Hyperlinked Librarian

Emerging Technology Planning: Culinary Literacy: A New Way to Learn

Posted on: October 18, 2019

St. Charles Parish Library


Library 21c is a large public library in Colorado Springs, CO. True to its name, meaning “21st century library,” Library 21c is equipped with two makerspaces, a huge performance venue, multiple meeting rooms, and gaming centers. When Library 21c first opened, it contained a large kitchen space, which was converted into a fully operational coffee shop/café. However, the café had difficulty bringing in enough revenue because of the lack of foot traffic within the library. The café eventually vacated the library, leaving the kitchen space empty. Because of its fully operational kitchen, Library 21c has a unique opportunity to engage its community members through cooking and culinary literacy.  

While I was at first inspired by libraries experimenting with food pantries and cooking classes, what really stood out to me during my research was The Free Library of Philadelphia’s Culinary Literacy Center. The Free Library states that “Cooking and eating are educational acts and provide opportunities to learn math, science, languages, history and so much more.” Clearly, cooking at the library has much more potential than meets the eye. Like the Free Library, Library 21c will utilize its fully functional kitchen to create a new type of participatory experience for adult patrons.

The following sections outline a plan to implement a new Culinary Literacy initiative at Library 21c.


Through hosting cooking classes in the library’s operational kitchen, Library 21c will provide memorable literacy and learning experiences. Through the Culinary Literacy initiative, the library will accomplish the following goals:

  1. Use the unique and popular experience of cooking and eating to promote various types of literacy (math, science, language, and cultural)
  2. Increase health and nutrition knowledge for the community
  3. Promote diversity and inclusion through periodic immigrant-led and/or culture-focused cooking classes

Description of Community:

I would like to target adult community members in the Colorado Springs area.

Action Brief Statement:

This new Culinary Literacy initiative will convince adult learners that by attending cooking classes at the library they will contribute to their own personal literacy goals (cultural, culinary, language-based, or otherwise) which will empower adult learners to learn a variety of competencies through the fun vehicle of cooking because having a variety of literacy skills can transform the lives of our library patrons.

Evidence and Resources:

Above is a great video about the Free Library of Philadelphia’s cooking program.

Other resources:

Free Library of Philadelphia. (n.d.). Every bite of food tells a story. Retrieved from https://libwww.freelibrary.org/programs/culinary/about.cfm

Kouame, G., Logue, N. & Mears, K. (2019). Making space for a makerspace. Journal of Hospital Librarianship, 19(2), 182-189, DOI: 10.1080/15323269.2019.1600636

Maitland Public Library. (n.d.). Cooking at the library. Retrieved from https://www.maitlandpubliclibrary.org/cooking-in-the-library/

Peterson, J. (2016). Library kitchens and cooking programs. Retrieved from https://www.webjunction.org/news/webjunction/library-kitchens-and-cooking-programs.html

Slatter, D., & Howard, Z. (2013). A place to make, hack, and learn: Makerspaces in Australian public libraries. Australian Library Journal, 62(4), 272-284. https://doi.org/10.1080/00049670.2013.853335

Roth, E. (2019). Cooking classes at the library! Retrieved from https://library.nashville.org/blog/2019/03/cooking-classes-library

Mission, Guidelines, and Policy:

After getting initial permission from the library director, there will be a vertical team established to brainstorm the mission, policy, and guidelines of the cooking classes. Vertical teams are teams in which “all levels of an organization – from frontline staff to the directorial level and everyone in between” (Casey & Savastinuk, 2007, p. 45) are included in the creation and implementation process. A vertical team is ideal since all levels of staff can get involved with the new initiative.

Casey and Stephens (2008) state that, when introducing new tools or services into the library, “The new tool or service must fit into the library’s philosophy” (para. 5). The mission of the Culinary Literacy initiative will align with the Pikes Peak Library District’s overall mission of “Providing resources and opportunities that impact individual lives and build community” (About PPLD, n.d.). The literacy component of the cooking classes, which empowers ESL community members to learn English, for example, has the potential to “impact individual lives.” Likewise, people coming together from diverse backgrounds to learn how to cook can “build community.”

The kitchen will essentially become another space to create, since patrons will ideally be able to make recipes along with the instructor during a class demonstration. Therefore, for policy’s related to the space, the Culinary Literacy team can draw upon the library’s existing Makerspace Safety Guidelines to establish policies and guidelines for the space. These guidelines include a patron agreement form and information on policies regarding minors in the space.

Funding Considerations: 

One good thing about creating a cooking program at Library 21c is that the library already has a space with a fully functional kitchen, therefore no extensive renovations are needed. However, the program will need other cooking gadgets and utensils (whisks, spoons, spatulas, bowls, blenders, etc.). Stocking the kitchen could be funded through the library’s programming budget (if there happens to be money left over after a fiscal year). Another option for funding is staff donations – a kind of “kitchen supplies drive,” if you will. However, it would be ideal to obtain a grant to completely stock and rejuvenate the space. As teacher-librarian Nicholas Provenzano puts it, “The quickest way to fund a makerspace is to write grants. They are not easy to get, but they can jump-start a space very quickly” (2018). Provenzano also suggests creating a donation wish list and partnering with local businesses.

Action Steps & Timeline: 

A reasonable timeline for this project would be nine months to a year. The library director would have to first approve the program. After approval, funding would be key. Project flow will be dependent on funding – the amount of time it takes to write, submit, and obtain a grant, for instance, could influence the timeframe. Then, the vertical team that will plan and implement the program will be put together and start the program planning process from there.

After funding is procured and initial planning is organized, the Culinary Literacy initiative could be prototyped with a smaller-scale cooking series that would be held in the kitchen space before it is completely up and running. Prototyping the program before a hard launch will help iron out any kinks (such as how many patrons can comfortably fit in the space and where the best place for the presenter might be, for example). Prototyping would also include experimenting with different formats of the program in order to determine whether the space is better suited for small demonstrations or for larger participatory classes.

Staffing Considerations: 

The Nashville Public Library (NPL) created a position that coordinates the library’s Be Well initiative. This position, held by Beth Roth, MA, is responsible for overseeing the cooking classes as well as creating, organizing, and updating the Cooking and Food blog on the library’s website. While it would be amazing for Library 21c to have a position dedicated to the cooking program initiative, our library will most likely partner with businesses and nonprofits to keep costs low. One full-time librarian and one full-time library associate will be responsible for coordinating and facilitating the initiative. While these two library staff members will be program facilitators, making sure everything runs smoothly before and during the classes, volunteers from businesses and/or non-profits will lead and teach the classes. Because facilitation takes considerably less time than lesson-planning, library employees interested in the cooking program would need only about an hour a day to plan classes for future dates. Staff time that is needed to coordinate with volunteers and help set up will be allotted during “off-desk” hours for full-time employees. Full-time library employees usually have about 3 off-desk hours a day that are designated for planning, organizing, and programming. Work relating to the cooking classes would therefore be folded into off-desk hours.


After they have learned as much about the space as possible through organizing and preparing, a training manual will be designed by the Culinary Literacy initiative team. The training manual will include an overview of the space, where to find equipment training manuals, and safety procedures. Because volunteers will be folks who already know their way around a kitchen, volunteers will get a brief overview of the space, the manual, and its safety procedures prior to their class being scheduled. Any other library support staff who are interested in facilitating a program in the future would also be trained on machines and safety procedures within the space.

Promotion & Marketing:

Promotion and marketing for the cooking classes will be in the form or social media as well as physical promotional products. Social media promotion and marketing will include posting flyers and information about the cooking classes on to the library district’s Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter feeds. YouTube can also be a strong tool for promotion – the facilitating librarian could record a short clip of the class in progress, which would be posted to YouTube and other social media platforms. The classes will also be promoted through the library’s physical printed calendar. Likewise, small physical flyers stocked at service points throughout the library will be created for marketing. For specific classes relating to learning English through cooking, flyers can be distributed to language programs throughout the library district. Staff can also reach out to cultural groups who use the library, such as the Russian language meetup group, to potentially teach or participate in a cultural cooking class.


To evaluate the cooking program initiative attendance statistics will be recorded during each class or demonstration. Additionally, the program will be evaluated based on its propensity to change lives and build community. Such information can be assessed through patron stories and feedback. Questionnaires and comment cards will be distributed to provide a glimpse into how the program has impacted individuals and the community.

A short-term future goal is to create a LibGuide relating to the Culinary Literacy initiative. The LibGuide would contain information about cooking websites, definitions, conversion charts, a list of book reviews, information about nutrition, and possibly a blog. More staff time would be needed for this guide to be effective.

One long-term goal would be for the program to expand into a true makerspace model in which patrons can use the tools and the space for their own personal and professional creations. Our patrons currently come to the library to use sewing machines for their projects, why not provide a KitchenAid blender or other machine that can be costly to individuals? Or maybe a family could host their child’s birthday party in the space, in which the kids would get to make their own birthday cake along with the adults. The space could eventually be used in the same way that our makerspaces are used, as a space for creativity and self-guided learning. This type of model must include a foundation of radical trust (Stephens, 2019) between the library and its patrons. But with more brainstorming and teamwork, this goal could be accomplished.

Closing Remarks:

The Culinary Literacy initiative is a further step towards participatory service in the library. Patrons who take advantage of the cooking classes could learn a wealth of information delivered through the fun mechanism of cooking. The library is about building community and changing individual lives. The cooking program initiative for Library 21c has the potential to do both.


About PPLD. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://ppld.org/about-ppld

Casey, M. E., & Savastinuk, L. C. (2007). Library 2.0: A guide to participatory library service. Medford, N.J: Information Today.

Casey, M. E. & Stephens, M. (2008). Measuring progress. Retrieved from https://tametheweb.com/2008/04/15/measuring-progress/

Provenzano, N. (2018). Five tips for funding your makerspace. Retrieved from https://ideas.demco.com/blog/5-tips-for-makerspace-funding/

Stephens. (2019). The hyperlinked library: Participatory service and transparency. [Lecture].

Image credits

Funds. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://creditscoregeek.com/

Marketing tools. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://jpndc.org/jpevent/marketing-for-small-business-mercadotecnia-para-pequenos-negocios-ses-2/

Oven mits. (n.d). Retrieved from flickr.com

St. Charles Parish Library. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.webjunction.org/news/webjunction/library-kitchens-and-cooking-programs.html

4 Responses to "Emerging Technology Planning: Culinary Literacy: A New Way to Learn"

I read this post after I just finished cooking a nice breakfast while watching an episode of “The Great British Bake Off.” I love baking and I love cooking, so this idea of a culinary class within the library really speaks to me! I would love to have something like this nearby to practice new skills and learn new culinary methods. What an amazing service!

Hello Melina,

I really enjoyed reading this post myself! I’m not the best at cooking so honestly any opportunity to learn to do so in a fun and creative way is a plus to me.

I love watching cooking shows and videos on baking (probably a bit too much honestly). I know that culinary classes in a library I worked at did wonders for participation!

I also think that having social media as a format to market on would be super popular! I’m already a huge fan of looking up pictures of food on social media and when people share how they make it, it’s so much fun.

I’m interested in seeing how the lib guide would turn out! I wish I had thought to include that in my assessment portion. That sounds like it would be a great resource because cooking is always a hit at libraries, or at least the ones I’ve worked at.

I would love to be able to have a place near home to practice new skills and learn new culinary methods.

I love this idea, and I think cooking is such a valuable skill! Plus, the space is versatile enough that all the library departments could use it. I liked that your project focused on adult literacy though; it is such an important skill! But even outside the program, there is room for a parents & children cooking class, a Teen Iron Chef competition, or a baking class for older adults for example. Cookbooks available through the library for checkout could be used or displayed. Thanks for sharing; this is such a cool idea!

This is such a great idea! I love that you have thought of some short- and long-term goals like creating a LibGuide with conversion charts and having a children’s birthday party where the children get to bake the birthday cake. I also thought your idea for how a program like this could be used to bolster ESL programs (and in a fun way!). I think what I find most compelling about your idea is that community members could learn a new skill, hone a current skill, meet other community members in the process, and have fun all at the same time.

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