Public Libraries in Smart Cities and Communities Toolbox
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Space for Civic Participation
Your library can play an important role in engaging residents in the decision-making process of developing a smart city/community. Public libraries are familiar and safe spaces for residents and community organizations to convene, meet, and interact, strengthening the community ties and increasing the chances of community members to learn about public policies and services and to express their opinions.
Civic engagement is actually critical to the development of a smart city/community since smart cities have to be developed for, by, and with communities. Involving community members in the decision-making process about what type of (smart) city is needed will ensure that the strategies and plans for a smart city better reflect citizens’ priorities and needs. Civic engagement also has value in itself as it may help to build human and social capital, which are inherent attributes of a smart city/community.
To promote civic engagement in the development of a smart city/community, the first aspect for your library to consider is having available space for meetings and discussions. Such spaces could either be physical meeting rooms in the library, an online forum, or a space that mixes both.
It is important for your public library to build such spaces in an inclusive manner to involve different community stakeholders, such as nonprofit organizations, private organizations, school districts, and universities, as well as residents, especially those who are usually underserved or powerless, so that everyone in the community can provide input regarding community issues related to the development of a smart city/community.
If you have an open and large space available in your building, you may want to host meetings that allow community members to get information about smart city plans. You could invite representatives from your local government to talk about their plans to make the community smart(er) and get feedback from the community members.
If your library’s space is limited, you can use smaller meeting rooms for community members to have more interactive discussions and conversations on community issues. You may also want to consider multi-purpose rooms that can change according to the goals of the events and that can also help you to provide spaces of deliberation and engagement around community issues.
In addition to providing a physical space to meet, your public library may also consider offering different programs and services that help raise awareness around the concept of smart city and improve civic participation and engagement in the development of a smart city/community.
You can start, for example, by organizing training courses and workshops to help residents better understand the concept of a smart city/community and what becoming smart(er) entails. Further, you may also want to host participation processes in your library building, for example by focusing on a specific topic included in the smart city strategy and getting the opinion of your patrons.
Your local government may want to also use that opportunity to understand what the community thinks about specific actions in their smart city strategy. For example, if you partnered with your local department of planning and development, you could host a discussion forum to engage local residents to discuss the smart city plan of business development. The department may want to meet with the residents and get their feedback regarding the planning of future business development and economic growth with smart technologies.
Your library may also offer spaces, programs and services that advocate and support your patrons to play an active role in your community innovation ecosystem and therefore to become co-creators in smart city initiatives. Your library may offer not only physical but also virtual collaboration platforms where patrons are able to not only access the tech tools and the Internet speed they need for their projects, but also, to test their ideas, and to engage, onsite or remotely, with others to further develop them.
In doing so, your library offers a neutral and safe space that encourages the creation of networks of relationships among different members of the community to promote collaborative innovation. Further, it becomes an open-to-all innovation environment in smart cities that may replace or complement the more expert-oriented focus that living labs have.
For example, many libraries have become a platform that boosts the development of civic technology, namely the use of technology to improve how citizens, businesses and other groups engage and conduct business with their governments. Your library can serve as a friendly and trusted environment that hosts innovation events and contests and that enables the development of civic technology. By providing high-speed Internet and advanced technology, you may support the setting up of a local civic technology community that can end up being actively involved in creation and innovation in the community.
General resources on civic engagement and engagement with government programs:
ALA—Civic & Community Engagement: http://www.ala.org/pla/resources/tools/community-engagement-outreach/civic-community-engagement
Massachusetts Library System—Library Civic Engagement Programs: https://guides.masslibsystem.org/CivicEngagement/libraries
Public libraries as platforms for civic engagement: https://digital.lib.washington.edu/researchworks/bitstream/handle/1773/41877/CivLib.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y
Smart City Libraries: Civic Engagement: https://www.smartcitieslibrary.com/category/civic-engagement/
Technology column: public libraries as civic technology hubs: https://doi.org/10.1080/01616846.2017.1405236
Leadership Brief: Libraries Leading Civic Engagement: https://www.urbanlibraries.org/assets/ULC_Leadership_Brief_Libraries_Leading_Civic_Engagement.pdf
Tips and Resources for Promoting Civic Literacy: https://www.ebsco.com/blogs/ebscopost/tips-and-resources-promoting-civic-literacy
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