My Visit to Library Island: Eli Neiburger, Ann Arbor District Library

Library Island, the participatory activity which reaches the parts other professional development cannot reach, is here! You can read more and download your copy of the free, CC-licensed PDF file here.

I’m featuring some accounts of the Island from people who have attended Island sessions, or run Islands of their own, to give you a better sense of what it means to take part in, or even organise, your own Library Island.

Last time, Sherlonya Turner of Ann Arbor District Library (AADL) in Michigan, USA joined us for her account of running Library Island. Sherlonya and her colleagues ran a tailor-made session at LibCamp 2019, a professional development event for regional librarians hosted by AADL.

Now AADL Deputy Director Eli Neiburger takes up the story.

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Here’s some stuff that happened during our event at Library Camp. We had a nice big group from all types of libraries; about 70+ folks including youth librarians, board members, academics, school librarians, administrators and students. A few small groups of people came together, but they were mostly strangers to each other.

When dealing with a known crowd, I think roles should mostly be assigned, but we didn’t know most of these folks so it was luck of the draw.

The guy who wound up in charge of the Ministry of Shelves (the colonizer-controlled funding agency for the libraries on Library Island) was an academic library type who thought this was his big chance to run The Institute of Museum and Library Services his way or something.

Well, he was totally unprepared for the volume of need he faced from the numerous library staff, community organizers, and stakeholders scattered throughout the game and got overwhelmed trying to assess funding requests and disburse funds.

So first he tried to establish a grant cycle – “Funding applications will only be accepted in Spring of year 2 and disbursed in fall of year 2”, etc – but he still got more overwhelmed, because this deadline caused a higher volume of funding applications. Also a wealthy (in-game) stakeholder threatened they would get him in-game fired and got their pet project funded out of cycle, which didn’t go over well.

So the guy closed the Ministry and wouldn’t accept any more requests until he could “figure out a process”…

Before this closure, the branch heads had approached the Ministry seeking permission to create an interlibrary loan system so the few Indigenous language books in the collections could better find their way to speakers of the Indigenous language “Verbalese”. When the Ministry closed, they decided that they didn’t need ministerial permission to do this, and didn’t really need ministerial funding, so they just did it anyway.

Then, a Verbalese community organizer decided to, well, organize. She rounded up all the Verbalese speakers and sympathizers, even recruited some of the staff from the library branches in the game, and literally staged a protest on the steps of the Ministry. (We had the Ministry up on the little stage in our program room, so there were actually steps). We had about 20 people chanting “Hey hey, ho ho, the Ministry has got to go” for real.

This was right around the time that a game event happened; a natural disaster or external upset that the players have to adapt to.

The three game events I added were:

  • a bookworm infestation at one of the branches, so they had to discard their entire collection and start over (no funding is provided to deal with this);
  • a flood that permanently closed one of the poor branches, sending all those folks to the wealthy neighborhood branch;
  • and for the coup de grace, we had a regime change where the new government passes a law forbidding the Ministry from funding any services focused on the Verbalese minority.

Now ideally, this forces the grant seekers to be creative and figure out ways to keep building services for the Verbalese without overtly saying that that’s what they’re doing. However, because this happened after the Ministry had already closed its doors and in the presence of an active protest, the minister basically quit and left. The protesters stormed the Ministry and seized all the stockpiled resources to use for their programs and services.

It was beautiful. This all happened in less than 90 minutes.

Intrigued by Eli’s story? You can read more about Library Island and download your copy of the free, CC-licensed PDF file here.

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