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Participatory Relevance

assorted keys hanging on hooks
This post was originally published as an assignment for INFO 287 Seminar in Information Science: The Hyperlinked Library at the School of Information at San José State University.

Like many community colleges, Glendale Community College (GCC) is facing a crisis in student enrollment and retention. The college aims to increase completion rates from 62% to 65% and increase Fall-to-Fall retention from 54% to 57% by 2022. Each department is tasked to identify ways to contribute to this strategic plan. The library is currently meeting to discuss ideas of how they can facilitate student success. This planning comes when enrollment in community colleges nationally is trending downwards to an all-time low. GCC is part of Maricopa Community Colleges, one of the nation’s largest districts, down 15% from last year. This makes retention and graduation all the more critical as the college grapples with ways to remain relevant to a shrinking student population. 

With this strategic plan goal in mind, I have been thinking of participatory services to introduce in the library. I examined several emerging technologies that could improve the user experience of our students, such as augmented reality to enhance wayfinding and exploring electronic resources. Or creating a virtual reality room for students to learn how to use and play with this technology. Or by removing some furniture and underused collections to transform the space into a more livingroom-like feeling, where students can study, collaborate, dream, and play. But none of these services would necessarily motivate more students to use the library. With that in mind, these ideas are simply throwing technology at a problem that really calls for some heart. 

I think my fellow hyperlinked library student [name redacted] zeroed in on a possible solution with their post, “academic libraries should be more like public libraries.” This statement nails it. The GCC Library struggles to grab students’ attention. They often only visit when required to check-in for study hall, ask for assistance with research assigned by their instructor, or confuse the library with the bookstore. The library needs to foster meaningful connections with the college community. Not by providing services it thinks the community needs, but by inviting the community in. In the Art of Relevance, author Nina Simon notes that an institution can make a critical mistake in believing the services they provide meet the needs of their community, “this service model can sometimes be demeaning” and “implies that the institution has all the answers” (Simon, 2016). Ask the community to show what they want and need from the library. But don’t do this by asking them directly. Instead, look for what sparks their interest, what they do for fun, what they are studying, and what their dreams and goals (Schmidt, 2016)?

It is time for the GCC Library to take a serious look at what it means to be relevant to its community. An excellent place to start is implementing a participatory service modeled after the Library Takeover at the Madison Public Library.

Goals & Objectives

The GCC Library will create a Library Takeover program to support the student community with equity. By inviting the community to suggest programming ideas, the library will demonstrate its relevance to the community and its interest in student success with a holistic approach.

The program’s goal is to bring more people to the library by demonstrating it is more inclusive of underrepresented populations. This program will promote that the library is a resource to students’ success as global citizens, as outlined in the college’s new mission statement.

Further development of this program could be developed into a class taught by library faculty, for credit or non-credit. 

Description of Community

This program will engage the GCC community. Initially, program applicants must be students currently enrolled at GCC. However, the library should be open to expanding service to any community members who enter the library. A profile of the GCC student population is listed below. It is important to note that these data points fail to include a comprehensive view of the population by ignoring multiple factors that shape identities. 

According to the GCC student population consists of 4133 full-time students. The data identifies the population as 56% female, 44% male. This data point does not accommodate an accurate measurement of gender identity. 40% of full-time students are Pell grant recipients. 69% of Pell recipients identify as members of racial or ethnic minorities. 

  • 41% Hispanic
  • 39% White
  • 5% Asian/Pacific Islander
  • 5% Black
  • 5% Two or More Races
  • 2% Non-Resident Alien
  • 1% American Indian/Alaska Native

The 3-year graduation rate is 14%, and the transfer-out rate is 26%

The college also hosts international students from more than 100 countries.

No data is available on what percentage of the student population is made up of this population.

Action Brief Statement 

Convince library faculty & staff that by orienting library programs towards student-led initiatives they will make connections with their community which will increase course completion and fall-to-fall retention with equity because students will see themselves in the library’s services. 

Evidence & Resources 

The library faculty and staff can look to the following resources as evidence of the impact of participatory services, transforming space, and relevance.

Examples of a Library Takeover

Transforming the library space into what students need:

Removing books in response to student needs:

Relevance in Museums & Libraries:

Mission & Guidelines 

The mission of Library Takeover is for the library to provide space, time, and resources for student groups to host events that reflect the community’s needs. This will begin with a pilot program, which will sponsor one takeover event during the spring semester. The library will collect proposals from student groups. Groups are made up of three or more students. Their proposal can reflect any cause or interest provided it meets the following criteria:  Inclusivity, Community, Impact. The event must be free and open to the public.

  • Inclusivity: The event is inclusive of or elevates underrepresented groups
  • Community: Attendees will feel connected to the GCC community
  • Impact: The impact will extend beyond the event 

*borrowed from Madison Public Library

Funding & Resources

  • The library will provide space for mentorship workshops in the library classroom or conference room; the size of the group will determine the capacity requirements.
  • Space allocation for the planned event(s) will be dependent on what the selected program requires. 
  • This program may run during or outside of regular service hours, which may require flexibility in staff scheduling.
  • Funding for the grant will come from a ReImagine Grant or other grant sources. 
  • If no grant is obtained, the library will make use of programming and outreach funds to support this project. 

Action Steps & Timeline 

  • The pilot will run one semester.
  • The full program will run for one academic year.
  • Library faculty will be available to assist student groups with their application materials. 
  • The library will provide a grant to the winner for funding for the event, will assist in setup, tear down, attendance, and marketing. 
  • The library will partner with students and faculty from the Business Department’s Entrepreneurial Program to provide mentorship to the winning group(s). 
  • Three mentoring workshops will be held in the library prior to the event. 
  • Applicants do not need prior event planning experience. 
  • Program participation and mentorship will support relevant transferable skills to the student groups involved. 
  • Program participants will learn budgeting, marketing, event planning, and community engagement.
  • Winning group proposals will be awarded a one-time grant to facilitate marketing, event planning, and setup. 
  • A committee made up of library faculty, GCC’s Diversity Committee, Business Department, and Office of Student Life will serve as a panel to select the top three proposals.
  • To generate excitement and kick off the event, the library will host a game show-like event where the top three finalists will pitch their ideas to the panel. Look for inspiration from this similar event at the University of Manchester.
  • The program will require participation from multiple stakeholders, which may include approval from department chairs, deans, or the college president.

Staffing Considerations 

  • Library will coordinate with other college departments to facilitate the mentorship and selection of proposals. 
  • No new staff is required for this program, but duties may be assigned at the department chair’s direction. 
  • If grant funding provides excess funds, an intern or temporary staff could be hired to facilitate the coordination of Library Takeover
  • Staff will be consulted on scheduling the event and workshop.
  • The event may take place outside of normal service hours, thus requiring staff to work a flexible schedule during the week of the event.


  • Library faculty will consult with the GCC Center for Teaching and Learning, the Entrepreneurship Program, and the Marketing department for support in developing workshops, mentorship, funding, marketing, and evaluation.
  • Library staff may be asked to assist with event preparation and attendance. Training will be provided as needed.

Promotion & Marketing 

  • Promotion of the call for proposals will be delivered through campus posters, social media, website, announcements in student LMS (Canvas).
  • The offering of mentorship, certificate of completion, and entrepreneurial development will be used as incentives for participation. 
  • Promotion and marketing of the event will be determined by the program participants.


Benchmarks of success 

  • Benchmarks for the library: 
    • Increase in foot traffic (door count).
    • Increase in student engagement with the library via off-campus communication tools, such as social media, calling, text, ask-a-lib. 
    • Increase in engagement with in-person library services.
    • Website analytics will indicate if students use the website to search for information related to the Library Takeover program and its events. 
  • Benchmarks for the college:
    • Increase college enrollment, retention, and graduation rates.
    • Increase in GPA.

Opportunities for growth

  • After one academic year, if Library Takeover indicates success, the library could create a supplemental course for credit. 
  • Events/programs that prove particularly popular will be evaluated to incorporate in sustained library programming. 

Featured image: “Keys” by Modern Relics is licensed under CC BY 2.0