Public libraries as catalysts for social innovation

In a rapidly changing world, public libraries are no longer just repositories of books; they are becoming dynamic hubs fostering social innovation and entrepreneurship. The latest deliverable, ‘D3.4 Social entrepreneurship, public-private networks & social innovation v1.0’, Benoît Desmarchelier and Faïz Gallouj from Université de Lille, explore the transformation of public libraries into vital community builders. They delve into the academic and non-academic literature, unveiling the nuanced shift from traditional roles to innovative agents shaping societal interactions.

As the LibrarIN team explains, historically public libraries served as guardians of knowledge, focusing on book curation and circulation. The deliverable highlights a significant evolution in their missions. While not all libraries are explicitly community builders, a discernible trend emerges wherein traditional functions are giving way to operations that connect people and cultivate social interactions. Both old and new missions contribute to the knowledge creation process, albeit in different ways.

Community builders as knowledge initiators

Contrary to initial perceptions, the deliverable underscores the interconnectedness of traditional and evolving roles. Curatorial libraries facilitate knowledge access, playing a supportive role in the knowledge creation process. On the other hand, community-building libraries are central players, instigating knowledge creation cycles by fostering the exchange of informal knowledge. They are, in essence, agents specialising in innovations that reshape societal interaction patterns.

Defining social innovation

The LibrarIN team offers clarity on the concept of social innovation, emphasising modifications in interaction patterns among individuals within various contexts, including companies, neighborhoods, or larger regions. Social innovation, as perceived in this context, goes beyond mere inclusion or well-being improvement, focusing on changing the dynamics of societal interactions.

Role in democratic societies

As democratic societies grapple with forces leading to social disintegration, community-building libraries emerge as potential antidotes. Issues like suburbanisation and personalised digital experiences threaten shared experiences, reducing communication channels. Despite surveys indicating a decline in public library interest, their crucial role as prime social innovators becomes evident, contributing significantly to social cohesion.

Selection criteria for empirical cases

The deliverable outlines criteria for selecting empirical cases, emphasising innovations that foster discussion networks among individuals. Researchers are prompted to explore the ‘outcome network’: How many actors are involved? Is the network sustainable? What are the long-term effects? Public libraries can either initiate or support such innovations, engaging a diverse network of public and private actors.

Read the full Deliverable here.