A Community’s Right to Knowledge

As libraries evolve to fulfill an expanded social role, the Brooklyn Public Library tasked us with examining how their branches can be inclusive of the unique needs of their patrons, including both incarcerated and re-entry citizens.

Role: Facilitator, Researcher || Tags: Workshop Design, User Research, Advocacy

Team: Paula Kawakami, Isabella Gady, David Baum, Heer Mehta, Lauren Suiter


For vulnerable populations the first experiences with the library are critical; they can decide whether or not an individual continues to engage with the services and resources it provides.

As such, we asked:

The library, while often defined by its physicality, consists of more than just its space. By expanding the scope of the library beyond the physical, and acknowledging that its greatest strength is its patrons, we are able to explore alternative opportunities for redesign, including those that can address the community needs most relevant to each branch.

Over the course of the semester, our group worked to research the current operations at the BedStuy branch. This involved video ethnography headed up by the Parsons DESIS lab, as well as a workshop that focused on understanding the landscape for those in the space. Our group focused on organizational change, and brought in members from different BPL branches, those in management, and stakeholders, including community based organizations and those with family who are or have been incarcerated.

Through our research, we came to find that the rights of each patron can make a space more accessible for open dialogue. We leaned into this concept, and reframed the current rights listed by the ALA to be personalized the BPL, based on participant feedback and the BPL strategic plan. We then designed posters and bookmarks to further emphasize these for the public in the top languages that BPL serves. Additionally, the other half of our team redesigned the landing page of the BPL wifi hotspot, to ensure services were accessible at first glance, even to those using the wifi outside the library.

While the focus was mainly on testing this larger group Bill of Rights, it was important to me to ensure that those served by the Book Cart at Rikers had a feeling of involvement as well. This led to the idea of including a Bill of Rights specifically for them, stamped into each book so that they would know their rights within the prison’s walls. This became a point of advocacy, and pushed BPL to start thinking of ways they might test the current system.

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Next Steps

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