Seattle is changing rapidly. The hi-tech sector has flourished here, which means the city is filling up with 20-plus males, many of them on high salaries. SPL has two challenges; how to accommodate the growing population of hi-tech workers in its central and branch libraries; and how to support others who use its services in a city where there is growing socio-economic diversity .
Equality or equity?
SPL is using an 'equity model' to gain a better understanding of where to focus its attention around the delivery and development of its services. This is quite a new way of thinking about service delivery. The equity model focuses on the outcomes and experiences. One regional manager explained what ‘equity’ meant in a really simple way:
‘If you have three people, different heights, and they are all trying to watch a baseball game over a fence …one person is four feet high, one is five feet high, one is six feet high, and the fence is seven feet high… with the equity model, you give the four feet tall person the four foot stool, you give the five foot person the three foot stool, you give the six foot person the two foot stool. You give them what they need so they have the same outcome.’
You give them what they need to have the same outcome.
This is different from the ‘equality model' – the model that SPL did use. The regional manager explained:
‘With the equality model, the guys are given the same two-foot stool. The guy who is six feel high is happy, but the other two are not happy’.
SPL is using data to drive its decisions over where to focus its attention in the coming years. It collects all kinds of data: a library can track the numbers of people coming in and out of a building (by day and by hour); it can track programme attendance; it can track the use of computers when people logon; it can track people’s use of wifi. It also holds circulation statistics.
It also doing what it calls ‘community listening’. This is where librarians interview individuals and organizations to find out their stories. They are interested in providing services for those who currently use the library but also in finding out why people do not use its services – what are the barriers to visiting the library?
This provides the background to how SPL is making decisions over where and how to develop its spaces; it is currently ‘re-imagining’ some of them. For example, Northeast Public Library was extended in 2004, and the original building was redesigned in 2013 to create an environment where children and caregivers can more easily interact. I visited Capitol Hill Public Library this morning. This is an area with a large LGBTQ community. The numbers in this community have dropped since the hip area has attracted property developers, pushing up the price of housing, but the branch library continues to support diversity. The library replaced its carpet, and at the same time reconfigured the area near the entrance, increasing visibility and flexibility throughout the space. As the regional manager explained:
‘We eliminated to separate desks; we consolidated the services on those two separate desks … the librarian and the library associate can now support each other. It’s much more flexible now. We moved all of the fixed shelves in this one area; we replaced them with shelves which were a lot smaller and lower, which immediately opened things up so that the staff could see the patrons and so that the staff were visible to the patrons.’
How does SPL decide where to focus its attention? In providing some groups with the services and spaces they need, increasing the size of the children’s area, for example, or in providing basic facilities for individuals who seek warmth and shelter and basic amenities, it will be responding to the new hi-tech residents of Seattle in its own unique way.