All Fun, All The Time

The unofficial motto at our library is “all fun, all the time.” It’s even on our Facebook page. We do a pretty good job infusing it into everything we do and it’s become ingrained in our culture. One of the Teaching Librarians says that if she isn’t having fun in the classroom she doesn’t want to teach. We try to bring a sense of fun to all of the work we do whether it’s our social media presence, our Harry Potter exhibit/events, our chili cookoff, our teaching or our reference. If we’re not having fun we’re probably doing something wrong.

This doesn’t mean that we’re not doing really important work though. It also doesn’t mean we’re not serving our patrons. In fact our patrons take notice. This past semester I had a student ask me “why do you librarians smile so much?” The reason we smile is because we’re having fun. Having fun allows us to better serve our students and makes for a more welcoming, encouraging environment.

But having fun isn’t just about improving the service that we deliver to our users. It also has to do with learning. In the book Homo Ludens, a book dealing with the element of play in culture, the Dutch historian and cultural theorist Johan Huizinga has a great quote. “Let my playing be my learning, and my learning be my playing.” Learning and play are very closely tied. Learning doesn’t just have to be all-nighters and 10 page papers. Most of the time learning is fun.

By creating an atmosphere of fun and play and not taking ourselves too seriously we are creating a place where it is safe for students to experiment, test out ideas, and even fail. That is not always true in the classroom. Students need to succeed in the classroom to get a grade. They need to do the reading and pay attention to the professor. In the library they can be curious and explore their interests in more depth. They don’t have to be bounded by the right answer.

At the NELIG conference last week, the keynote speaker Randy Hensley, said that by calling something play we can pretend that it doesn’t matter. Normally we think about things very practically. But by calling something play we give ourselves permission to be creative and explore different possibilities without having to say “that’ll never work,” or “that’s a stupid idea.” In play all ideas are equally as stupid, thus making them all equally as good. Having a place to play and have fun is important for creativity and learning.

It’s not always easy to create an environment like this though, so how do you go about doing it? Here are a few ideas:

  • Get a motto, mantra, or philosophy -” All fun, all the time” seems to work for us. Huizinga’s “let my playing be my learning, and my learning be my playing” could be another good one. Find one that works for your staff and then infuse it into everything you do.
  • Don’t make everything about academics or tie fun things to academic things – We hosted a Harry Potter exhibit that was tied to several of our general education courses about the scientific revolution and religious and secular traditions. We also have a chili cook-off every year that has nothing to do with academics. Not everything has to be scholarly.
  • Play with each other as a staff –  Recently our awesome new Scholarly Resource and Academic Outreach Librarian Hanna organized a staff button making afternoon where we created buttons from book images to hand out to students. I was really busy and felt like I had no time for button making. But once I started I couldn’t stop. We were all joking with each other, having fun and being creative. It was really energizing. I highly recommend getting a button machine to anyone. Instant team-building excercise.
  • Build fun into your teaching – Be willing to try new things in the classroom. We tried integrating mobile phone polling as a pedagogical tool this fall and it made the classroom dynamic so much more fun. Not only because students enjoyed it but also because it we got to try a new technology. Another example is Amy Springer’s Jersey Shore themed library instruction. Trying out new things keeps your teaching fresh and keeps it fun.
  • Integrate games into the library – Fairfield Library, for example, has created a fun, interactive, online game that orients new students to the library and all it has to offer. There are other games out there and they don’t have to all be electronic. But games are great for injecting fun and play into learning.

These are just a few ideas, but I’m sure you’ve got some others. How do you keep things fun at your library?

If you still need more convincing about the power of fun and play, check out this thought provoking TED talk about Serious Play.

Andy Burkhardt