Building Common Libraries

The Common Libraries team had a busy summer…

They went along to the Festival of Stuff hosted by UCL’s Institute of Making – eager to meet Mark Miodownik and the ‘community workshop‘ crew. They launched their first Project Report and talked to William Sieghart about the scope for closer working between libraries and hackers / makers to contribute to the independent report he’s been tasked with preparing for DCMS and DCLG about the Public Library service in England. They contributed to SCL regional meetings in the South East, East and London to answer library leaders’ questions about Common Libraries and library enterprises. They joined the OK Cast in Berlin for the Open Knowledge Festival to explore the scope for Common Libraries to blaze a trail in the course of promoting community publishing.

They led a workshop at the Pi and Mash unconference for library and information professionals at UCL, went Off Grid to spread the word in the South West, then, made for Berlin again to explore the potential for Common Libraries to be established as Open Coops and make use of the forthcoming Peer Production License. They met with the good people of the Restart Project at the Indie Tech Summit in Brighton, were thrilled to be invited to join the Matera 2019 bid to become EU Capital of Culture, and began talking to Frysklab about the scope for collaboration around mobile common libraries in future.

More recently, they’ve been talking to open data proponents in Sheffield and the North West, and were even fortunate enough to catch up with Nick Stopforth along the way – before winding up, last weekend, with library enthusiasts at LibraryCamp in Newcastle.

Phew! So, what’s next?

Well, we’re pretty stoked to announce that Arts Council England has very kindly agreed to support the Common Libraries initiative to continue working with library leaders who are interested in hacking, making and community publishing – further details will follow this Autumn but enquiries from interested parties are, as ever, very welcome. Here at Common Futures, we look forward to Building Common Libraries with you all over the coming months!

Libraries Without Shelves & Walls…

Just imagine…

Your public library enables you to access its books by scanning its walls with a smart device it loans you whilst you’re hanging out, so that the library building itself is freed up to offer a host of other space-dependent activities…well, that’s precisely what could flow from forking the digital library introduced to a Bucharest subway station by Vodafone Romania – which is, simply stated, a flat representation of books bearing QR codes on their spines, enabling users to pull out their phone or tablet and scan the QR code to download a book of their choice.


At present, this hinges upon whether the EU Court of Justice moves to agree with the Advocate General that public libraries are free to digitise some of their own book stock. A great deal also depends upon definitions – specifically, whether digital library wall-paper can be developed to function as a ‘dedicated terminal’ – unless libraries loan appropriate devices to their users. Public libraries would also need Wi-Fi – does yours have it already? – unless they opt to make use of a LibraryBox.

Of course, the library without shelves is only liable to take-off where library users are able and willing to read books in libraries themselves – that is, unless they opt to take a print copy away with them (also, part-subject of the AG’s opinion). Is there, then, scope here for new print services to be developed, if we get the copyright and environmental dimensions sorted? Libraries as local publishers – albeit limited to facilitating private research and learning? And, what will happen when libraries without walls emerge later this year – with growing interest in the potential for near field communication (NFC) to facilitate access to your library service anytime, anywhere – in particular, when you’re on the move?

We asked @librarieshacked about the opportunity, following a discussion with @publiclibnews, and they very kindly produced a blogpost on the subject by way of a response. If this is something you’d like to take a closer look at, we’d love to hear from you!

PS thanks, as ever, to @LibraryCamp – in this instance, for flagging the EU situation!

On the Radical Tactics of the Offline Library

In the course of our work, we have called for common libraries as platforms for the production, exchange and consumption of knowledge and know-how – principally, in recognition of our increasingly read/write world, and in seeking to emphasise the scope for the capture and curation of the ‘long tail’ to grow the knowledge base to which we all have access.

However, we recently came across two films which we think others might find interesting:-

  1. The Internet’s Own Boy –
  2. The Radical Tactics of the Offline Library – /

The former concerns Aaron Swartz and, whilst tragic, highlights what a person with a passion for making the world a more transparent place can do if s/he is able to harness support via digital channels and translate that into social action. The Radical Tactics film is also available in long hand and offers a comprehensive ‘history of the library as the locus for copying rather than storing knowledge and know-how’.

The latter helpfully underlines that the UN Declaration of Human Rights states: “Everyone has the right to freely participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy and to share in scientific advancements and its benefits.” Unfortunately, it also says: “Everyone has the right to protection of the moral and material interests resulting from any scientific, literary or artistic of which one is the author.”

There is, then, an ongoing battle for the commons as ‘intellectual property’ in the form of the Open Knowledge project, and despite considerable evidence to support the view that traditional patents and copyright provisions stifle innovation; notably, the BRIC and other developing countries have woken up to the potential to get ahead by embracing peer-to-peer licensing (rather than patents/copyright), so there will be considerable scope to make a strong economic case for open knowledge going forward.

To put this into some kind of local perspective: the UK faces unprecedented reductions in public library service budgets over the next 3-5 years. The Government, for its part, is preparing to recommend a number of actions to address growing concern in the run up to the General Election. In the interim, we are more and more reliant upon Amazon and Google. The former boasts 41% of the book-selling market in the UK today, and just introduced terms in relation to publishers that will enable it to print books that go out of stock on demand from its warehouses, at a time when there are just 1,500 independent book shops left – no book shops at all in many places. Meanwhile, the latter has sought to perpetuate the traditional commodification of knowledge and know-how, albeit through channel shift, whilst reducing the search for knowledge and know-how to a corporately driven ‘question and answer’ machine. This, contrasts sharply with #humansearch services like Ask NYPL.

In effect, then, we are witnessing the wholesale privatisation of knowledge production, exchange and consumption. This is why we’re doing our utmost to establish an open source and community-led alternative: It also explains our interest in approaches to sharing knowledge. We are keen to identify organisations like the Waiting Room and Islington Mill Studios who are self-organising access to knowledge/learning in a host of different ways. So, if you have any examples / suggestions about whom we should look to for further inspiration or, else, approach as potential partners – please do let us know.

Developing Data Coops for Community Benefit

If the third sector is to move with the times, we believe it is incumbent upon us to increase our understanding of the implications of technological change for Voluntary, Community and Social Enterprise organisations (VCSEs), as well as to explore how we might harness broad-ranging technologies to help solve persistent social problems.

Personal data protection and use currently occupies hotly contested territory, and serves as the backdrop against which numerous hardware projects (for example, Black Phone and Indie Phone) and emergent ‘data4good’ projects (for example, The Good Data and DataCoup) are being developed. However, whilst their emphasis upon ‘privacy’ and ‘control over personal data’ is deemed of interest, we believe joint venturing underpinned by financial incentives for individuals need not limit the scope of such endeavours to ‘exhaust’ or IoT-derived data. We are therefore interested in investigating the potential to establish Data Coops underpinned by a combination of personal, organisational and public open data. We envisage that such Data Coops would be ‘data asset-locked vehicles’, based upon conscious and circumscribed contribution, and explicitly designed to deliver tangible social, economic and environmental benefit: so, ‘our data’ rather than ‘big or open data’ per se.

Related to this, we wish to explore the potential for data coops to become distributed ethical impact investment vehicles that are capable of being anchored and harnessed by VCSEs from the point of view of informing policy development. We are mindful that there is already considerable work underway to prototype the use of public and personal data – through, for example, the ODI’s Start-Up Programme and CDEC’s Open Data Health Platform. Nonetheless, we believe that the overarching mission of an organisation could be deployed to motivate organisations as well as individuals to invest their data on an ‘ethical’ footing, rather than to simply secure more narrow financial benefits. Specifically, whilst we recognise that financial incentives will play a part in stimulating data contributions from individuals going forward, a blend of personal, organizational and public open data could notionally underpin the development of VCSE Data Coops – were all concerned motivated by a desire to solve specific social challenges through cooperation with a trusted vehicle. VCSEs could, in turn, seek to generate a financial return through payment by results contracts and/or social impact bonds entered into with the public sector and linked to the release of efficiency savings where they are able to identify new data-driven solutions.

Data Coops – what they could do

  • Facilitate the collection of standard, interoperable data from VCSEs about their activities, their beneficiaries and their impacts
  • Enable Data Coop members to contribute data about their organisations, their activities, their beneficiaries and their impact – to have it analysed, bench-marked and re-presented to them to aid planning, service design and organisational transformation efforts
  • Enable Data Coop members to draw upon anonymised and/or pseudonymised and/or aggregated data contributed by other members, and deploy it to improve organisational processes, service design and implementation, contract and investment readiness, competitiveness.
  • Enable the creation of blended Data Coops capable of mixing personal, organisational and public open data – and, with that, seek to address persistent social, economic and environmental challenges and attract investment and/or payment by results contracts as ‘ethical data-driven impact investment vehicles’.
  • Avoid a situation where private interests are better placed to tell Government what they thinks ‘works’ best – so, prevent them from skewing so-called ‘evidence based policy making and commissioning’ in the future.

Data Coops – how they might work

  • Members supported to collect and contribute data in a standardised manner;
  • Member beneficiaries given the option to contribute their data assets to a Data Coop;
  • Relevant public open data cleaned and inputted to add value to a Data Coop;
  • Interoperable data collated to render it capable of being analysed
  • Organisations’ activities, beneficiaries, impacts benchmarked;
  • The anonymisation / pseudonymisation and deployment of data by the Data Coop to attract investment/contracts to tackle specific social, economic and environmental purposes agreed to in its Memorandum and Articles of Association / by beneficiaries / in keeping with the Government’s licenses concerning public open data use.

Further research to understand how to select a challenge that can be rendered (more) deliverable on a data-driven footing is required: that is, to establish what type of data to pool and how best to deploy it in order to deliver tangible social, economic and environmental benefits before any practical prototyping effort is considered. We also need to test interest in efforts to develop Data Coops amongst VCSEs themselves.

Thereafter, we would anticipate the need to develop a data asset-lock to protect data contributors – in particular, to prevent the potential for the re-sale of aggregated data for private profit – as well as to engender compliance with pertinent regulations and the confidence that will be required. Further thought is also required in relation to ‘collective intellectual property’ development and management.

But, to begin with, we’d simply like to identify appropriate partners and VCSEs with whom we might work. If that’s you, please contact [email protected] – we look forward to hearing from you!

Harnessing Open Data to Nurture a Digital Civil Society

Technological advancements are transforming the operating context at break-neck pace, and we are concerned about the preparedness of VCSEs, if they are to future-proof their vitally important work and ensure it remains relevant in the face of changing needs, new service delivery channels and opportunities to deliver social impact. In particular, we are concerned to ensure VCSEs are supported to appreciate and engage in the development of intangible (data) and intellectual property assets going forward as per other sectors.

To date, the Government’s efforts have concentrated almost exclusively upon the scope for closer working with HEIs and the private sector to unlock the potential for greater efficiencies and economic growth harboured by technological advancements in respect of data. Indeed, with the exception of investments on the part of NESTA and the Nominet Trust, policy makers and major funders have been all but silent when it comes to working with VCSEs to innovate in the context of our increasingly digital society. Common Futures is a socially conscious business working to uncover where the potential for taking this work forward might lie.

We have contributed to the development of national policy and practice in respect of public open data to benefit VCSEs. We’ve spear-headed cutting-edge work with VCSEs that are grappling with personal and organisational data collection, sharing, analysis and deployment to improve service design and address social problems through the Our Digital Community programme. We’ve also engaged directly in prototyping of our own in the course of working with Locality. Increasingly, our work points towards data deployment by and for VCSEs as a vitally important area of activity that would benefit from being investigated more thoroughly: Making Transparency Work for You 2014

Librarians of the Future?

When Andrew Carnegie made grants to libraries in the C20th, he described them as ‘instruments for the elevation of the masses of the people’. Libraries were to provide access to learning and advancement for people who would otherwise have limited opportunities – specifically, for education and self-improvement. Carnegie intended, then, that the purpose of a library should be educational, and Carnegie envisaged a facility open to everyone in a community who wanted access to books and learning.

The Provision of access to information, knowledge and learning continues to characterise perceptions of the role of librarians in the C21st. And, although libraries are evolving to become read/write, providing access to multi-media and media manipulation tools, we’ve yet to see a thoroughgoing disruption of the C20th institutional boundaries of libraries. That is, we’ve yet to see established a bona fide #p2p platform for the purposes of knowledge exchange founded upon commons principles.

Some libraries have begun to co-locate conventional ‘intellectual property’ with the tools to generate more of the same. Aligning themselves with the pursuit of traditional economic growth even has some libraries formalising that mission. But, intellectual property creates an artificial scarcity of knowledge – and, it subjects innovation to legal restrictions for the purposes of profit maximisation. Traditional intellectual property, in effect, overlooks the long tail – where locally rooted knowledge and know-how is concerned.

The rise of corporate search would have us believe that the long tail – access to all the world’s knowledge – is no longer mere aspiration. But, search engines control the placement of information listing via algorithm, and limit the diversity of information sources to please advertisers. In effect, search represents the very antithesis of the library as an untrustworthy, automated intermediary. Ironically, search also harnesses the long tail of locally rooted knowledge and know-how to profit from collective intellectual property in the form of #bigdata – uprooted from its origins in time and space and disfigured to discern global trends. This, in turn, is giving rise to concerns about the uses to which our collective IP are being put.

How, then, might the library become a trusted #p2p platform for the purposes of producing, exchanging and consuming knowledge and know-how?

Information is, according to some, neutral – and, it is only valuable or powerful when coupled with insight. If information is neutral, and we need to ask the ‘right’ questions to derive genuine insight from it, perhaps we should start here to garner an understanding of what insight may be best obtained from machines, and what may be better obtained from human beings. Then, perhaps we might usefully introduce an Oracle Machine to the #blockchain in a bid to re-establish #p2p knowledge exchange underpinned – once again – by locally rooted #humansearch.

Librarians of the future?

Power to Change: Fossil Festival Gets Hi-Tech Makeover

Some of you will know that we’ve been working with the Creative Coop and since 2010 to help the Lyme Regis Development Trust become a pioneer where digital asset and enterprise development is concerned.

Well, the Digital Lyme effort continues to go from strength to strength – so, we love that they featured in the Daily Mirror only last week! #powertochange

Common Libraries Short-listed for OuiShare Award!

We were thrilled to learn that our Common Libraries initiative was short-listed for an international OuiShare Award, in recognition of its contribution to the sharing economy, and amongst so many trail-blazing peer-to-peer endeavours from right around the world. Check out this short intro – and, if you like what we’re doing, please don’t forget to vote for us!

And, if you’d like to find out more about the project / get involved – visit: or say hullo via @commonlibraries

Our Submission to Sieghart

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport and the Department for Communities and Local Government has jointly commissioned William Sieghart to produce an independent report considering the current structure and role of public libraries, including community libraries, in England as well as identifying any opportunities for future delivery.

Interested parties were invited to submit evidence to help inform the Panel’s considerations in respect of the following areas:

  1. What are the core principles of a public library service into the future?
  2. Is the current delivery of the public library service the most comprehensive and efficient?
  3. What is the role of community libraries in the delivery of a library offer?

With the democratisation of the means of production and reproduction, as well as the exponential growth in information as “data”, we are minded to think that we must explore what role libraries might meaningfully play in the 21st century where harnessing information for social and economic benefit is concerned.

In our submission, then, we stated that the core principles and organisation of a public library service in future should be:

  • Third Spaces – locally rooted social capital factories, accessible to and welcoming of all, that bridge the online/offline divide and encourage literacy as well as STEAM skills development to nurture contemporary creative endeavour.
  • Read/Write Oriented – facilitating the consumption, production and re-mixing of information, knowledge and know-how (including, data).
  • A National Library Service underpinned by an Open, Enabling ICT Infrastructure – to facilitate access to information, knowledge and know-how on an anytime/anywhere basis.
  • Enterprising Local-by-Default Library Services responsive to User Needs and Interests – to nurture digital inclusion as well as access to/production and re-mixing of information, knowledge and know-how in a trusted and supportive environment.
  • A Locus for Citizen Interaction with Contemporary Culture, Public Services, Community Activities, Open Government and E-Democracy.

Download Our Submission in full.

Common Futures to Prototype Library-Hack-Maker Space Network with support from Arts Council England


There is a growing trend internationally toward the co-location and affiliation of libraries with hacker and makerspaces – for example, in the United States, where Chattanooga Public Library has spear-headed calls for libraries to adapt to reflect our increasingly ‘read/write’ world, and in relation to innovative UK-based projects like St Botolph’s Waiting Room, with its Give-Get Library in Colchester and partnership with Essex Libraries.

The current 10-year Strategic Framework for Arts Council England identifies Resilience and Sustainability as a key goal in the context of austerity, recognising that the arts and cultural sector must be able to adapt to changing circumstances, without compromising its core values and the quality of its work. The Arts Council also recognises that the sector must learn from examples of organisations that have successfully developed new sources of income.

Common Futures has worked with the Carnegie UK TrustThe Creative Coop and Colchester School of Art to develop an innovative business model in relation to St Botolph’s Waiting Room. Together, partners have developed a ‘borrow/barter/buy/bespoke’ approach to business integration for library-hack-maker spaces, which is designed to help maintain the ethos of a library where its function to ‘facilitate access to all’ is concerned, in addition to introducing an income generation dimension to operations.

We are therefore pleased to announce that we will be taking steps to prototype an income generating Library-Hack-Maker Space Network with international reach with a grant from Arts Council England over the coming weeks and months. The project aims to better understand the potential for library-hack-maker spaces, and affiliations between libraries and hack/maker spaces, to enhance the resilience and sustainability of libraries in future. It will involve Common Futures working with representatives from 4th Floor Chatt and St Botolph’s to support four prototypes in the first instance.