Handbook of Research on the Role of Libraries, Archives, and Museums in Achieving Civic Engagement and Social Justice in Smart Cities

Edited by Mohamed Taher. Hershey, PA: IGI Global, 2020. 565 pp. Hardcover and EPUB. $295.00. Hardcover ISBN 9781799883630; EPUB ISBN 9781799883654.

Reviewed by Michelle Ganz, Dominican Sisters of Peace Archives [PDF Full Text]

This handbook is incredibly timely given the state of the world today where funding for libraries, archives, and museums (LAMs) is tight and community access to information is limited. The value of LAM partnerships, where local libraries, archives, and museums can work together to create cooperative programming and resource tools, has come into focus as information professionals pivot to a post-pandemic landscape, and this book demonstrates how critical these partnerships are (especially when it comes to funding). The book shows information professionals how comprehensive LAM partnerships can impact and uplift a community by providing critical analysis tools including information literacy and basic research skills. The authors demonstrate, through case studies, specific tools, and activities, how access to and education about information builds better communities.

The book is organized into four sections—with two to six case studies per section—that focus on LAMs geared toward specific audiences and specific types of communities, starting with workplaces and how they interact with information, moving to isolated and urban communities, and ending with the future of information access in smart cities. Smart cities emerge from rapid technological advancement and follow a community model similar to the smart libraries model (which focuses on providing digital access, information literacy, and community and political education; p. 315). The case studies illustrate the overarching concept of each section and offer a detailed account of the roles needed to implement a cooperative project. Most case study authors are employed at universities and museums, but there are two independent researchers and one public librarian represented.

The first few chapters are devoted to showing how building partnerships within the LAM community has been highly successful across the spectrum of LAM services, resulting especially in better reference tools and community-engaged conservation practices. In each case, readers see how LAMs are a critical part of any community, but especially smaller communities. For example, in many communities in India, barriers to information (i.e., a lack of libraries, schools, digital access, and socio-economic status) are coupled with a lack of funding and community buy-in.

The case study authors also show how access to information is an integral part of improving people’s lives and how LAMs promote literacy in areas like human rights and social justice while providing cultural heritage touchstones for peoples of diasporas. Through conservation efforts in disaster-prone areas like Indonesia, for instance, LAM partnerships and community engagement conservation programs have pooled funding to ensure that Indonesian cultural heritage is not lost. This is especially important for expatriates to stay connected to their cultural identity. The chapters related to documenting and making available diaspora records of BIPOC communities highlight the importance of historical documentation created by communities and how they give people a sense of self within their community. The authors illustrate how this sense of community is critical to combating extremist rhetoric, especially in the digital world, as well as engaging people on a local, political level. Some authors address topics like human rights literacy, the apartheid of the digital divide, and social inclusion in rural communities. Other authors explore the cultural impact of LAMs, providing examples of the real-world impact of LAMs’ efforts to directly combat radicalism and the spread of misinformation. These efforts allow people to empower themselves and their communities and demonstrate how LAM partnerships are the key to successfully creating and sustaining information-literate communities.

This book provides everything archivists need to develop a LAM partnership, from resources and references to the “proof of concept” necessary to gain both community and administrative buy-in. It covers a huge range of archival activities and community actions, such as basic literacy, remote access during COVID-19, and voter registration efforts and political engagement, especially at the local level. Each chapter shows how a LAM partnership project developed from concept to impact. Most chapters include a review of the project plan and the role of libraries, archives, and museums within the larger project. Each section also provides multiple approaches to resolving access problems, and the comprehensive literature reviews throughout the book guide the reader to valuable resources to further investigate specific concepts and strategies related to LAM projects, like how to gain buy-in from multiple agencies and institutions. The case studies show universally positive results of the programs LAM professionals developed, although the authors throughout the book point out flaws in the planning stages and how those were addressed as well as where improvements could have been made.

The book is a valuable tool for any archivist in a rural, remote area or an isolated, marginalized community. Issues of access and supporting infrastructure transcend geographical borders; the issues rural communities in India face are the same issues that rural communities in Tennessee face. Marginalized communities within larger cities have the same concerns in South Africa and Toronto. Throughout the book, the authors describe universal scenarios and the solutions that worked for their projects, making the work an equally comprehensive tool for LAMs in smart cities and larger communities as it is for LAMs in rural areas and remote communities. The topics that the book covers are critical to helping make LAM programs an integral part of improving communities.

The best part of the book is that the various examples can be combined to create unique plans for how to best serve specific communities. For example, by utilizing information from four different case studies, communities can address the digital divide, digital literacy, and social justice through a LAM partnership. The work can also serve multiple functions; archival educators could easily use this book in the classroom to introduce general LAM concepts and working professionals could draw upon it as a guide for creating new partnerships and strengthening existing ones. The array of examples means there is something that will connect with any archives or archivist in a range of cultural LAM institutions.

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