This post was originally published on August 21, 2013.

When I heard Lori and Jess speak about alt+library at ALA 2013 in June, I was struck by a mention of a “Bad Art Night.” What a great way to get everyone creating art at the library, with no expectations or inhibitions! I knew that I wanted to hear more, and today they share this and other programs going on at alt+library. Enjoy! ~Holly


Artwork from alt+library’s Bad Art Night

By Jessica Zaker and Lori Easterwood

If Bad Art Night, Broke A$$ Holidays, and Punk Rock Aerobics don’t sound like typical public library programs that is because they aren’t supposed to.  With the Sacramento Public Library’s alt+library programming we’ve tried to create library events that are fun, irreverent, and appealing to a 20s-30s audience.  alt+library programs are developed with a specific audience in mind—a 20-30 somethingish person without kids, probably single, maybe new to town.  Programs are never limited to an age group, but aiming for this target audience helps us create events that appeal to a segment of the population who might otherwise only think of the library as a place to dart in and pick up their holds.

We were initially inspired by a presentation at PLA 2010 called “If You Didn’t Work Here, Would You Come Here?”—and the answer for our programming team (at the time all fitting into that target audience mentioned above) was, “Um, maybe…no, not really.”  So, like any good librarians we scoured the internet to see what our peers were doing that we could, you know, steal, and came across some fantastic programs like Genre-X out of Oak Park Public Library and Fresh City Life from Denver Public Library.  alt+library started with a book club held in local bars and coffeeshops (ahem, thanks Genre-X) and eventually expanded into a meetup group that features the library’s most unusual programs. All of our programs are pretty homegrown/cheap, so capitalizing on the talent and enthusiasm of our staff is important—from craft (Lori) to fitness (Jess)–we always make sure that we really love whatever it is we’re presenting.

Here’s a quick rundown of some alt+library favorites:

Bad Art Night

Not sure where this idea came from initially (it definitely didn’t originate with alt+library) but it is always a hit—this year will be our 4th Annual Bad Art Night.  Here’s how the program goes:  we put out all the crafting odds and ends we can find (glitter!), plus watercolors, acrylic paint, and canvases if they are on sale, and ask people to let loose their tasteless side.  After creating for about 45 minutes, the crowd votes for the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly—prizes include paint by numbers kits and paint donated by local art stores.

Broke A$$ Holidays is another chance to clear out the craft closet.  We offer a number of simple projects that can be assembled quickly so participants leave both with gifts and ideas for things to create at home on the cheap.  You should google iris folding right now—every librarian should know how to iris fold.   The name of this program is the real draw—it always gets featured in the local free paper (popular amongst our target audience).

Punk Rock Aerobics/ Heavy Metal Yoga

Again, they come for the name, but they stay for the burn—this is a serious workout.  Jess initially led these programs and she’s tough—her favorite quote from a participant, “I’ve never been this sweaty at the library!”  Most of the people who come to alt+fitness programs are first time library users—they’ve heard about the programs through roller derby or the gym that now leads the programs (for free!).  So, if you don’t happen to have a fitness guru on staff, try hitting up your local gyms for programs.


Jess in the library on skates!

alt+library now has a blog, a 560+ member strong meetup group, and its own Friends group.   If you want to know more please get in touch!




Lori Easterwood is the Programming and Partnerships Coordinator for the Sacramento Public Library—which means she has the best job at the library—she gets to schmooze, write grants, and hear people say “I didn’t know the library did that!”…a lot, too much really—libraries need to get out more.  To that end Lori also serves on the Boards of Access Sacramento and 916 Ink.
Jess Zaker is the supervisor/librarian at the McKinley branch of the Sacramento Public Library. She also skates and coaches for Sac City Rollers as “Lipstick Librarian”. You can be sure no one misbehaves in her branch.

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