Creativity, Communities, and Your Local Library

My neighborhood library, the Main Library in San Francisco, is continually active with classes, events, speakers, and makerspace. Although there are many programs for adults, they are mostly focused around career building and job hunting. Necessary, yes, but not very enjoyable. The art and craft classes and the designated makerspace, however, are for children and teens. Many of the ongoing classes and events within The Mix, the makerspace for people aged 13-18, sound like a lot of fun and include learning to code, filmmaking lessons, drum and guitar lessons, knitting, 3-D printing, flower arranging, and urban painting. Teens get to learn new skills in a creative, exploratory, social context. This sounds like a brilliant plan and has proven to be successful. Getting children and young adults hooked on the library is an excellent way to both foster ongoing engagement with the library and bring parents into the fold. Since adults are the decision makers, voters, and potential funders of the library, it is essential to increase their involvement. It is curious then, that the fun, exploratory, and creative community spaces at our library end at the threshold of adulthood.

It certainly isn’t due to lack of interest. According to a recent America-centered Pew Study, 73% of adults consider themselves lifelong learners. Adults are continually seeking sources for new knowledge and skills by signing up for online classes or attending local workshops. Makerspace businesses have popped up across San Francisco in the last decade and focus on every creative pursuit imaginable from lamp making to pickling. This need could be, and often has been, met by librarians. In a 2017 article, called Librarians as Makers librarians were cited as one of the main contributors to the facilitation of creative community space. Movements like the Library as Incubator Project provide a functional resource for both creators and librarians (who are often creators themselves) and an online meeting place and community for everyone who recognizes the makerspace value of the library. The website authors’ book, The Artist’s Library, takes the online resource a step further and materializes a field guide for building creative community and fully using all the resources the library has to offer.

Creative patrons have been quietly going about their business in the library for years, using the materials, the resources, and the space—contributing their books to the shelves and their paintings to the walls. With the emergence of makerspace and the maker movement, a new visibility to this “phantom” community of artists, writers, and musicians has developed. Unlike many spaces in our culture, as The Artist’s Library points out, “library users have equal access to space, collections, and people”. Seasoned artists, budding writers, and those just learning the basic chords on an instrument can work alongside one another within the democratic institution. Keeping art at the fingertips of everyone by recognizing the long tradition of creation within the library allows us all to think of ourselves as innovators and creators if we wish to do so. Instead of elevating the “artist” on a pedestal, we can see that creativity is much more common than expected. We see a common history of a supportive relationship between librarians, creative activity, and the library as an accessible space.

Whether it is folding origami or 3-D printing anatomically correct hearts, people of all ages and backgrounds can continue their quest for exploration and lifelong learning in a well-researched and thoughtful makerspace. Many librarians discussing creativity and a dedicated makerspace share the same caution: effective programs require thoughtful planning and the stamina to maintain them. The beauty of creative communities is that much of the stamina needed comes from the communities themselves. A good program draws people in and remains flexible enough to adapt to the very creativity it houses. People are eagerly seeking connection and creation; they just need the space in which to do it.

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What creative projects are happening in your local library?

Categories: Big Picture

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2 replies

  1. Excellent article! I’m really interested in the creative/collaborative aspects of public libraries, and it’s true that most of what I’ve seen has been geared towards kids/teens, or is boring life skills with maybe a book club or two for adults… Definitely something I’ll keep in mind when it comes to programming!

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