A graduate of the School of Information Studies (iSchool) master’s program in Library Information Science has been awarded a Knight Prototype Fund grant for her citizen participatory platform, Collective Development, at her library in Alaska.
Meg Backus, who is IT manager for the Anchorage Public Library, is lead on the community media innovation project. It is one of 22 awards made from the Knight Foundation’s Prototype Fund this year. Her project is receiving a funding grant of $35,000.
The Collective Development and Code for Anchorage project aims to open library programming to patrons by creating a participatory platform that allows citizens to propose projects, workshops, and events they would like the library to facilitate. A specially-created open-source portal, hosted on GitHub allows others in the community to indicate their interest level in the suggested projects. The library tracks patron interest, so that “when a critical mass forms around any given proposal, the library will facilitate it,” Backus noted, adding, “We want the library to function as a democratic platform to allow the public to self-organize and program the library.”
Backus said her inspiration for this project came from several sources. She cited Professor David Lankes’ “new librarianship” concept that communities can renegotiate the agreement between what a library does and how the public interacts with it; as well as artist Sean Dockray’s concept of how people can design systems for themselves apart from what society has put in place for them (‘The Public School’).
The third source, Backus said, is author Douglas Ruskkoff, whose book, Program Or Be Programmed, Ten Commands for a Digital Age, discusses how people should feel free to change systems and functions in society that aren’t working for them as well as they might be. Her own project is literally based on software, she noted, “but we’re trying to create the social software that allows for the renegotiation between the library and its public, to support conversations and activities that drives the library toward a more collaborative way of operating.”
Prior to her post in Alaska, Backus worked as system administrator at the Chattanooga, TN Public Library for two years, and spent three years as the adult programming librarian and PR coordinator at the Northern Onondaga Public Library in the Syracuse, NY area.
During her master’s program, she also served as a research assistant to Dr. Ruth Small in the Center for Digital Literacy at the iSchool. Backus earned her master’s degree in the School’s library information science program, along with a certificate of advanced study in digital libraries, in 2009.