Public Libraries: Empowering Communities and Embracing Change

Public libraries are facing challenges in today’s digital world. To stay relevant, they are exploring a new approach called ‘social innovation’. As seen in a paper by Aldo de Moor and Rutger van den Assem, this helps them become catalysts for positive change, connecting different groups and making a bigger impact. In this blog post, we will share some key highlights on how social innovation can transform libraries, making them more sustainable and beneficial to society.

In the past, libraries were all about books, but times have changed. The internet and technology have transformed how we access information. People still value digital library services, but they also appreciate the importance of physical books. To adapt, libraries need to rethink their role in society, and that’s where social innovation comes in. 

What is Social Innovation?

Social innovation means coming up with new ideas, products, or services to meet social needs while bringing people together for collaboration. Many libraries worldwide are now embracing this idea, transforming from mere bookkeepers to agents of change, empowering communities through innovation. They have the potential to be catalysts for social innovation, connecting different groups and working towards the greater good.

Challenges in Embracing Social Innovation

Social innovation is not just about individual projects; it’s about building sustainable networks and collaborations that create value for everyone involved. However, many social innovation efforts struggle to grow and have a lasting impact. The challenge is to make sure these innovations become an integral part of library practices and to foster collaborative networks that go beyond short-term projects. A practical method, combining collaboration and living lab models, offers a way forward. 

Exploring Social Innovation in Libraries

To see how libraries can become social innovation catalysts, Aldo de Moor and Rutger van den Assem used a combination of two existing social innovation models, a network and a stage model. As they point out, the Social Innovation Collaboration Model ‘explains that social innovations do not happen just by chance, but are purposely developed in a mesh of intersecting networks’. At the same time, a spiral process model of living labs is used to ‘stress the import of staged, scaled development’. As the authors state, ‘through such living labs, innovations grow from initial ideas to full-scale implementations, ultimately leading to systemic change.’

Then, these two models were used in two successive exploratory workshops with Dutch library professionals, from the province of Noord-Brabantm. The goal was to discover new roles and functions for libraries by working together with universities. Two cases were studied:

Read the full paper here. 



Moor, A.D., & Assem, R.V. (2014). Public Libraries as Social Innovation Catalysts.