Participatory Ideas: Expanding social design through participatory frameworks and initiatives

In recent years, significant cultural, technological, and social transformations have led libraries in all sectors to reassess their roles as service providers and social institutions. Now more than ever, academic libraries are delving into and adopting frameworks and initiatives, such as user-centric and social design, that align and support the social needs of their communities.
The user-centric approach revolves around the traditional definition of a library user, which is a patron seeking to use the library’s services, resources, or space to fulfil a specific need. User-centric design is focused on adapting the library to be inclusive and accessible to all patrons, as users of the library. However, it cannot alone challenge the biases of traditional service models.
These models perceive the library user as an external entity that must be continuously sought out and measured, which may lead to assigning values and quotas to people and experiences that may not be compatible. Libraries are therefore in need of an approach that proactively looks to address systematic inequities such as these to reaffirm the place of libraries as social institutions, however, participatory design has the capability to address this need by redefining the role of the library and the library user.
Modern participatory design does not contradict user-centric models but rather incorporates and expands upon the fundamental principle that the library adapts with its users. The key difference between the two concepts is that library users are not externalised in participatory design. Anyone who has any form of connection to the library including faculty, students, community members or stakeholders, is viewed as an active, internal component of the library. By belonging within the library, the new ‘library user’ can directly affect, engage and contribute to the library’s culture, space and services, suggesting that users are not external factors that require a service but are active agents within a living library ecosystem. It is with this perspective in mind that participatory design can overcome the rigid structure of traditional service models by creating a dynamic system with embedded opportunities for changes to occur organically.
To illustrate this capability, we will showcase La Trobe University Library’s ‘IDEA Network’ as an example of an initiative that incorporates participatory principles that drive meaningful change outside of a traditional service model by moving beyond active inclusion to embrace collective belonging.

Lydia Hartwig

Learning Librarian / IDEA Network Gender & Sexual Diversity Stream Leader, La Trobe University

Author Bio

Lydia is a Learning Librarian at La Trobe University’s Bendigo campus. She has a Bachelor of Arts, Master’s in Teaching, and a Graduate Diploma of Information and Library Studies. She is passionate about social justice, youth advocacy and participatory design in information institutions. Lydia is in her first two years of the industry having been with La Trobe for the past 18 months with additional experience working in public libraries. Prior to that, she spent several years in early childhood education and as an editor for a youth advocacy social platform designed to amplify the voices of marginalised young people.