Socio-cultural innovation through and by public libraries in disadvantaged neighbourhoods in Denmark: concepts and practices.

Reviewed By: Heather Bailey, Sim Castro, Erik Fredrickson, Ryan Jenkins

Link to article: http://www.informationr.net/ir/18-3/colis/paperC14.html

Delica, K., & Elbeshausen, H. (2013). Socio-cultural innovation through and by public libraries in disadvantaged neighbourhoods in Denmark: Concepts and practices. Information Research, 18(3), C14. Retrieved from http://www.informationr.net/ir/18-3/colis/paperC14.html

Delica and Ebleshausen (2013) focus on several case studies to explore how public library use has shifted to address the needs of Denmark’s ethnic communities and the methodologies used to foster community empowerment and social inclusion. The needs of at-risk neighborhood communities have caused a shift in library programming and services from more traditional uses to a greater focus on the social needs of the community. This article discusses the different local configurations of three separate libraries that have transformed their spaces into community learning centers and provides an analysis of how those institutions have shaped the traditional library setting to meet the needs of their communities. In addition, Delica and Ebleshausen address how the work of these local innovation groups have helped to change the public library landscape into a collection of institutions with stronger social engagement and a focus on the wider communal needs. Their work includes marketing campaigns that have helped rebrand the library space as a “living room” making it a more community-focused information center. In addition, library sites have also offered cultural competency courses for staff to assist with immigration integration, bottom-linked innovation which encourages communal participation in program planning and decision making and outreach approaches that provide direct access to library services in the home. These efforts help to build local partnerships, empower the community and demonstrate that the library can serve a greater social purpose and bridge a cultural divide. The examples used in this case study also demonstrate that a shift in programming focus can foster inclusion and create a sense of place for underrepresented or disadvantaged communities.

Core Research Question
As an exploratory qualitative study, this article doesn’t so much answer a specific question as explore the factors that contribute to recasting libraries as community centers, and the methods used to make this shift possible within their at-risk communities and with limited resources. Framing their discussion of this refocusing of library-community engagement, the authors apply established theory in Integrated Area Development to observed practices and a rethinking of previous innovation community theory to the factors that precipitated them.

Research Method
In order to perform this investigation, qualitative methods of data gathering and analysis were applied to information gathered from three case studies chosen for their exemplary nature with regards to forming community centers within existing libraries to focus on different methods to address evolving community needs. At each institution, interviews, field observations and theme workshops were performed to gather data from both staff and patrons, in addition to evaluating previous and ongoing projects and analyzing data collected in bi-annual status reports to the Danish Agency of Culture. This data was used to support the proposed alternative framework for innovation communities and Integrated Area Development as well as discover and provide examples of how this innovation might be adopted by libraries in similar positions.

Findings
This group of three libraries exhibits how a library is a public institution that builds the community where it resides. The three libraries, chosen based on their socioeconomic characteristics, are located in immigrant and disadvantaged communities. The three case studies show how libraries can become cultural bridges that bring neighborhoods together.

Examples of how the discussed libraries engaged in Integrated Area Development are shown in how the libraries expand from the traditional model, demonstrating in three different ways how to become network builders, providing a source of social and economic guidance. Additional findings show how the use of local organizations in a project-based manner helps the community groups, as well as discussing how the issue of funding was significant in the success of these projects.

Analysis
There are a few things that can be learned from Delicia and Ebleshausen’s article that libraries in the United States can use. Based upon how the article set up the issue of procuring funding for the projects and programs that the institutions wished to implement, structuring such programming as projects rather than as simply requests more funding would work out for US libraries. Another aspect that domestic libraries can take from this article are how the case studies carried out their results and their methods. Nørrebro’s detailed needs assessment of their community could best be implemented in low-income, racially-diverse populations to get an idea for how the libraries in those communities can best become community centers much like those within Denmark. Building programs around those needs as well as educating the population on how best they may be able express their needs and desires to a library so that when the library conducts a needs assessment survey as well as begins to build up its collections it can best know what the community really wants as opposed to what the library staff believes the community truly wants. While this is not new to libraries in the United States, conducting a needs assessment at the level that was done in Nørrebro to get a true idea of what the community needs and wants, working with the community and its leaders like how was done in Gellerup to understand the people who are in your community better, and promoting self-education of the community like in Vollsmose should become common practice elsewhere so that the needs of the communities are truly met.