Creating at the Public Library - from Art to New Careers

Did you know that your public library isn’t just a place to access content, but also a place offering support for you and your community to create content as well?

Everyone knows that their public library is the go-to spot for finding books, music, movies, and other forms of entertainment. But did you know that your public library isn’t just a place to access content, but also a place offering support for you and your community to create content as well?

Public libraries have long been institutions dedicated to serving their communities in a diverse number of ways, and have entered the modern age with full force. From makerspaces, areas devoted to providing a supportive space and time along with materials to learn and explore creativity through means such as physical and digital art, 3D printing workshops, computer programming, electrical engineering, and robotics, to creative writing workshops, historical and genealogical research, theatre practice and performances, and the rental of filming equipment, to assistance with self-publishing and even fully-functional internal publishing houses, the ways in which your public library can help you find inspiration, pick up a new creative skill, or even carry an entire project to completion are an invaluable asset to creators of all ages, demographics, and skill levels.

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Grammy award-winning rapper, songwriter, and activist Chance the Rapper, got his creative start with the help of the Chicago Public Library system’s YOUmedia program, a program started in 2009 which serves teens wishing to explore their creativity across 11 Chicago locations, including a 5,500-square-foot hub in the Harold Washington Library Center. YOUmedia centers include spaces for casual expressions of hobbies including gaming, music, and other performances all the way up to fully-featured programs supporting music production, graphic design, electronic and computer engineering, and more.

Chance the Rapper’s story mirrors that of other Chicago natives such as rapper Vic Mensa who went on to perform with Kanye West or artist Phillip Brooks who earned an artist residency with the esteemed Kennedy Center after having the opportunity to flex and develop their creative skills within the Chicago Public Library system. Chance the Rapper talks about the city-funded center fondly, recalling: “You can learn music theory there, they have production software classes, you can take engineering classes, DJ classes… The big thing was the open mic…. 30 kids trying to perform different poetry pieces, people coming up there footworking and breakdancing, doing standup, singing and rapping…”. These are only some of the stories originating from a single public library system of a single city. The potential to foster and develop creative skills and headstart a professional career as an artist or engineer is untold and growing still across America’s public libraries as whole.

When looking for a creative space or program at your local library, a common term you will encounter is that of a “makerspace”. So what is a makerspace, exactly? Typically this term describes a collaborative workspace open to hobbyists and professionals alike, filled with materials and equipment for use such as computers, painting supplies, 3D printers, silkscreens, and more. What materials are available at your local makerspace are highly dependent on the input of the patrons and a continuation of secure funding for the library, which is yet another reason why joining the fight for public library funding in America through organizations such as EveryLibrary is so important!

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The makerspace can be a critical resource not only in developing creative skills and careers, but also in educating users in useful 21st century STEM subjects including computer programming, hands-on electrical engineering and robotics training, 3D modeling and graphic design, and more. Learning and developing these skills in the public library system can help to build the experience and confidence necessary to apply them in the world at large with successful results. The Fab Lab, a makerspace at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library in Washington, D.C., for example, gives access not only to 3D printers, but also contains laser cutters for etching wood, metal paper, and even pumpkins, wire benders, machines for milling wood and aluminium, and the technical staff to train in their use.

The Sacramento Public Library and Bethlehem Area Public Library, will allow you to publish and print your own books. Libraries across Illinois promote local authors. At the San Diego Public Library, learn how to become a citizen journalist at the hands of professionals. These programs and more are offered at public libraries across the nation, and such creative programs and spaces offer support for all ages. From small children having their first experiences with materials and direction not found in the home or the classroom to teens and young adults discovering their passion for writing, acting, programming, robotics, or painting, to adults of all ages getting the chance to pick up a new skill or receive the support they need to push their hobby project into the professional sphere, the creative potential of the public library reaches above and beyond the already valuable service of providing traditional entertainment and reference services.

What are you waiting for? Head over to your local public library or check online today to see what opportunities to flex your creative muscles or those of your friends, family, and community as a whole are available! Get in contact and let them know what else you would like to see, and don’t forget to vote in support of your public library and your community and make sure the power to learn, to make, to meet new people, and find a new profession is available to everyone. There’s never a better time than yesterday to get started on something new, but until some enterprising library patron invents time travel with the help of their local makerspace, the second-best time is now!

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