Conversation with Erinn Paige and Laura Damon-Moore of The Library as Incubator Project (Part 2)

In this second part of my interview Erinn Paige and Laura Damon-Moore of The Library as Incubator Project we talk about makerspaces and more.

Tell me about your involvement with makerspaces and the class that you teach on the subject.

Laura: We came to the conversation about maker spaces pretty early on, and I would say that our main function was and continues to be as a clearinghouse for stories ABOUT maker spaces in libraries. We are by no means the only clearinghouse/info-sharing hub out there on that topic. I think the makerspace discussion fits really well with the LAIP’s focus on hands-on, self-directed, participatory learning, and we consider maker programs a key part of the “arts-incubating” library. Our online course, the Makerspace Mindset (which runs through University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Library and Information Studies Continuing Ed), operates in a similar way that the LAIP does as a whole–it’s a place for story sharing, practical how-to’s, professional development, and lots of discussion about how to approach maker programs and resources in a way that makes sense for your library and your community. Scalabilty is a big thing that we talk about–how a small library can make meaningful maker programming happen without space, time, or extra money.

Erinn: I think the exciting thing about makerspaces in libraries is that it definitely fits into the basic mission of providing access to information, but there aren’t a lot of best practices set in stone yet.  Makerspaces are an exciting service model because they really push libraries toward that platonic ideal of information life cycle– people don’t just consume information in a makerspace, they create new information in the form of new stuff. They learn skills by applying them directly to a project.  I think Laura’s point about scalability speaks directly to the idea that this is new-ish territory for libraries (though the conversation about active learning models has been raging for awhile in education)– there are hundreds of ways to create a space for this kind of information exchange in a library setting.

Are maker programs finding their way into academic art libraries? Which should we take note of?

Laura: They definitely are happening. We’ve published some neat examples on our website. I LOVE the Hatchery, a web resource published by the Glasgow School of Art Library which documents the myriad ways that the GSA Art Library incubates the work of artists at GSA and beyond.  We also were lucky enough to visit the Rakow Research Library at the Corning Museum of Glass in Corning, NY this January. This amazing research library is doing a lot to support hands-on learning and making.

These examples said, I’d love to hear MORE from academic art libraries about maker programs that they’re hosting–I know there’s a lot happening and we’d love to share it, of course!

What do you think are the most important issues facing the arts in libraries today?

Erinn:  Communication.  Both libraries and arts organizations need a crash course in advocacy and PR.  Essentially, you take what you do, and you re-phrase it in the language that politicians speak.  This is a no-brainer, and it clearly works, and yet libraries and arts orgs seem to perpetually struggle with it.  If you’re only talking about what you believe in in terms that make sense to you, you’re preaching to the choir.  You have to communicate it to others in the context that means the most to them.

Just for fun – what is your favorite library? Work of art or artist?

Erinn: My favorite library is the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh – Main, which is in the Oakland neighborhood in Pittsburgh and is in this fabulous, monolithic building along with the Carnegie Museums of Art and Natural History.  The windows in the upper level stacks look out onto the dinosaur exhibits. Plus, the people who work there are incredibly smart and are doing great things.

Laura: I will always have a soft spot for the library in my hometown, Mount Vernon, Iowa. It is a funky library; the Mount Vernon Public Library collection is housed in the basement of Russell D. Cole Library, the academic library on the Cornell College campus. Growing up I thought it was totally natural to be going to watch a puppet show or to check out picture books in the same library where college students were checking out their books and writing research papers.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Erinn:  Follow us!  We have a small social media empire and we share great content and ideas from arts-incubating librarians all across the country and the world.  We’d love to talk to you and find out more about what you’re excited about at the intersection of art and libraries.

Laura: Definitely that we want to hear from you and work with you to tell your arts + library stories!

Conversation with Erinn Paige and Laura Damon-Moore of The Library as Incubator Project (Part 1)

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Erinn Paige (left) and Laura Damon-Moore (right) are at the helm of The Library as Incubator Project. I recently talked with them about LAIP and their other endeavors.

What is Library As Incubator Project and what motivated you to embark on this adventure?

Laura: At this point, the Library as Incubator Project is a multifaceted information sharing machine. We continue to exist online, through our primary website and in social media neighborhoods. We’ve been lucky enough to publish a book based on and extending the work we do online. We also exist in “real life” through public presentations, professional development workshops, and in-person programs that we do for libraries and other cultural institutions.

At the most basic level, the LAIP began as a way to explore the connection between libraries and creative people. Erinn and I came to Library and Information services with backgrounds in the humanities and creative arts. So the LAIP started as a way to explore the connection of creativity, information, and community, to see how it happens formally and informally in the library setting, and then, because we were hearing so many great stories, we knew we had to share them with a wider audience.

What were/are some challenges and rewards in running Library As Incubator Project?

Erinn: It is a constant challenge to juggle a full time job and the LAIP, which could easily be a full time job in and of itself.  We’re both also artists in our own right (hence our interest in the library-arts connection), and supporting a creative life while sharing stories of other people’s creative lives can be a challenge too!

But the place that the whole project sprang from is an elegant support– it’s that egalitarian, helpful library space, AND it’s that hands-on creative space that you find in a studio environment.  We’re very project oriented, and so Laura and I and our team will take on individual LAIP projects that interest us, and when we hit obstacles, we have a whole team who can offer critique, just like you get in a studio:  what’s working, what isn’t, techniques that could help, skills and resources to apply. By the same token, we also really support one another in our creative pursuits.

Laura: I wish we had more time and more resources to do more, more, more! It was definitely a challenge to settle into a routine as we all graduated and juggled job stuff plus the LAIP. For a while it felt like there were a lot of balls up in the air and we were sort of scrambling to sort out who would catch which one as they fell.

Rewards have got to be the community that has developed around the LAIP. This ranges from our teammates, Katie and Holly, to our awesome site post contributors (cough cough, Rebecca, cough) to the people that we connect with on social media and in person at programs and conferences. When we go visit institutions and talk with people, people are generally excited to talk with us, but WE get so much MORE excited hearing about the amazing programs and partnerships people have going on. It’s the best and absolutely why I keep working on this.

What are your “day jobs” and how do they integrate with managing Library As Incubator Project?

Erinn: I’m the Programing Librarian at New Canaan Library in New Canaan Connecticut, which is a relatively new position for me– I just started in 2014.

Although the actual work of running the Library as Incubator Project ( web building, editing, writing, social media, presentations and conferences, etc etc) all happens on my own time, the philosophical underpinnings that guide our work on the LAIP transfer directly to programming librarianship– namely, that information isn’t always something that you can collect and slap a barcode on in order to provide access.  There’s a very real body of “creative information” (for lack of a better term) that can only be accessed in real-world connections: conversations with experts, hands-on learning opportunities, etc. Learning by doing.  Apprenticeship.

Working on the Library as Incubator Project has proven, again and again, that Libraries are central to not just an information exchange (resource –> person), but an information life cycle— people learn, people use what they learn to make something new; that new thing sparks conversation and more learning and more making and more sharing.  Through the Incubator, I’ve seen proof that we can be the alpha and omega of that life cycle, and I bring that ideal to work every day.  That’s what I want my library to be.

Laura: I am the Assistant Director at a small public library in Evansville, Wisconsin, just outside of Madison. My position focuses on Programming and Outreach, mainly with families and youth. I do everything from facilitating early literacy programs to running after school activities to planning and hosting special community programs on weekends, inside and outside of the library.

From a practical standpoint, I am able to integrate LAIP work into my routine pretty easily – I am 80% in my position at the library, so I have one weekday off where I can focus on other things, and luckily, at this point, the LAIP has become a natural part of my weekly rhythm and routine.

Like Erinn, the LAIP has done a lot in terms of directing the way that I approach my job philosophically. It’s about making a space where people feel welcome to explore, learn something new, experiment, fail, try it again, share their work, help others. From another practical standpoint, the LAIP means that we hear about a lot of awesome new initiatives and program ideas. It’s like a smorgasboard of creative arts programming that I get to pick and choose from, depending on what will work best for my community.

Be sure to catch part two of our conversation here tomorrow!