The role of the library in a democratic society | Open conversation at Torgið

At Torgið members of staff from different libraries including Reykjavík City Library, Reykjavík University Library, National and University Library of Iceland as well as the Hafnarfjörður Municipal gathered for a discussion among other participants with a special interest in democratic platforms. The topic of the discussion was the role of libraries in a modern and future democratic societies.

We are constantly confronted with a lot of information of all kinds, some of them are misinformation. Misinformation erodes trust, weakens communities and can even jeopardize democracy itself. The library can be a social space built on trust, a safe space where people create a sense of belonging and gain information literacy.

Libraries can take on different roles and be relevant in our lives for diverse reasons. While some come to the libraries to borrow books, more and more users are seeking access to other services. At the makerspaces you have access to a variety of professional tools and technologies and people can write music, edit videos or use sewing machines to make their own clothes. Recording an own a podcast at the studio is also quite popular at the city library of Reykjavík. The library can also surprise people, this makes it a place for inspiration. Libraries have to ability to adapt to the needs of their local communities. A public library in a neighborhood with 150 spoken languages has different focus than a university library serving a community of academic researchers, teachers and students. Information Literacy and Quality Assurance are put in a different context when speaking to a six year old user in a public library compared to a service provided to a 26 years old student in a university environment.

Participants put diverse goals for a future library in an everyday context and matched them with their own needs as a user. Here are a few examples

Libraries teach us how to share. > I want to support a sustainable society, then I need to learn how to share.

Libraries provide opportunities to participation in society. > I want to have a place where I can do things together with other people.

Libraries encourage social innovation. > I would like to test cooking together and sharing dinner with others at the library.

Libraries connect people. > I would like to have access to a place where I can be around all sorts of people, there is no need for a program and there should be free access.

In so many ways our ideas of libraries mirror in what kind of a society with want to live in. Libraries can reflect the societal needs the environment calls for. Would we like to live in a society to offer a place where different people meet, get to know each other, share resources and create unexpected experiences? It was a rich and inspiring conversation that took place on the libraries as democratic venues and safe spaces.

The next open conversation is on the 18th of January 2022 on the issues of creating a physical space for digital democratic venues. All welcome to take part and discuss the library as an open space.

For further information on open conversations at Torgið please contact:
Dögg Sigmarsdóttir
Project manager | Civic participation

Thursday December 2nd 2021