The role of public libraries in knowledge cities (2009)
The term Knowledge City has entered the lexicons of knowledge management, urban planning, economic development, and other disciplines. It refers to urban areas that are intentionally designed and governed to facilitate the creation and flow of knowledge for sustainable economic development. How might a city's decision to pursue a Knowledge City initiative affect that city's public library system? In turn, how might the public library system redefine and/or redesign itself to support such an initiative? This literature review is a first step toward addressing those questions. The review identifies some implications for public libraries posed by the Knowledge City concept. Although some of these implications have been identified and addressed individually from other focal points—public access to information technology, the library as place, etc.—this study examines them in aggregate in an attempt to identify the public library's role in a Knowledge City. A conceptual framework for that role is presented that can provide direction for empirical investigation. The framework includes attributes of physical location, architecture, and facilities (including communication and information technology); collections and services provided; staff diversity and skill sets; and political and institutional partnerships.
The Knowledge City (KC) is an emerging, interdisciplinary focus of study that encompasses knowledge management, urban planning and design, information and communication technology, public policy, economic development, and other disciplines. It arises from the intersection of two profound developments in human culture: 1) the increasing urbanization of the world’s population and 2) the evolution of the global economy toward the “intellectual capital” of knowledge. Jorge Francisco Carrillo (2006) vividly illustrates the first issue when he states that the percentage of humans living in urban areas is expected to reach 75 percent by the year 2025. Peter Drucker, one of the twentieth century’s most influential management thinkers raised the second issue in 1994 when he wrote: “The basic economic resource is no longer capital, nor natural resources, nor labor. It is and will be knowledge.”
Knowledge Cities leverage knowledge in three ways. First, by developing a thriving cultural identity and educational infrastructure, they attract highly-skilled knowledge workers to become citizens. Second, by developing physical and digital public spaces that provide resources and opportunities for learning and interaction, they enhance community involvement and innovative collaboration. Third, by basing development efforts on intellectual and social capital, they enhance the sustainability of their economies and environments.
Because the cycle of knowledge creation and sharing is the engine that drives the cultural, social, and economic development of KCs, it would seem self-evident that public libraries and other information centers are essential components of KC infrastructure. Indeed, this fact is acknowledged in the literature, although only tangentially in the course of broader examinations of KCs. This article seeks to begin the process of identifying the specific role that public libraries can or should play in the development and sustainability of KCs by reviewing some implications that have been raised in those studies. From these ideas, a conceptual framework emerges for how public library systems might best serve their communities’ efforts to thrive as KCs.
One of the more frequently cited definitions of a Knowledge City is that put forward by Edvinsson (1999), in which he states that a KC is “a city that is purposely designed to encourage the nurturing of knowledge.” According to Amidon (2005), the mission of a KC (she uses the term Knowledge Zone) is to “create and realize value from the flow of knowledge.” Although the KC is a physical place, it typically also provides a complementary digital community (Schwartz, 2001). One of the latest and most detailed definitions is contained in the conference announcement for the 2nd International Symposium on Knowledge Cities (2007):
“A knowledge city is the one that depends on Knowledge-Based Economy and possesses advanced means for facilitating knowledge to its citizens, who should be linked to the cities through communication and information technology; the one that provides a wide range of public libraries and educational, cultural and social facilities guided by a central strategy of education; and it is the city that respects the diversified cultures of its citizens and provides them with adequate know-how and tools that enable them [to] participate effectively in establishing the knowledge community.”
Ovalle et al. (2004) listed 77 cities and regions that have identified themselves as pursing KC status. One year later, Amidon (2005) stated that more than 100 “knowledge zone”' initiatives were underway in over 40 countries. These initiatives range from the transformation of decaying European industrial cities (Ergazakis et al., 2004) to the creation of entirely new KCs (Knowledge City, 2004; Lee, 2006).
Barcelona was one of the first of the world’s cities to adopt a KC initiative. The city’s KC strategic plan (Barcelona, 1999) identifies the necessity of a public library system that meets European standards. This acknowledgement of the public library system as an essential component of KC infrastructure has been echoed in subsequent KC strategic plans developed by cites worldwide, as in that of Montréal (Michaud, 2003).
As KCs have emerged as a focus of study, the research literature has reflected the importance of public libraries to the development and sustainability of KCs. In proposing a unified approach to developing KCs, Ergazakis et al. (2006a) include public libraries as components of improving knowledge management processes in the city, a crucial early step in KC development. Amidon (2005) lists libraries among the “infrastructure capital” of KCs, viewing them as part of a network that includes universities, research and development laboratories, institutes, think tanks, and art schools. She also emphasizes the importance of providing citizens with directories of and maps to libraries and other knowledge resources.
Ergazakis et al. (2006b) identified 12 developmental and operational features of KCs (Table 1), among which was the necessity of a public library network. They then used the 12 features to construct a scorecard to assess the progress of six European and North American KC initiatives. In each of the six cases, the municipalities identified the existence of a public library network as being essential to their KC efforts (Ergazakis et al., 2006b).
Table 1. Common developmental and operational features of knowledge cities (modified from Ergazakis et al, 2006b)
Dvir and Pasher (2004) suggest public libraries as good candidates for becoming urban innovation engines—systems that can trigger, generate, foster, and catalyze innovation in a city. Dvir et al. (2006) extend this proposal in their discussion of what they call future centers (including public libraries) functioning as urban innovation engines. Thus, public libraries can account for at least two of the 12 features identified by Ergazakis et al. (2006b). Libraries clearly have a role in providing or at least contributing to other features as well, such as access to information and communication technology (ICT), research excellence, and the protection of knowledge-society rights. The literature suggests ways in which public libraries can contribute to other KC features as well.
Leadbeater (2002) asserts that: “The Public Library should have a prominent role in a knowledge-based society.” He describes the case of Singapore, which is pursing an aggressive library development program with the goal of building 100 libraries in eight years. In doing so, Singapore’s National Library Board (NLB) is turning away from a “one size fits all” approach to its libraries in favor of creating many different kinds of libraries, each seeking to serve a different segment of its overall user community and each thereby serving as a laboratory for testing the effectiveness of its unique “product.” Leadbeater (2002) describes how Singapore’s NLB is:
“…innovating with ‘fast food’ libraries in shopping centres; libraries that hold performances of live music; libraries entirely designed for teenagers; the first ever `do-it-yourself' libraries, where electronic systems help users to put books back on the shelves in the right place, so that staff do not have to do so; arts libraries based entirely on materials linked to music, film, theatre and performing arts."
As expected, the library and information science literature also supports the essential role of public libraries in large urban areas. A 2007 study published by the Urban Libraries Council detailed the contributions of public libraries to local economic development (Urban Libraries Council, 2007).
The role of public libraries as essential components of a KC’s infrastructure is thus well-acknowledged in the literature. How, then, does the public library system fulfill that role? What are the features of a KC public library? Singapore’s approach to providing various forms of library facilities and services to meet the needs of multiple user communities provides one glimpse. The KC features proposed by Ergazakis et al. (2006b) also suggest roles for KC public libraries. From these sources and others, a conceptual framework begins to emerge
Location, architecture, and facilities
Dvir (2006), Dvir and Pasher (2004), Komninos, (2002), Landry (2000), Michaud (2003), and Putnam (2000) are among those who view the library as an important provider of physical and/or digital space for knowledge creation and exchange. Baqir and Kathawala (2004) build on the concept of Ba put forward by Nonaka et al. (2000). Ba refers to a space that is conducive to the effective exchange of knowledge. The space may be physical or intellectual (Nonaka et al., 2000), digital (Baqir and Kathawala, 2004), or some combination of the three. The public library—as public space, repository of knowledge, collocation of information professionals, and digital information portal—is a logical choice to provide at least a portion of a KC’s Ba. Dvir (2006) supports this observation in suggesting that cities consider redefining the role of their libraries to serve as physical and digital places of knowledge creation.
For decades, economists have been studying the phenomenon of “knowledge spillover” in urban settings. Carlino et al. (2007) find that the effect of employment density (the number of jobs per square mile) on patent intensity (the number of patents per capita) is positive and statistically significant. In other words, urban areas where knowledge workers are densely clustered produce more patents than urban areas with lower employment density. Musterd (2006) provides anecdotal evidence suggesting that cultural industries such as publishing, advertising, and film production also cluster in dense urban areas. In his assessment of Amsterdam as a KC, Musterd (2006) lists libraries as one of the attractions drawing these cultural workers to live and work in the city because libraries provide both access to knowledge and places to meet and interact. Therefore, if public libraries are to serve their KCs as engines of innovation and collaboration, then those libraries should strongly consider placing branches or some other form of presence in these areas of employment density
Even in this digital age, the physical location of libraries affects the frequency of their usage. Japzon and Gong (2005) conducted a detailed statistical analysis of public library usage in New York City. They examined 200 branch libraries and various attributes of the neighbourhoods surrounding the libraries. Their findings supported earlier studies that show a relationship between library proximity to patrons and usage as measured by circulation per capita. They also found statistically significant relationships between library usage and the variables of neighborhood social connections and neighborhood racial diversity, two of the identified features of successful KCs.
The architecture of libraires contributes to KCs in two ways. First, and most apparently, the physical design of libraries can affect how they are used. As mentioned earlier, Dvir (2006), among other authors, encourages the physical transformation of libraries toward becoming “knowledge-creation places” (Dvir, 2006, p. 246). Second, beautiful, clean, inviting public library buildings—particularly main libraries in the downtown core—are sources of public pride (Fisher et al., 2007). This status is important in three ways. First, modern, attractive libraries attract educated, skilled persons to become citizens of the KC. Second, these facilities encourage greater library usage. For example, Fisher et al. (2007) found that Seattle’s new central library, which opened in 2004, attracts more new users than did the old facility. Third, by drawing visitors and users, libraries positively contribute to the local economy (Urban Libraries Council, 2007).
Libraries can also provide facilities that support the essential KC activities of learning, communicating, and collaborating. One of the more obvious examples in this regard is the leadership role that public libraries have already taken in providing free access to information and communication technology (ICT). Such access is considered to be a critical success factor for KCs (Barcelona, 1999; Ergazakis et al, 2004, 2006a, 2006b; Michaud, 2003). Combining access to ICT with technology training for workforce development provides direct contributions to the economic development of cities (Urban Libraries Council, 2007).
Collections and services
In addition to serving traditional user communities (children, teens, job seekers, those lacking personal access to the Internet, etc.), KC public libraries may need to focus resources toward serving the business community. Parker et al. (2005) propose creating knowledge management (KM) centers within public libraries that could provide both KM and competitive intelligence services to the community’s small businesses. They reason that, unlike larger corporations, small businesses lack the resources to provide those services in-house, and would therefore be willing to pay nominal fees for their provision. These fees would provide additional revenue to help support the public library system.
Similarly, Ashcroft (2003) describes how the University of Leeds library initiated fee-based information services for businesses in the greater metropolitan area. Businesses joining the Leeds University Corporate Information Direct Service receive access to the library’s collection (including electronic journals), reference and borrowing privileges, and 15-minute enquiry sessions with subject specialist librarians. Fees are based on the size of the business. Public libraries could follow this model to provide business resources and services to micro-, small- and medium-sized businesses in their communities (Wilson and Train, 2002).
Martinez (2006) proposes a competence profile of a KC citizen, in which she identifies the following general competencies of a KC citizen:
These competencies might be summarized as: 1) technology skills, 2) language skills, and 3) information skills. As both citizens and public servants, the staff members of a KC public library system should be able to demonstrate these three sets of competencies and to support the development and practice of those competencies in their fellow citizens.
Diversity is often mentioned as another distinguishing feature of KCs. For example, Ergazakis et al. (2006b) list an international, multi-ethnic character as one of their 12 features of a KC. Therefore, the composition of the library staff should reflect the diversity of the community. Although research into diversity in public libraries is scarce, evidence exists that progress is being made toward greater diversity in library staff and in library resources and services. Winston and Li (2007) studied diversity programs in 128 large, urban public library systems that are members of the Urban Libraries Council. Of the 39 respondents, over 92 percent reported efforts to diversify the resources in their collections in relation to diverse populations (racial, ethnic, and disabled) in their communities. Data analysis of the survey responses also showed a correlation between the presence of library diversity committees and the number of diversity activities within the library system such as recruitment, retention, and diversity awareness training for staff.
Throughout the KC literature, political leadership and will are identified as critical to the success of KC initiatives (see, for example, Ergazakis et al., 2006b). Within their own organizations, public library systems will need the visionary leadership and the organizational will to evolve toward the KC orientation. Looking outside their organizations, public libraries must also participate more actively in the political processes of their cities and states. Advocacy must move beyond securing continued funding to engaging as an equal partner in the knowledge-based development of the community.
In a 2004 talk to London’s Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP), Margaret Haines noted that the city’s libraries were rarely mentioned in discussions of its KC initiative. The report of the meeting (CILIP, 2004) relates Haines’ thoughts about why libraries were being ignored:
“She attributed this low profile of libraries to: low key advocacy targeted at one or two sectors only; limited sectoral leadership; limited influence in government at all levels in London; poor cross-sectoral cooperation within London; and funding not matching expectations.”
Haines also identifies some potential strategies for addressing these challenges:
In addition to forming political partnerships with municipal leadership, KC public libraries must find ways to leverage their strengths and those of other information centers. Some urban areas have experimented with joint-use facilities housing both academic and public libraries (Marie, 2007). KC public libraries may also want to form partnerships with special libraries that serve scientific and technological user communities. In some cases, mergers may make the most sense in leveraging combined collections; staff knowledge, skills, and abilities; and funding. Wu (2004) describes the merger of the Shanghai Public Library and the Institute of Scientific and Technical Information of Shanghai (ISTIS). The merged organization developed a three-dimensional service model in which it serves the general public, the research and technology community, and the city government and provincial legislature.
Partnerships may extend beyond the geographic and political boundaries of an individual KC. A natural extension of the Knowledge City is the Knowledge Region. Cities sharing geographic regions may find knowledge-based development affinities among issues they hold in common such as climate, trade, transportation, ethnicity, and others. Of course, collaboration among researchers is not necessarily limited by geography. For example, Matthiessen et al. (2006) analyzed bibliometric data to trace intra-city research collaboration. Libraries might apply these collaborative relationship patterns to partner with counterparts in other cities in providing the collaborating researchers with the information resources and services they need to succeed.
A review of the literature supports the assertion that an effective public library system is an essential component of KC infrastructure. The literature also suggests a conceptual framework within which KC public libraries might operate. This framework involves attributes of physical location, architecture, and facilities (including communication and information technology); collections and services provided; staff diversity and skill sets, and political and institutional partnerships.
How valid is this conceptual framework? Has it been applied by the public library systems of working KCs such as Barcelona, Montréal, and Mumbai? If not, then what sort of framework are those systems using? Are the KC initiatives in those cities succeeding? How are the public library systems contributing to successful KCs or holding back the unsuccessful ones?
Empirical investigation is required to answer these questions. For example, a multiple case study of the public library systems of those cities that have identified themselves as KCs (Ovalle et. al. 2004) might be useful to show how those systems are or are not adapting to meet KC needs. Surveys of and interviews with the directors and board members of those library systems could also be useful.
Note: This literature review was carried out in spring of 2008 and was current at the time of submission.
Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals, (2004). London as knowledge city: summary of meeting at CILIP headquarters on 5 November 2004, accessible at: http://www.cilip.org.uk/NR/rdonlyres/C809F95C-CEE9-4155-8CB2-60FD36DF1EC1/0/LondonasKnowledgeCity.doc
Dvir, R. (2006). Knowledge city, seen as a collage of human knowledge moments. In Carrillo, F.J., ed., Knowledge cities: approaches, experiments, and perspectives, New York: Elsevier Butterworth Heinemann.
Ergazakis, K., Metaxiotis, K, Psarras, J., and Askounis, D. (2006a). A unified methodological approach for the development of knowledge cities, Journal of Knowledge Management, vol. 10, no. 5, p. 65-78.
Ergazakis, K., Metaxiotis, K, and Psarras, J. (2006b). An emerging pattern of successful knowledge cities’ main features. In Carrillo, F.J., ed., Knowledge cities: approaches, experiments, and perspectives, New York: Elsevier Butterworth Heinemann.
Fisher, K.E., Saxton, M.L., Edwards, P.M., and Mai, J-E. (2007). Seattle Public Library as place: reconceptualizing space, community, and information at the Central Library. In Buschman, J.E., and Leckie, G.J., ed., The library as place: history, community, and culture, Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited.
Knowledge City. (2004). Project prospectus, accessed at http://www.knowledgecity.net/
Lee, B.D., (2006). Hotmail co-founder helping India to create forward-looking city. Stanford Report, October 4, 2006; accessible at: http://news-service.stanford.edu/news/2006/october4/bhatia-100406.html
Matthiessen, C.W., Schwarz, A.W., and Find, S. (2006). Global research centres: an analysis based on bibliometric indicators. In Carrillo, F.J., ed., Knowledge cities: approaches, experiments, and perspectives, New York: Elsevier Butterworth Heinemann.
Nonaka, I, Toyama, R., and Konno, N. (2000). SECI, Ba and leadership: a unified model of dynamic knowledge creation, Long Range Planning—International Journal of Strategic Management, vol. 33. no. 1, pp. 5-34.
Ovalle, M.D.R.G., Marquez, J.A.A., and Salomon, S.D.M. (2004). A compilation of resources on knowledge cities and knowledge-based development, Journal of Knowledge Management, vol. 8, no. 5. pp. 107-127.
Schwartz, G. (2001). Knowledge city: a digital knowware. ThinkCycle; accessible at: http://www.thinkcycle.org/tc-filesystem/download/development_by_design_2001/knowledge_city:_a_digital_knowware/schwartz_knowware.pdf
Second International Symposium on Knowledge Cities: Future of Cities in the Knowledge Economy. (2007). Conference announcement accessed at http://www.araburban.org/AUDI/uploads/GFW-E.pdf.
Urban Libraries Council. (2007). Making cities stronger: public library contributions to local economic development, Chicago: Urban Libraries Council, accessed at http://www.urbanlibraries.org/files/making_cities_stronger.pdf.
Timothy R. Merrick earned his MLIS in March 2008 from the University of Washington's Information School. His interests include knowledge management, special libraries, and urban information ecologies. He lives in Boise, ID, where he works as a science information manager with the United States Geological Survey.
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