Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Laura Damon-Moore.
The Library as Incubator Project was founded in spring 2011 and launched officially online in fall 2011. The LaIP began as an independent study by two students, myself (Laura Damon-Moore) and Christina Endres, at UW-Madison’s School of Library & Information Studies and grew to include a third classmate, Erinn Batykefer, over the summer of 2011.
The mission of the Library as Incubator Project is to promote and facilitate creative collaboration between libraries and artists of all types, and to advocate for libraries as incubators of the arts. We do this through artist interviews, feature articles about arts-incubating libraries, and essays about the librarian profession, the role of libraries in creative fields, and the shift toward libraries as places of community-created content and hands-on learning opportunities.
Since its conception in 2011, the LaIP has grown to include a lively website, with new posts about arts-incubating libraries 5 days/week; a robust social media presence; and several “offline” projects that include webinars, workshops for library systems, and a book that we have coming out in spring 2014 from Coffee House Press.
Even though the Library as Incubator Project is no longer associated directly with a specific university or institution, our development would not have been possible without the support and “incubation” on the part of UW-Madison SLIS. Based upon what we’ve learned through working on the LaIP, I’d like to share some ideas for using library school as an incubator for your own projects.
- Our advisor, Professor Emerita Louise Robbins, gave us permission to basically explore the idea of libraries-as-incubators-for-artists for a semester for credit. Our final project was to bring her a little map of the website that we envisioned as the online “home” for the LaIP. She helped us develop a set of contacts at UW-Madison and in the Madison area that gave us our starting point to collect information on the subject and to pretty much legitimize the idea. If you have an idea for an independent project, talk about it with a professor or instructor at your school. Sometimes just setting up a meeting, you know, where you have to show up with something to say, can be the necessary push to turn a nebulous idea into the beginnings of an important project.
- As students, we had a wealth of resources available to us for free. Things like academic databases, an amazing physical collection at the SLIS Laboratory Library, free “office” space (group study tables and quiet study rooms we could use for meetings and group phone calls), and of course, the people – professors, librarians, and students who were excited about the project and helped us get off to a solid start. Take advantage of the resources around you – are there free software workshops for students? A conference room in a library that you can reserve for meetings?
- UW-Madison SLIS provided us with an important publicity channel when the project first launched online. They posted the news of the launch on Facebook and Twitter, and helped us get attention from UW’s student newspaper and the UW-Madison Libraries. We got vital exposure to the school’s alumni network through SLIS’s social media networks and print newsletter. When you have news about your project to share, talk with your school’s communications coordinator to see if you can arrange a mini publicity campaign in print and online. Schools are excited about sharing what their students and alumni are up to!
- Starting the project under the aegis of SLIS meant that we had (some) structure and accountability for actually getting the project started, developed, and “completed” or launched. So often students or professionals will have a great idea for a new resource, new publication, new community they want to develop, but the idea fizzles out without SOME structure. Even though we really had no syllabus and no calendar for our initial independent study with Louise, we still had weekly meetings with her for which we had to provide some update. Those conversations about our findings and our next steps were incredibly helpful and kept us on track and committed. Make yourself accountable to someone. A professor, a classmate, your cat. Prepare agendas, make to-do lists.
- The skills that we’ve developed through our work on this project are all insanely applicable to our working, post-commencement lives. Things like networking, website development and content creation, social media experience, and just “out of the box thinking” are things that employers really look for. The LaIP ended up being a vital part of our LIS education. When you have a great idea, feel free to take it and run with it even if it isn’t part of the LIS curriculum.
- If you have an idea for an independent project like this, we’d highly recommend talking to your enrollment office about doing an independent study, even just for one or two credits, to build time into your semester to explore and develop a plan for your project.
- It’s kind of amazing what you can get away with when you’re “a student,” particularly if you’re just starting to explore a topic. Take advantage of your student status when it comes to interviewing people and asking for feedback.
One big concern for us with this project was what would happen after graduation. In the spring of our second year at UW-Madison SLIS, we decided not to do the project for credit anymore to give ourselves maximum flexibility. This is also why we decided to start our own website instead of asking for one to be affiliated with SLIS and the university. We had to make some changes to help the project continue after we graduated last May. Since then our team has grown significantly to help handle our social media networks and some of our bigger projects like the “It Came From a Book” Teen Art Contest. There were some bumpy, stressed-out weeks in our first six months out of school, but we’ve gradually figured out a better balance between our paid work and our unpaid work.
Laura Damon-Moore is Assistant Director at the Eager Free Public Library in Evansville, Wisconsin. She is co-founder of the Library as Incubator Project with Erinn Batykefer and Christina Endres. Other team members for the Library as Incubator Project include Kathleen Behrens, Holly Storck-Post, and Ryan Claringbole. Follow the Library as Incubator Project on their website: http://www.libraryasincubatorproject.org, on Twitter @IArtLibraries, on Facebook and Pinterest.