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Library as Ecotone

by on July 12, 2015

I had every intention of writing this month about customer experience. After all, I’ve been delivering presentations on the importance of customer experience to librarians for over a year. But this summer, I’m teaching my making and maker spaces class at St. Catherine University. Our class visited the Best Buy Teen Tech Center at the Hennepin County Library recently, and the visit inspired me to write about the library as ecotone.

During our visit to this space, we listened to Jason Quaynor, Youth Program Specialist at the Hennepin County Library Best Buy Teen Tech Center and Aaron Lundholm, Teen Tech Center Coordinator talk about the importance of the space. They talked, at length, about the space as a program or the space knowing the answers. Yes, this teen space runs no programs. They believe the space is a continual program.

Some have argued that the library is place. Others have argued that the library is platform. I want to suggest that, maybe, the library is an ecotone.

The concept of ecotone emerges from the field of ecology. An ecotone is defined as “a transition area between two biomes. It is where two communities meet and integrate.” Ecotones are responsive, dynamic, electric, yet sensitive spaces. For example, climate change is more readily seen in ecotones because they are more attune to change. Ecotones, or from the Greek “habitat tensions,” is the fertile edge effect between these two separate systems.

Ecotone is where some amazing growth happens. Not only is this where growth happens, but also the scientific literature suggests that this is where radical growth happens. From the transitions of the Rocky Mountains to the transitions of marshland, growth–amazing, radical, life-giving growth– occurs in this space between two things.

Ecotones are where things happen. Mysterious, powerful, awe-inspiring life occurs in ecotones. There is life grown, created, and developed in ecotones that is found nowhere in either of the two meeting ecosystems. There is stuff that will only grow in the space between two living things. Evolution (and I would argue revolution) does not occur in stable ecosystems, but only in these messy ecotones.

May I suggest that the library is an ecotone? We are the space between work and home. We are the space between childhood and adulthood. We are the space between illiteracy and literacy. We are the space between unemployed and employed. We are the space between bullying at school and abuse at home. In the library ecotone life bursts forth; life that could only have begun in our space.

May you remember the importance of the library as ecotone. May you come to realize that our space is life-affirming and life-giving. May you remember that in the times when our space feels chaotic, it simply means that life is buzzing, and may you know that for far too many patrons, our space may be the only safe space they have.


[1] Ecotone (n.d.). In Wikipedia. Retrieved June 9, 2015, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ecotone

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