Creativity, like information, is free to everyone who steps in the library. The Artist’s Library (Coffee House Press, 2014), a guide to using libraries as creative spaces, by Laura Damon-Moore and Erinn Batykefer, provides the guidance and resources to make a public library come alive as spaces for art-making and cultural engagement. The following excerpt is from “Using the Library as a Workspace.”
Crafting a Creative Space from the Public Library
Novelist Madeleine Roux had a deadline from her publisher looming when her personal laptop died. Her solution? Head to the library on the Beloit College campus in Beloit, Wisconsin. “Completing my sequel could have been much more difficult, but I had a cozy, quiet place to work, a little home away from home for a few weeks. It’s hard to say if it inspired part of the novel, but just having that peaceful atmosphere is invaluable to a writer.”
The work of writing is usually a solitary pursuit. For many writers (even those with functional laptops), the public or university library offers a midpoint between a quiet office and a bustling public space—we affectionately refer to this as the “kitchen effect” (the phenomenon wherein people gravitate to the kitchen, even to work independently, to be in the presence of others). You may find a similar effect at a coffee shop or bookstore, but the library provides a no-charge option, plus ample opportunity for tackling creativity fatigue, as we’ve seen in previous chapters.
Even if you already have a favorite writing spot, a change of scene can do wonders for productivity and can help combat writer’s block. Try incorporating your public library into your daily or weekly writing rhythm, perhaps by sitting and writing at one of the study tables for two hours every Saturday.
Do you already do your best writing in your library? Make the most of your time there by using the collection to take a mental break. Spend half an hour reading something completely unrelated to the project you’re working on. Explore the library’s book displays and book lists, or chat with a librarian to get reading recommendations. Plunge into the genre areas of your library (westerns, romance, mysteries, science fiction), pick out the most outrageous and “unlike you” title you can find, and read the first chapter. What can you learn about your own work from a different kind of writing? How is the writing style of the book you chose effective or ineffective for the story?
Some libraries also function as studio spaces for visual artists, digital artists, musicians, and craftspeople, whether as a “third space” away from both home and office, or as a convenient place to get some work done while traveling. These studios may take a variety of forms, from a digital media center (where users can work with equipment to produce films, audio, and more) to a worktable where users can make and share craft and other art projects. The Minneapolis Central Library not only has an extensive sheet music collection, but also a piano room that patrons can book for private lessons or practice time. Some libraries even have guitars and other portable instruments available for checkout! On the more technical end of the spectrum, Brooklyn Public Library’s Shelby White and Leon Levy Information Commons offers a range of studio spaces for traditional and digital projects that community members can use. Studio spaces for film and music production, complete with lighting, green screens, sound-editing software, and a variety of other tools are all available through the Info Commons; workshops and tutorials complement the new space and give people the opportunity to learn to use new equipment and technology for their creative projects. Such high-tech spaces are wonderful resources for creative types who don’t have the room or the money to outfit their house with studio spaces.
The “studio” space does not have to look like a typical artist’s studio, as Nathan Yeager’s library drawing group demonstrates. Nathan is a resident of Gig Harbor, Washington, a public library patron, and an artist with a day job. He wanted a place in Gig Harbor where he could practice his art with other artists, at a time that worked with his schedule. He approached the library and worked with staff there to book the library’s public meeting room on a regular basis so that he and other hobbyists could get together to practice their art in a “just formal enough” setting. The library did not need to provide drawing instructors or drawing supplies—just space.
Traveling can sometimes put a cramp in your creative style, especially when you’re on the road for long stretches of time, or if you just don’t have a lot of room in which to work when you’re on a trip. Luckily most communities have a public library that by its very nature is open and available to all, even out-of-town visitors! Stop by the library to see what kind of workspace is available, and set up shop on a free afternoon. Let library staff know that you’re visiting and are looking for a quiet place to work—they may be able to tell you about rooms you can reserve, computer policies for visitors, and more.
Does your community have an art supply swap? Some libraries host these events, where artists bring (gently) used or excess art supplies to share and trade with each other. If you’re interested in this type of program, ask to speak with the librarian or staff person in charge of programming.
Excerpt is reprinted by permission from The Artist's Library (Coffee House Press, 2014). Copyright © 2014 by Laura Damon-Moore and Erinn Batykefer.