Adult programs tend to have a lot more to do with learning than they do with making. How do we balance the scales of creative programming to give our older patrons more opportunities to create?
by Ally Blumenfeld
If it seems like children typically have more fun in the library than adults do, it’s probably true. Where are all the art supplies in the library? In the Children’s Department, of course! And who’s waiting to get on a public computer to print out tax forms? Adults. When I was handed some of the programming reins at Paterson Free Public Library, my first call to action was creating a Game Night for Grown Ups and an Art Night for Adults. Why should kids get all the fun?
For Art Night, I wanted to start small, so I started with adult coloring. I’m not typically one for trends, but this is one bandwagon I hopped on with fervor. It couldn’t be simpler: free copies of “adult coloring book” pages abound, and coloring pencils, tables, and chairs aren’t hard to find in a library. In our current climate of tight budgets, coloring is a cheap and simple way to get adults creating in the library. It’s less pressure than, say, a figure drawing class or a paint night. Patrons who do have advanced art skills bring their own sketchbooks or drawing paper, and create alongside those simply coloring inside the lines. But creative programming can be so much more than just coloring.
Libraries in cities like mine are too often overwhelmed by the great deal of need our patrons bring with them to the library. We offer help with needs: access to social services, healthcare enrollment assistance, and computer classes. We need to balance this with wants: relaxation, creativity, entertainment, and conversation.
South Brunswick Public Library in South Brunswick, New Jersey has one of the most well-rounded adult program calendars I have ever seen. From Tai Chi to Cooking Club, English Conversation Group to World Cinema Club, and Yoga Class to Knitting Club, adults come to SBPL for more than what they need — they come for what they want. Adults also come to the library to create: SBPL offers biweekly Zen Coloring and Drawing and a monthly craft program for adults.
Barbara Battles, Head of Outreach Services, explained that the way the library is staffed helps to provide a wide variety of programs in many different interest areas. A part-time librarian runs the cooking program; the librarian who purchases the DVDs runs the film program; book clubs and computer classes are run by several different librarians; and Battles, with a background in fine arts, runs the crafting program. Additionally, the library utilizes the interests of its volunteers to host programs and classes: volunteers are free to offer their talents as opposed to being put to work in the stacks. Programming at SBPL is a library-wide effort, allowing for a huge range of diverse and creative programs for adults.
Everyone has something to escape from, and many people have at least the most basic inclination to create. ~Jill D’Amico
And adults certainly come! Jill D’Amico, Head of Information Services, says, “Everyone has something to escape from, and many people have at least the most basic inclination to create. We did it as younger people in school, and now, in a low-pressure place where you can work alongside others without competing, adults are free to experiment and try new things.” For the adults in my library, Art Night is about re-connecting with an old hobby in a judgment-free zone. It’s a chance to flex the creative muscles we ardently encourage among children, but forget to foster in adults.
What do you think? Are enough libraries inviting their adult patrons to indulge in creative projects, whether it be coloring, cooking, crafting, or writing? How can we better utilize the talents of our staff and volunteers to improve the range of our adult programming?