I am continuously amazed by all of the ways that libraries are engaging with the community and building relationships. Two of the topics from the modules, food and art, really stuck in my brain, mostly because they currently relate to the library I work at and the community. My branch is small but well used. Poverty, homelessness, and unemployment are major issues that affect the community, and the library is always trying to find ways to alleviate them.
As you might imagine, there is a lack of access to healthy food in my community. Food is a basic necessity that no one should worry about not having, and as Mike Zuehlke says “Food is one of those things that we all share—across cultures, races, economic, or educational level. Few things promote gathering and interaction as well as a shared meal” (Kim, 2014). Libraries are always looking for ways to get people to gather and interact, and food seems like a spectacular way to do that.
Unfortunately, my branch is too small to have a kitchen like the Meadowridge Branch Library. There are, however, plenty of other ways to incorporate food into our programs or services. Over the summer, a nonprofit came to my library and put on two food literacy programs. Kids and their families learned how to read a recipe, practices (plastic) knife skills, and made (really delicious) salads and dressings. I was surprised that it was actually one of our most popular programs this summer, but it made sense. The program was hands on and fun yet also practical. We were providing something people need AND want, which is something we usually struggle to find.
I first learned of The Idea Box in one my of previous classes, but now I view it a little differently, as a piece of the hyperlinked library. By providing a space and materials, people can use their experiences, feelings, and creativity to share and connect with others. I like that this could be done with others or even in solitary. I enjoyed so many of the themes that I do not think I could pick a favorite. I greatly appreciate the way this program incorporates art in many of the themes. So often, art is one of the first subjects eliminated in schools and is generally valued less in our society. There was (and still is) disagreement about art being a part of STEM and changing the acronym to STEAM. However, many of us know the importance of art and there is plenty of research out there that supports it, especially in early childhood development and for individuals with special needs or autism.
In the libraries I have worked at and visited as a patron, art is not a top priority. I can understand that reading and literacy are regarded as most important, and there are many other worthy causes as well. While art could certainly play into them, libraries often do not have enough time, money, staff, or energy to incorporate more art. However, in most of my experience when art is offered, it is popular and well received. Recently, my library had a paint night for adults. The program was full and many people (kids, teens, AND adults) who saw the program wanted to do it too. When I was talking to one young girl who was maybe 8 years old about why she wanted to paint, she said she’s never painted before, not at school or at home. She mentioned she’s done other things like coloring but never painting. Perhaps it is because painting is messy or too expensive, but I was sad that she never has and maybe never will paint. This made me consider how libraries can help fill this gap, especially since there aren’t many options for people to learn or practice art for cheap or free in a welcoming environment.
There are many barriers to accessing both art and food, and I believe that libraries can help lessen or remove them. We are going beyond helping patrons find and consume information to helping them produce and create it. I think libraries are in an ideal position to continue to build relationships and engage with people by feeding their minds and their bodies.
Kim, S. (2014). …and the kitchen sink.
Oak Park Public Library. (n.d.). IdeaBox Collections.
Oak Park Public Library (2017). The Idea Box.