Innisfil Public Library creates hacker ethic to reinvent the role of libraries within their communities

ARTICLE | Dec 7, 2015
Photo courtesy of Innisfil Public Library website.

The Innisfil Public Library (IPL) in Ontario, Canada reinvented their service delivery model by cultivating a hacker ethic within their community.  Although, “hacker” typically has a negative connotation, Erin Scuccimarri, Manager of Marketing, Development & Community Engagement, explains it was chosen to coin their strategy because it represents the “sharing of free information, hands-on learning, and community collaboration”. 

The hacker ethic encourages residents to create, collaborate, innovate, and pursue personal and professional goals using IPL resources. The resources at IPL’s four branches include much more than just books. Their newly renovated Lakeshore Branch is home to a HackLAB and a MediaLAB:

  • HackLAB offers 3D Printing, computer programming, soldering, a laser cutter, and vinyl graphic design.
  • MediaLAB offers a green screen, sound booth, electronic instruments, editing booths, graphic design software, video and audio recording tools.

The HackLAB and MediaLAB were created as an answer to a question all libraries struggle with: What is the relevance of public libraries in today’s digital age?

Creating these additional resources was only part of the battle of transforming IPL into a community hub. Aaron DeVries, Manager of Creative Making & Discovery explains that biggest obstacle is changing the perceptions the community has about libraries:

“Traditional library service is transactional, but now it is interactional. We want the library to be a space that empowers the community to help and teach each other. We also want library staff to be recognized as community supporters and co-learners who work to lower the barrier of access to information.”

IPL recognized that in order to remain relevant, it meant offering services that filled gaps within their community. The IPL community has few culture and tourism facilities, and limited small business resources.  Thus, IPL set out to become a community hub for arts, culture, technology, learning, and innovation. IPL worked with various departments and agencies within the municipality to offer a variety of relevant and enticing workshops and experiences, as well as entertainment opportunities such as concerts and movie screenings. A desire to cultivate a vibrant, thriving economy, led IPL to develop relationships with local restaurants to hold author readings, providing the community with a unique experience and the business with an opportunity to showcase their businesses. The HackLAB and MediaLAB encourage entrepreneurship and innovation by providing access to professional services at very affordable prices.

IPL has made great strides in changing the community’s perceptions through personal experiences with the hacker ethic. For example, the Innisfil Fire Department used the HackLAB to design and cut reflective vinyl identifying numbers for their helmets. As a result of this initial exposure to IPL’s numerous resources, many of the firefighters have returned to the Library for their own personal projects. Through new relationships and partnerships in the community, IPL is spreading the word that they are far more a traditional library.

Just as IPL had to reinvent their service delivery model, they’ve also investigated new approaches to performance measures. Traditional metrics like circulation rates do not capture the stories of impact and the long term outcomes of IPL’s rich services. IPL staff records changes in visitor behaviors and learning as well. For example, Scuccimarri says “we record the number of people that participated in workshops for coding, vinyl cutting, and laser in a month. But we also measure the impact the experience has had on the individual, if it has led to new interests, or a desire to continue using IPL services, etc.”

IPL has also had to transform the traditional roles of their staff, incorporating artists, engineers, teachers, communications etc. within the mix. IPL staff act as co-learners, which means that all staff have hands-on learning with the new tools and equipment, and will learn alongside community members. Scuccimarri explains that their organizational focus is “on providing access to information, ideas and other people with minimal barriers and within a safe, welcoming yet highly innovative space. We welcome any questions and our staff are able to work alongside community members to find solutions, learn new skills and have a rich learning experience.”

For municipalities interested in adapting their library’s service delivery model, Scuccimarri and DeVries encourage communities:

  • Not to be afraid of new things -you can’t wait for perfection. For example, it is okay to experiment with new technologies, and learn together as a team.  
  • Become a YES organization that is open to new, sometimes bizarre, ideas that comes through the door. Some things will fail, but glorious failures guide us to find new solutions.
  • Not to take claim over knowledge – we are facilitators and connectors but in the end it belongs to the community.

IPL will continue to morph as their community grows and there are endless possibilities for the future of Innisfil Public Library. DeVries explains that the “as more ideas are generated, it is hard to predict exactly what the future holds. We hope that the hacker ethic will continue to empower community members to use IPL’s space as their own and to remain open-minded to different experiences available in the HackLAB and Media LAB.”

To learn more about Innisfil Public Library & ideaLAB visit: http://www.innisfil.library.on.ca/

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