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7 Big Myths About Libraries

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Americans value their libraries, but there are still misconceptions about libraries that exist among folks who maybe haven't visited a library in a while... or haven't visited one ever! Since we at the Library as Incubator Project work hard to highlight the many ways that libraries and artists can support each other, we thought we'd turn some of these misconceptions on their head by looking at them through an artsy lens.

#1: Libraries are quiet spaces--all the time, everywhere
While there are many libraries that offer quiet areas for their patrons to study, read, and contemplate, the era of strict shushing by librarians is pretty much over. The atmosphere is changing as libraries incorporate more hands-on programs, performances, and lively workshops into their program offerings. Consider the concert series sponsored by Get it Loud in Libraries from the UK, or the lively Literacy Smackdown, a robot vs. monster battle facilitated by educator Dr. Matt Finch in Australia. These programs turn the image of the "quiet library" on its head and embrace a creative vision of the role of the public library--as a space to experience new music, not just in recorded formats but live as well, and as a place to tell stories through role play.

#2: Book clubs are snooze-fests
Think book clubs are only for stuffy literary types? Think again. Book clubs are finding new life by targeting their audiences. Now there are book clubs geared toward 20- & 30-somethings, like the alt+library Book Club from the Sacramento Public Library, or Let's Talk About Texts at the Middleton Public Library in Middleton, Wisconsin. Lots of libraries, like the D.C. Public Library, are pairing literature and libations by hosting book clubs in local bars. With the Book to Art Club in Madison, Wisconsin, and elsewhere around the country, readers make creative responses as a way of investigating the characters, themes, and stories of their book club titles.

#3: Library craft activities are old-fashioned, boring, or for kids only
Crafts? Old-fashioned and boring? Not so! Libraries are all about making things these days, and the hands-on stuff isn't just for kids. The alt+library in Sacramento holds a Bad Art Night where adults are encouraged to make art - no rules and no talent needed. Handmade Crafternoons at the New York Public Library is a series of workshops in which participants make projects inspired by the library's collections. The emerging trend of makerspaces in libraries provides opportunity for learning and creating in new ways for all audiences, and The Bubbler at Madison Public Library offers a programming model for making in the library that engages an entire community.

#4: Libraries are about books--and that's it
Hate to read? Libraries offer so much more than books. Even apart from snagging the most recent DVD release of Game of Thrones, most libraries these days offer really awesome classes. For free. Take a contemporary dance class at Flushing Library in Queens, or attend a jazz concert at Hartford Public Library, or get your geek on at Cincinnati Library's own freaking Comic-Con. And that's not counting all of the amazing maker programs libraries offer now, from Basics of Beekeeping to Learn to Solder. Libraries are all about connecting people with information, even when that information lies in the expertise of an artist/maker/craftsperson rather than a book.

#5 Libraries are boring
Behind many of these other misconceptions, there lurks a single, pervasive complaint: "Libraries are just so... boring." On this, we couldn't disagree more! Libraries are subversive; we champion banned books and challenging ideas. Libraries are vibrant; we bring members of the community together. Above all, libraries are a gateway to information, where YOU can connect to YOUR interests. Are you interested in gaming, board games or movies, or music? Libraries not only have all of this available for checkout, we increasingly have the resources to help you create your own multimedia. Libraries are boring? Only if you expect to be bored.

#6 Libraries are for nerds
An extension of number 5, this misconception assumes that if libraries are boring, the only people who actually enjoy them must be nerds. Which means this misconception is not so much about libraries as it is about people. We're happy to report that libraries are indeed for nerds and that everyone-- everyone-- is a nerd about something, which means that libraries are perfectly placed in the center of their communities, where every person-- young and old, rich and poor, mathlete and punk rocker-- can get to them. No matter who you are, libraries are a gateway to what makes you nerdy, and can put you in contact with information and media you might not be able to access elsewhere. Libraries collect new records from their local music scenes, teach people how to code, how to DJ, how to take better pictures or make their own movies, and so much more.

#7 Libraries are for little kids
It's true that many libraries-- public libraries in particular-- put a lot of time and resources into children's programming to make sure that young children have a strong foundation in literacy skills before they even get to school. What you might not know is that literacy doesn't end once you learn to read-- there are many kinds of literacy (digital literacy among them) that are essential for success in the 21st century. You gain literacies throughout your life, and play is an important way to acquire skills, whether you're 3 or 63. Library programs that explore media, making, and literature bring all of these literacies together in one place and allow patrons of all ages to continue learning and gaining skills throughout their lives.

The Library as Incubator Project team includes Erinn Batykefer, Katie Behrens, Laura Damon-Moore, Holly Storck-Post, and Angela Terrab. The LAIP is based in Madison Wisconsin but lives online here. Follow the team as they write about libraries + art stuff on Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest. And, be sure to check out their new book, The Artist's Library: a Field Guide from the Library as Incubator Project [Coffee House Press, $23.95].