The reason I became a librarian is not because I love books, but because I love learning. I’m a curious individual, and I want to inspire that same curiosity in other people. I could do that any number of ways, but I believe that libraries can be really effective in inspiring curiosity and sparking people’s imaginations. So books and information are OK, but they’re a means to an end. What I am really interested in is the learning, imagination, creativity, and curiosity piece.
That is why I am excited about the trend in libraries to empower their users in non-traditional ways. Traditionally libraries have provided resources for consumption: books, articles, multimedia. Increasingly though, libraries are creating partnerships and offering resources that allow users to not only consume, but to create.
One example of this is the Library as Incubator Project from a group of entrepreneurial students from the SLIS program at UW-Madison (go Badgers!). The project focuses on how libraries can partner with poets, writers, visual artists and other creators in mutually beneficial way. The folks who started this project are re-imagining the library as “a gallery, a performance space, even a studio.” Libraries can be a place to create art and connect artists with the community.
Another trend is the rise makerspaces, hackerspaces, and fab-labs as parts of libraries. These are places for the do it yourself crowd where they have things like computer driven saws, lathes, 3D printers, and electronics benches. These spaces use a very community oriented model with things like shared projects and peer-to-peer learning. These spaces are a global phenomenon, but libraries are beginning to partner and tap into their creative potential.
There are other simpler examples too. There are libraries that lend guitars and offer lessons. My public library in Burlington lends gardening tools like rakes and hoes. Our members are not just reading; they’re painting, growing gardens, writing songs, ginning up prototypes, editing videos, or performing poetry.
Looking at our members not just as passive information consumers but as active creators is a paradigm shift that needs to be happening in more libraries. Instead of READ posters I want to see ALA also putting out CREATE posters who feature artists, musicians, or YouTube stars. Instead of librarians saying “can I help you find something?” I’d also like to hear “what can I help you create?”