The Public Library as an (Almost) Open-Source Institution

Building A Community: In-Person

The 4th Floor

So, Little Free Libraries and LibraryBoxen are great at delivering content that's been selected by the community for inclusion. Programs like Scout and Teen Summer Challenge are trying to build a community of digital users to interact on library-curated and library-owned space, using and learning about library, community, and reputable Internet resources that are available to them. The last piece of this puzzle is transforming the physical library space itself to make it into a more open place where the community can use it and the resources available to advance their own interests, ideas, and even businesses. Most public libraries already open up their meeting room spaces to the community, and some public libraries are building dedicated spaces for various activities, like Makerspaces, fab labs, and media recording and editing labs. These are great starts toward a more open plan for library space and resources.

Chattanooga Public Library took things one step further. Instead of creating spaces designed for specific activities, they took the fourth floor of their library building and made it a wide-open lab for the public to come and do things with. The 4th Floor as it is now is an experimentation space, with several companies and startups working in partnership to hold events, use equipment, and provide the community with a big blank canvas that they can arrange to suit their needs. It's not just "here's a place where you can meet", it's "here's a place where you can launch your own business, with tools, knowledge, expertise, and events all available to help make that dream a success." Or "here's a place where you can pick up skills and use equipment that would be prohibitively expensive to acquire individually." Or "here's the place where you can drop an art installation, exhibit your work, and then pack it up and move on to the next spot, having exposed library people to something new and different." Common Libraries had a great write-up of the 4th Floor space and the uses the community in Chattanooga have found for it. By providing space for the community to remix, instead of just tools for the community to use in remixing their own spaces, Chattanooga opens up a possible way for the last component of an open-source institution – the way by which the community can make the walls, the floors, and the furniture suit the needs of the moment and of the long-term. How many other places in our lives can make the claim that the community shapes them as something other than the result of highly-focused demographic research meant to separate your money from your person?