitally. Lastly, we need the motivation and encouragement to have these conversations and share one’s thoughts and ideas and not to bury them away. [This is a very brief synopsis of David Lankes’ work and you will hear much more about it in later posts.] After the long-winded explanation of where the word knowledge comes from, now the easy part ‘Free-Range’. This is a reference to, you guessed it, free-ranged chickens. For a long time, libraries were inward-focused, but this began to change when the Boston Public Library System began to offer the ability to loan the libraries’ materials outside of the building. Extending the tools beyond its walls and reaching out to the community has taken shape in numerous ways and is expanding especially during this time of Covid-19. The public library is not contained by walls but reaches out to numerous aspects of the community.

Now, why should you continue to read future posts of this blog, well my extremely biased answer is to see libraries from a different perspective where you can being to question how you can utilize your local library in more ways than you might have once thought. The general idea that libraries are about books is a very limited vision of what libraries do and their potential impact on local communities. Due to the 2008 recession, numerous library systems had major budget cuts which resulted in fewer dramatic decreases in operating hours to closures of branches. This could occur again in 2020 due to the current pandemic. Since the library buildings are nonoperational, this does not mean that libraries are not continually working for us. This has ranged from hosting virtual book clubs, loaning hotspots, offering legal help, and so much more [The Atlantic]. This also has been a display of how the digital infrastructure that many libraries have developed over the years is beginning to shine, with more members loaning e-books now more than ever. [NPR][Currently publishers gouge money from every American library system with their outrageous pricing methods on e-books, this increased demand could stress us to have a more universal digital library network similar to the Danish Digital Library] Now the access to these shared resources is a key component in helping everyone recover from financial hardships compared to everyone having to purchase their own personal one. Please find out the status of your local library and what you can do to show your support!


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