How Libraries Build Safe, Inclusive Community Spaces

David Lee KingCommunity is at the core of the existence of public libraries. They’re an important hub for local communities and, in turn, become a community of their own, where people learn and share.

Many libraries are safe, inclusive spaces where diversity is on display. If you are new to the area, or even to the country, libraries help you connect with your new community. If you are a member of a marginalized group, libraries can provide vital support. If you have a disability, libraries offer access to tools and services that improve your quality of life.

How do libraries create those spaces? That’s what I’m talking about with David Lee King, the digital services director at the Topeka & Shawnee County Public Library, and a recognized leader in the use of emerging technology for libraries. Plus:

  • What is a digital library branch?
  • How the library’s online efforts are impacted by seeing so many of their patrons face-to-face
  • What online community pros can learn from libraries

Big Quotes

“Everybody should be able to use the library. Not just the rich people or not just the poor people or not just a certain race or whatever. We’re here for everybody. We have to work really hard to make that happen. One example of that [is] digital inclusion. … We just opened up a computer lab and a community center connected to a public housing authority apartment and condo complex. Those are really low income people that need access to information [for employment, health information, school work and more].” -@davidleeking

“Cutting funding [can be] a very direct threat [to providing an inclusive space at a library], but you wouldn’t think of it that way, necessarily. Honestly, I don’t get it sometimes. Everybody’s got agendas or issues they care one way about, that not everybody has the same opinion on, but I’ve always thought with the library, if you want your voice to be heard, make doubly sure that everybody else’s voice is heard. Because then yours will be on the shelf right with everybody else’s. But if you start trying to yank certain things off, why can’t all the groups come in and yank the things off they don’t like? And then what do you have? You have an empty building all of a sudden.” -@davidleeking

“Don’t be scared of your community. And don’t be scared of what they might say. Even libraries sometimes are. … But a lot of organizations are sometimes afraid of what they might get. … ‘What if 20 customers say, “Well, this new coffee shop’s coffee tastes horrible!”‘ The answer to that would be make your coffee better. Gee whiz, you just got great feedback on a product. Make it better!” -@davidleeking

About David Lee King

David Lee King is the digital services director at the Topeka & Shawnee County Public Library, where he plans, implements and experiments with emerging technology trends. He speaks internationally about emerging trends, social media, websites and libraries, and has been published in many library-related journals. David is a Library Journal Mover and Shaker. His newest book is Face2Face: Using Facebook, Twitter and Other Social Media Tools to Create Great Customer Connections. David blogs at

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