Three School of Information Studies (iSchool) faculty members are partnering with two Syracuse-area community libraries to identify, catalog, and electronically promote the human expertise available in their local communities by developing a new Community Profile System application.

The three-year project has been funded by a grant of $281,263 from the Institute of Museum and Library Services under the National Leadership Grants for Libraries Program.

Yun Huang, assistant professor at the iSchool, is the project’s principal investigator. She invited iSchool faculty members R. David Lankes and Jian Qin to be co-principal investigators on the project. The faculty are working with the Coulter Library at Onondaga Community College, and the Fayetteville Free Library, an Onondaga County public library, in the effort.

In Community as Collection: Building the Community Profile System, the professors and a research team of iSchool students and library professionals will assess community learning needs; identify community experts’ interests and availability to offer their expertise; and build data models to capture needs and people resources as a “collection” of human resources based at the libraries. They also will develop a workflow process for librarians to catalog, coordinate, and promote that collective expertise, and will develop a system prototype having user interactions and privacy protection features, according to Dr. Huang.

The project is an outgrowth of a 2014 project in which Dr. Huang and several iSchool students worked with six Syracuse-area libraries, developing a mobile application to help community members access information about “human book” events. The library-based events featured a collection of people who told their personal histories and offered expertise as a way to promote greater community cultural and resource awareness. They developed a web application for librarians to enter data and a mobile application for patrons to use to access event information. Both apps are available in the Apple App Store and Android’s Google Play.

According to Dr. Huang, ideas of centering librarians’ work on community development have been discussed in work such as Professor Lankes’ The Atlas of New Librarianship and have seen wide adoption through ongoing efforts such as the American Library Association’s Libraries Transforming Communities initiative, and in IMLS’s new strategic areas. Regardless, while there is widespread acceptance of the idea of community-oriented librarianship, she said, there are far fewer tools to help librarians implement those ideas.

For this project, Dr. Huang, who uses a combination of empirical, theoretical, and technical research efforts, will provide the technical vision and expertise to build the infrastructure and tools that libraries can incorporate to implement the vision of the community as collection. Professor Lankes will be the primary contact with partnering libraries, contributing his background in incorporating community expertise into library services and system. Professor Qin will contribute her expertise in data management and information organization to link community expertise into a collection of published resources and available library and non-library services linking community expertise with community learning needs. 

Dr. Huang is excited to be applying her skills to a library project, she said, since coming from a computer science background, the library field was new to her before arriving at the iSchool. She also is pleased that the project will lead to library offering and service enhancements, noting, “the system we are building will realize community-oriented librarianship in a cost-efficient manner.”

“The true collection of any library is the community it serves,” Dr. Lankes reflected. “Libraries of all types, academic, public, school, are realizing that if they tap into local knowledge, not only do they provide great service, but they help weave the community together. We’re hoping with this grant to better enable things like designing events with local experts and integrating community members into library functions like purchasing. There is a lot of talk of community-centered librarianship. We hope with this grant to start providing real tools to have real impacts.”

Dr. Qin added that having a community profile system “will truly be a service for and by the community. This digital platform will enable the community members not only to discover and use ‘human books,’ but also to contribute information, or “metadata,” about human books to the community profile system. Those bilateral functions make it a unique tool for promoting the new participatory, community librarianship.”

The project will be conducted in the SALT Research Lab at the iSchool, where insights and feedback from lab members and advisory board members regarding topics such as privacy and security, information policy, and human computer interaction will be part of the research undertaken, Dr. Huang said.