Director’s Brief – Harnessing the creativity of the community

Creating a participatory space for creativity and education at the library has the potential to fulfill many of the needs and desires of the community and the library. In addition to the place being somewhere for people of all ages to create, learn, and try new things safely, it promotes interaction within the community and between the library and the community. Participants learn by experimentation and from one another, and the library learns more about the community’s interests. The library becomes not just a place to hear or read stories, but a place to share stories and make new stories within the community. Creative spaces can be anything from low-cost interactive community art activities to technological trial-and-error learning centers, and anything in between. By blending several trends in library participatory spaces, we can facilitate hands-on learning and play for all ages.

Please read the full brief, below:

Infinite Learning

Visitors also ask if it’s loud and messy. “Yes, it is,” Craddock tells them,“because people are loud and messy.”

Luba Vangelova, 2014

I particularly enjoyed the description of the “next-generation school library” presented in Luba Vangelova’s 2014 article, “What Does The Next-Generation School Library Look Like?” Though it was describing a high school library, I felt that it was also providing a template for libraries of all kinds and for all ages. A place for people to be animated, to converse, to share stories, and to play. You might say, “what about learning?” and to that I would say that all of those activities involve learning. The library is already a place of one kind of learning, but we need to expand what we think learning looks like.

Humans learn first and foremost from one another, as we are social animals. Writing and reading came afterwards. However, there is an expectation that as people age, they move away from learning through play and activities towards learning from books and instruction. Structured learning through reading and instruction are still important, but we need to make space for learning in other ways.

Vangelova described how there was a change in the student culture as an adaptation to the new circumstances. The students who initially reveled in the anarchy of the new library gradually learned and taught the new students that there was benefit to balancing responsibility and freedom. The key here to me was a change in culture. It’s not enough to change the space alone, you also have to change the way people understand the new social rules of the space and how learning doesn’t have to only happen in one mode. We still need to have spaces for quiet study, but we should also design our libraries to have spaces for people to learn noisily.

I think it is important to acknowledge that adults need play and to experiment with new technology almost as much as teens and children do. Modern culture leads adults to believe that play and learning are strictly childlike activities that one is expected to grow out of, but I think that is capitalism’s affect on our culture. Adults need opportunities to play and experiment and learn by trial and error. Think about the way that we learn as we grow: babies babble and try to touch and bite everything, children say silly things and make up words and invent new games, teens push against boundaries and test limits of what is physically and socially possible. When we become adults there is an expectation that we give a lot of that up.

NPR: Scientists Say Child’s Play Helps Build A Better Brain

But I think that, for example, adults would be able to learn new languages better if they felt it was acceptable to make errors while they learn. Nobody wants to say a new word the wrong way, or to accidentally say something embarrassing, or be judged for using the wrong verb forms. But children don’t feel that way while they are learning their first language, they allow themselves to make errors and they learn from them.

This is all to say that I think libraries need to give people of all ages a place to play and try new things without being afraid that it is the wrong thing to do. We learn best from one another, by listening and imitating and making things up. There should be places for people to experiment with new software or technology so that they can, as my alma mater’s motto stated, “learn by doing.” We should give people opportunities to make videos and podcasts about things that interest them and share those with their peers. The makers learn the tools and techniques of the recording and editing, and the audience learns about something that their peers enjoy.

Michael Stephens talked in the lecture for “Learning Everywhere” about the value in telling stories; we need make the library a place where people will not only share stories, but make new stories to tell. Maybe one day we’ll more often hear:

“OK, so, you gotta hear about this. So the other day at the library, we…”