The Needs Based Library

Maslow's a Theory of Human Motivation coverThunder Bay Public Library (TBPL) is using Maslow’s hierarchy of needs to develop a needs based library service. In 1943 Abraham Maslow published his seminal paper on A Theory of Human Motivation. He concluded that “Human needs arrange themselves in hierarchies of pre-potency. That is to say, the appearance of one need usually rests on the prior satisfaction of another, more pre-potent need. No need or drive can be treated as if it were isolated or discrete; every drive is related to the state of satisfaction or dissatisfaction of other drives”.

Maslow determined that the starting point for motivation theory are the so-called physiological drives. If these needs are not met all other needs may become simply non-existent or be pushed into the background. As Maslow put it, “For the man who is extremely and dangerously hungry, no other interests exist but food. He dreams food, he remembers food, he thinks about food, he emotes only about food, he perceives only food and he wants only food”. His whole philosophy of the future tends also to change. For our chronically and extremely hungry man, Utopia can be defined very simply as a place where there is plenty of food. Life itself tends to be defined in terms of eating. Anything else will be defined as unimportant.

If the physiological needs are relatively well gratified, then there emerges a new set of needs, the safety needs. As with food, the need for safety will dominate until it has been met. A man, in this state, if it is extreme enough and chronic enough, may be characterised as living almost for safety alone. “If we wish to see these needs directly and clearly we must turn to…the economic and social underdogs”.

If both the physiological and the safety needs are fairly well gratified, then there will emerge the love and affection and belongingness needs. “He will hunger for affectionate relations with people in general, namely, for a place in his group, and he will strive with great intensity to achieve this goal”. Failure to achieve this goal has been linked to psychological trauma, addictions and impaired mental health.

At the next level there is the need for self respect, or self esteem, and for the esteem of others. This is a desire for confidence and achievement and for recognition and appreciation. Satisfaction of these needs leads to feelings of self-confidence, worth, strength, capability and adequacy of being useful and necessary in the world. But thwarting of these needs produces feelings of inferiority, of weakness and of helplessness.

At the highest level there is the need for self-actualization. This is the ability to realise your full potential or your “full humanness”. It is the desire to become more and more what one is, to become everything that one is capable of becoming. “What a man can be, he must be”.

There are certain conditions which are immediate prerequisites for the basic needs satisfactions. These include “freedom to speak…freedom to express oneself, freedom to investigate and seek for information.” This is linked to our desires to know and to understand the world we live in.

We are using this hierarchy of needs to develop a Needs Based library at TBPL. Our aim is to provide services which can meet all levels of needs. Traditionally public libraries have tended to focus mainly on the higher level needs. We aim to reverse this paradigm and focus on those with the greatest needs. Because, as Maslow demonstrated, people cannot move onto the higher level needs until their lower level needs have been met.

John Pateman– If you have a comment about today’s column, we would love to hear from you. Please comment below!

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