Great Library Ideas: The Artist-Curated Book Display

Colorful PaletteI’ve seen some librarians put together awesome displays. Others, well, they’ve seemed a little more aesthetically challenged. I totally understand: librarians wear a lot of hats, and sometimes, the jaunty beret of the artist is just not one of them.

So, instead, why not reach out to local artists and get them to do displays for you? Win-win, you get an attractive display, and they level up on local notability. The Portsmouth Public Library in New Hampshire has been all over this, not only getting artists to do displays, but displaying their art in the library, doing public talks, the works. Awesome.

(Photo: Eric May)

Great Library Ideas: The Seed Library

Planting Fall PeasSo I’ve been an apartment dweller for most of my adult life—the reckless pursuit of advanced degrees can pretty much guarantee such a living arrangement well into your thirties—but I’ve long dreamed of having a garden of heirloom vegetables. So much so that I even went to a seminar on seed saving once, even though I didn’t have a stitch of ground in which to plant them.

All of which is just background to explain why I find this idea at the Basalt Public Library in Colorado so awesome (and others who have recently jumped in the seed-saving fray).

Now, I’m not terribly keen on how NPR spun the Basalt story, as if public libraries are in need of “saving” from anything other than over-privileged and short-sighted bureaucrats, or as if saving seeds is going to ever justify to taxpayers the public investment, but still: great idea. If public libraries can help improve food security, assist people with learning some DIY skills, and encourage communities to share, that’s fairly awesome, even apart from the rhetoric.

(Photo: Chiot’s Run)

Cory Doctorow on “Libraries, Hackspaces and E-waste”

In a guest post on the Raincoast Books blog, Cory Doctorow writes persuasively about the role public libraries can (and do) play in encouraging information and technological literacy, and how this overlaps with the hackspace movement:

People who say that it’s dumb to turn libraries into book-lined Internet cafes are right … Damn right libraries shouldn’t be book-lined Internet cafes. They should be book-lined, computer-filled information-dojos where communities come together to teach each other black-belt information literacy, where initiates work alongside noviates to show them how to master the tools of the networked age from the bare metal up.

Libraries could do far worse advocate than having Cory Doctorow for an advocate. Read the rest of the article on

(Photo: Jonathan Worth)

John Scalzi on becoming a “self-made man”

I’ve been a big John Scalzi fan ever since reading his collection of essays on writing, You’re Not Fooling Anyone When You Take Your Laptop to the Coffee Shop. As a librarian, I’m an even bigger fan after reading his essay “A Self-Made Man Looks at How He Made It.”

Scalzi, who is the author of eight novels (including the Hugo Award nominee Old Man’s War), writes about how his success is in direct relation to all the help he received along the way, from the food stamps, free lunches and public schooling of his youth to the scholarships and grants that helped get him through college. Not surprisingly, he includes the public library in his list of societal goods:

“Not having to wonder how I was going to eat meant my attention could be given to other things, like reading wonderful books. As a child, many of the books I read and loved came from the local libraries where I lived. I can still remember going into a library for the first time and being amazed — utterly amazed — that I could read any book I wanted and that I could even take some of them home, as long as I promised to give each of them back in time. I learned my love of science and story in libraries. I know now that each of those libraries were paid for by the people who lived in the cities the libraries were in, and sometimes by the states they were in as well. I owe the taxpayers of each for the love of books and words.”

The entire piece is here — it’s really an eloquent and grateful meditation on generosity, whether it’s in the form of paying taxes to continue social programs or extending oneself to help a complete stranger, and how those actions have far-reaching consequences. Wonderful, thought-provoking stuff.

Great Library Ideas: Digital Media Lab at Skokie Public

Digital media labs are popping up at several public libraries across the country, but the lab at the public library in Skokie, a suburb of Chicago, provides a great example. The digital media lab at Skokie includes the basic equipment and software patrons need for graphic design, digital photography, audio and video recording, and more.

So why does this fall under the remit of the public library? This slideshow by Skokie Public Library’s Richard Kong explains quite a bit, but my take, in a nutshell, is that public libraries exist in large part to encourage innovation, creativity, and lifelong learning, and many individuals simply lack the means to acquire the equipment and software needed to learn skills for digital content creation. Resources like public digital media labs could go a long way toward providing those opportunities and bridging economic divides.