Skye Patrick is the Library Director of LA County Library, one of the largest public library systems in the nation, serving one of the most diverse populations where the entire range of human experience, or close to it, can be found among Los Angeles County’s 10 million inhabitants. Like most large urban areas, the County is also highly segregated and a lack of equality has caused disparity and challenges in the communities being served. Skye is exploring how libraries in the 21st century can be transformed to address the social, educational, creative and cultural needs of Los Angeles County residents. With a focus on equity and meeting the needs of the people, she will explore how to better position the library as a center of learning to positively impact the quality of life and future of Angelenos.
With my inquiry, I wanted to explore how libraries could be better positioned as a cultural entity and participate more within the creative economy in the County of Los Angeles. The public library is the premier repository for the world’s creativity, so my research included the library as infrastructure and as a cultural hub to be experienced rather than merely transactional. I wanted to find examples of libraries promoting the cultural component of service, focused both on knowledge production and creativity production. During the beginning of my Stanton tenure, the County Board of Supervisors was very much invested in funding the arts; therefore, part of my challenge was demonstrating how our library system could play a role in the initiative. My goal is to consistently highlight the role public libraries can play in many board-driven policies and initiatives. My inquiry morphed into learning and demonstrating how libraries worldwide were addressing the many systemic issues and the social service aspects of public spaces that arrive at our door, including pandemic recovery. Were there more opportunities for collaboration we hadn’t seen to meet the vast need? Were there resources we hadn’t tapped to help manage the enormous need in LA County? Could we begin to look at service in new ways or through a different lens by maximizing collaboration? Should libraries continue trying to be all things to all people, or should they maintain defined pillars of service? Through my research, I was presented with reimagined buildings and services and the re-investment in libraries as cultural hubs and public spaces around the world; much like what is happening here in LA County.
The proposal was to seek great examples of modern, thriving 21st century library models that included infrastructure, services, and collaboration. The research led me around the globe in search of a proof of concept that the public library could be transformed to address the social, educational, creative, and cultural needs of the LA County constituency.
The Stanton Journey
Initially, I approached the inquiry process very academically, trying to find great use cases of the library as central hubs and cultural assets like museums, providing unique and valuable learning experiences for its users. I went in search of places where the library was revered both for its stature as a cultural icon and its collection but also for its ability to gather and disseminate stories of a community. Breaking the world up into four quadrants for research purposes, I tried to find the most relevant examples of what the modern library service consisted of and what it provided for its locale. There were several libraries/cultural centers that stood out the most outside of the country: Vancouver, Halifax, The Centre Gabriela Mistral in Chile, Sao Paulo Cultural Center and Library, Public Library of Victoria (Melbourne, AU), Guangzhou Public Library (China), Singapore, Deichman Library of Oslo Norway, Aarhus Public Library and Copenhagen Library of Denmark, and different classical libraries inside of museums as privately held ‘public libraries’ in both Italy and Spain. I tried to find an African country with cutting-edge service models or innovative approaches to librarianship to further my research, but I kept coming up with traditional service models.
Suffice it to say, it was an enormous undertaking, but I felt achievable with good planning, pre-research, and funding to explore.
Where I am Now
Today, my quest continues to work towards exceptional service and support for our users. The public library continues to find creative ways to contribute to the ever-dynamic county priorities by working collaboratively with other county agencies and community groups to minimize the need. My team and I continue to seek solutions for the department’s structural deficit and the best ways to position the library as a cultural and literary icon. This library has been able to demonstrate that we play a valuable role in disaster recovery. We help communities stabilize themselves in times of need. My work continues to help community members of Los Angeles County find trusted resources and self-actualize.