Creativity & Curiosity: Final Reflection

A story:
In 2017 I started taking pottery classes because I knew I needed to do something completely new to me where I was guaranteed to fail repeatedly. I was terrified of trying new things because I thought I would be “bad” at them and this fear was really holding me back in every aspect of my life. I was bad at pottery. Three years later I’ve learned so much, tried new things (with clay and without), and I’m still failing regularly. More than anything else, pottery has constantly challenged me to be more adaptable and problem-solve creatively.

Here’s a video of some pottery mishaps from the past three months.

This modulethe Can You Teach Creativity? video specificallyreminded me that there was a time before I knew how to work with clay. When I only considered myself a “student” or “athlete” and thought I that’s all I was. And there will be a time, maybe three years from now, where I’m again reminded of all the new things I learned because I followed my curiosity.

This article by Jane Cowell suggests ways to implement creativity into everyday library practice. The first thing listed is time set aside “for learning, play, investigation, fun, with the eventual outcome being innovation, maybe a pilot and new skills” (2017). I wholeheartedly agree. Creativity helps me maintain the balance talked about in the Reflective Practice lecture and approach my work in libraries through a more innovative lens.

Three years ago I didn’t know that I wanted to work in libraries. I have learned so much during this course, from peers in this class and others, from my coworkers at the library, from #librarytwitter. I can’t wait to find out what I’m going to learn in the next three years.

ArtsandArch. (2012, August 26). Can You Teach Creativity? – Chris Staley, Penn State Laureate 2012-2013 [YouTube].
Cowell, J. (2017). A Challenge to Library Managers: Embed Creativity in Your library.
Stephens, M. (2020). Reflective practice [Lecture].


During the Infinite Learning modules, I was reminded of a mini conference session I attended about a month ago. The conference was focused on sustainability in libraries and the session provided ideas for using programs to teach sustainability in public libraries. Sara Whitaker, the presenter from the Gwinnett County Library, hosts monthly informational craft sessions where participants learn about an element of environmental sustainability and then make a craft with trash. The finished crafts are then donated to a group in the community. This program is magnificent for so many reasons: it’s group connection, creative thinking, use of recycled materials, participatory education, and it ends with functional service to the community. 

The program is typically run with the learning portion at the beginning so people haven’t left the room by the time it happens. It is brief, engaging, and can be related to the art project of the day. In one particular example provided, the group learned about the over-production of plastic bags, the impact their presence has on the environment, and some statistics about the use of plastic bags locally. Then, with previously used plastic bags, the group made mats that were given to people experiencing homelessness to use as a ground barrier. 

Sara Whitaker also shared about their educational displays and learning programs for World Ocean Day where they designed and created trash sculptures of marine life. They have participatory stations set up for hands-on learning and games to keep the learners engaged. Also mentioned are more informal types of education, like talking to the teens about the recyclability of pizza boxes when they finish eating the pizza they’ve ordered. (Cardboard is only recyclable if it does not have food grease on it, but it can always be composted!)

Some of my own experiences with sustainability education have come from free programs through city departments. I have attended composting workshops at the local recycling center and was given a free compost bin at the end of the information session. It’s served me well for four years and now I can educate my family and friends about composting.

An otter I spotted at the Aquarium on Parkside.

Not library-related, but in the same vein of education, participation, and creativity with the use of recycled materials is a front lawn installation in my neighborhood called the Aquarium on Parkside. Back in April, the family began constructing a front yard aquarium filled with animals built out of recycled materials. Many of the animals are accompanied by facts about the animal so passersby can learn while they look. They have small cardboard cutouts of many of the animals for community members to decorate and return, as well as a basket of recyclables out on the lawn so anyone feeling inspired can build an animal to add to the aquarium. The Aquarium on Parkside is the perfect example of a participatory, educational display that engages community education in sustainable way. 


There are so many opportunities for libraries to form educational, participatory programming that engages users by challenging their ingenuity. Sustainability education can be woven into the fabric of library service, take place inside or outside of the library, show up formally during a special program or informally in conversations with users. I am inspired by the work other libraries have done and the unique ways my community members provide educational service to others.


Stephens, M. (2020). Infinite learning: Library as a classroom [Lecture].
Stephens, M. (2020). Infinite learning: Learning everywhere [Lecture].
Whitaker, S. (October 15, 2020). Sustainability in libraries [Video].


When I saw the links to the Human Library in the Power of Stories module I knew it sounded familiar. Back in August, my Aunt Colleen had shared a Facebook post with me that had information about the Human Library. At the time, I didn’t seek out any additional information and simply “liked” the post—now I’m intrigued. The Human Library is pretty much exactly what it sounds like: a collection of humans, volunteering to answer questions and share their stories for the sake of education and connection. The organization’s tagline is “Unjudge Someone.” They strive to help people move beyond biases, first impressions and assumptions. Checking a “book” out of the Human Library ensures access to space for truthful accounts of lived experiences, straight from the source. 

This semester I am taking two classes along with the Hyperlinked Library, one of which is Cultural Competence (INFO 281 seminar—highly recommended). In the class, I have taken many implicit bias tests and an in-depth test to assess my cultural intelligence. I have begun critical self-reflection of my biases and how they impact my job as an information professional and my everyday life as a human. Like myself, many individuals and groups are looking to increase their levels of self-awareness, empathy, and cultural competence. It can be really difficult figuring out where to start and what action steps to take. Access to the Human Library—people volunteering to answer questions from others curious about their lived experiences—is a tremendous resource for strengthening cultural competence. One volunteer for the Human Library says, “It’s easy to hate a group of people, but it’s harder to hate an individual, particularly if that person is trying to be friendly and open and accommodating and totally non-threatening” (Elsesser, 2020). Putting a name and a face to a cultural identity can lead to success of the Human Library’s mission for its readers to “unjudge someone.”

Photo by Brett Sayles from Pexels

Not only does the presence of a Human Library afford people the opportunity to grow their cultural intelligence, it fills the inherent need for human connection through storytelling. “Hyperlinks are people too” (Stephens, 2020). Libraries offering a physical space (or virtual space) for people to gather, bridging cultural gaps, makes for a stronger community bound by a newfound shared experience. I cannot recall the last time I sat down with a true stranger and asked them intimate questions about their identity, but I know it would leave a profound impact on me.

The Human Library has made its way to the United States after growing roots in Denmark in the early 2000s. In my information gathering, I discovered that the organization is currently holding events via Zoom, some even in my time zone! The format is similar to the regular in-person process, where you sign up to check out a “book” and meet with them in a breakout room. It’s officially on my list of Things to Do.

Elsesser, K. (2020, July 13). The human library is tackling diversity and inclusion one person at a time.
Human Library. (2020). About the human library.
Stephens, M. (2020). The hyperlinked library model [Lecture].


As someone mostly interested in youth services and working with teens in a public library setting, this YouTube video of YOUmedia at the Chicago Public Library blew my mind. Teens excited and enthusiastic about the offerings at the library? Wow. I know YOUmedia is not the only space of its kind, but having never seen something like this in person I am deeply intrigued. 

Introduction to YOUmedia.

I looked at YOUmedia with the four space model in mind. The model was first introduced by Dorte Skot-Hansen, Henrik Jochumsen and Casper Hvenegaard Hansen to “describe the transformation of the public library from a passive collection based space to a more active space for experience and inspiration and a local meeting point” (Laekes, 2016). 

The Four Spaces of the Public Library (Laekes, 2016):

  1. Inspiration space: opens you up for the irrational, emotional and chaotic.
  2. Learning space: discover and explore the world through unrestricted access to information, play, artistic activities, courses.
  3. Meeting space: open, public space to meet others who are both like them and differ from them.
  4. Performative space: supports involvement and innovation–access to tools that support their creative activities through interactive games, writing, sound, video, workshops, and provides space to display/stage their work.
The four spaces by Dorte Skot-Hansen, Henrik Jochumsen and Casper Hvenegaard Hansen

These four spaces help support the four goals of the public library (experience, involvement, empowerment, innovation).

YOUmedia succeeds at acting as each type in the four space model. Inspiration is found through games, art, instruction, and their peers. Learning is available in the shape of the physical collection and hands-on during workshops (in person and virtual). Meeting is inherent as teens from different neighborhoods of Chicago utilize the space for their various interests and interact with one another. Performance occurs through displays of users’ work, live performances of music, poetry, dance, and other expressions of creativity. 

On CPL’s website, they have linked another YouTube video with a more extensive look into the space–Mark Nieker, the president of Pearson Foundation (which is one of the organizations supporting its funding), talks about how the library was formerly thought to be a space where people take information home with them, but YOUmedia is a space where teens can bring their knowledge and distribute that information to their peers within the space (CPL, 2009). 

Since opening the first YOUmedia space at the Central Library in 2009, CPL has opened mini centers at some of their branch locations bringing the total to 23 in 2020. Currently, only two of the 23 YOUmedia locations are open due to COVID-19. They are continuing to offer many virtual programs that cover a wide range of topics: podcasting for beginners, virtual gaming, a haunted escape room, journaling session, intro to improv comedy workshop, coding 101. 

In past blog posts, I’ve reflected upon how the library can maintain its status as a necessary Third Place and make its way into the community beyond the physical space. I am unsure how statistically successful the programming has been, but I think YOUmedia is a good example of innovation within the public library space (with the help of adequate funding, of course). I’m curious how smaller library systems with less funding can implement a space that aims to do the same–invite teens to inspire, learn, meet, perform.

Laerkes, J.G. (2016). The four spaces of the public library.
Leferink, S. (January 24, 2018). To keep people happy… keep some books.


One of the first things that came to mind for me when I was listening to the Participatory Service lecture is Disneyland. Sounds strange, but! Disneyland was built with the ultimate user experience in mind. The employees are known as “cast members” and the visitors are the “audience,” and I think of the whole thing as one big interactive play. Because there is interaction between the employees and the visitors, the audience is participating in the show and influencing its production. Each day and each person’s experience at Disneyland is unique because they influence the interaction and the events that occur. The same is true in libraries–visitors utilize the space and influence the environment. 

Photo source: 2018 Disney Enterprises, Inc/TASCHEN

Participatory services invite library users to shape their surroundings. An example from Stephens’ (2020) lecture that creates both participatory service and transparency is the addition of a public comment board available for users to read, add comments/questions, and receive answers from staff members. Users influence the space by submitting their own thoughts and feelings that become a part of the physical surroundings. The allowance for response from library staff continues the conversation initiated by the user. 

The library I work at has been in the information gathering stage on its way to building a new Central Library. Last Fall, we asked library users to write their vision for a new building on slips of paper shaped like leaves; we added them to a tree form that was housed in the lobby of the current building. This interaction provided the staff with information about the user’s needs and desires, and their participation aided in the formation of a piece of public art.

Burbank Public Library circulation statistics
(September 2020).

Maintaining a transparent environment lends itself to more open participation from users. It is common for our library system to included circulation statistics in the monthly newsletter (available online and in physical form). Since opening for curbside pickup in June, the statistics made their way into the September newsletter. Opening communication and inviting users to actively participate in the library will lead to more successful and satisfying experience–the question that must stay in view is: “How will we open the door and invite everyone inside to participate?” (Stephens, 2016, p. 81).

Stephens, M. (2020). Participatory service & transparency [Lecture]. Retrieved from
Stephens, M. (2016). The Heart of Librarianship: Attentive, positive, and purposeful change [eBook edition]. ALA Editions.


The Hyperlinked Library Model has the ability to transform libraries as they are traditionally perceived as it strives to move beyond the building and virtual spaces. Libraries connect people to each other and people to spaces and people to materials. The Hyperlinked Library Model means moving beyond the belief that the library is a house for books and into a more open, adaptive, and nimble understanding of the ways in which the library can grow to challenge the creativity of its users and meet their ever-growing needs. 

Photo: outside the Burbank Public Library Spark! Lab (digital media lab), which opened in January 2020.

When the library system I work at closed to the public in March, I noticed how much our service is connected to the building itself and how much opportunity for expansion lies outside of the building and digital spaces. Some of the adaptations that have been put in place include: curbside pickup for physical items, wifi extended to cover the parking lots at each of the three branches, programs now hosted on Zoom, librarians sharing S.T.E.M. videos and craft projects on social media, a teen-hosted video news show as the result of a summer program, business mentoring on Zoom, plus many others. The past six months have been chaotic in the library, working to adapt to changes–but these changes have only strengthened our ability to connect with the communities that utilize the library’s services. 

While I am excited about this growth, I see so much more that can be done to bring the library to people in the community. The Leferink article introduced me to the idea of Third Places, which  “provide opportunities for a community to develop and retain a sense of cohesion and identity” (2018, para 7). How can we adapt the library’s services to maintain a strong presence as a Third Place when users cannot enter the building? How can we show up for the community to encourage learning, facilitate creativity, and foster growth? How can we continue to be a social hub when people are staying home?

The Hyperlinked Library Model got my brain gears moving. I’m excited to discover and create innovative ways for the library to serve its purpose as a transformative space for the community. 

Leferink, S. (January 24, 2018). To keep people happy… keep some books. OCLC.
Stephens, M. (2016). The Heart of Librarianship: Attentive, positive, and purposeful change [eBook edition]. ALA Editions.
Stephens, M. (2020). The hyperlinked library model [Lecture]. Retrieved from