The Library as Incubator Project connected with Justin Hoenke, who is a Teen Librarian at the Portland (ME) Public Library, in December 2011.

Does your library offer arts-related programs or services?

To answer your question, yes and no.  We don’t offer any programs for teens on an ongoing basis, but we do offer arts related programs from time to time.  Most often, our projects are done in collaboration with The Telling Room, which is a Portland, ME writing and creativity center for teens.  The Searching for ME program was done in collaboration with the Telling Room and the Maine College of Art.  Being the teen librarian, the target audience for my projects are 12-19 years of age.

One of the other events we’ve done in the past is the Game On! Envisioning Your Own Video Game writing workshop which was also done in collaboration with the Telling Room.  You can read more about that workshop here.

Do you ever promote resources specifically for artists and/or writers?

The non-fiction collection in our teen library is what I like to call a “shelf of curiosity and inspiration.”  It’s not your typical non-fiction collection.  Gone are the books that talk to you about stuff, and in turn I’ve stocked the shelves with books that inspire teens to think differently and create something of their own.  One of the books in our teen collection that I always point out to teens is Notations 21 by Theresa SauerI always tell the teens to look at this book not as a music or design book, but as a book that takes something that already exists and makes it into something brand new.

If I have any kind of displays happening at my library, I try to make whatever is displayed stuff that was actually created by teens.  It’s really refreshing and inspiring for teens to see stuff that they made on the walls of a public library.

Does your library function as an art gallery or performance space in any way?

My library does have its own art gallery but for the teen programs I always have the events in the teen library itself.  It gives the teens who are coming to these events a sense of belonging to the actual space.  In our teen library, we’ve had everything from original artwork created by teens on our walls to bands performing in the library stacks to teens making their own music in our study rooms (here and here).

How do artists use your library?

Every day after school we get anywhere from 30-60 teens using our teen library space.  I see the teens making music, art, and videos on their laptops everyday.  A lot of them also sit around and doodle, and the almost always give me their finished products.  I’ve got quite a compilation of teen artwork created in the library that someday I hope to put together and feature in the library!

This image gallery is a collection of pieces that teens completed in the Portland Public Library as part of the Searching For ME program, where teens designed their own story in their image. The program was a collaboration with The Telling Room and The Maine College of Art. All photos are courtesy of Justin Hoenke.

Do you consider yourself an artist, either professionally or casually? Have you used your library or other libraries for your own creative work?

I’m a musician as well as an artist, so I think that’s really helped me view the library in a different way.  A lot of people that I talk that are outside of libraries to seem to think of libraries as places that have a lot of stuff that you can borrow.  I’ve always seen them as places that give you inspiration to create neat things, whether they are for school, personal use, or work.

And yes, I always use the library for my own music!  I’m constantly checking out music from the library and learning about new artists.

What kind of additional services to artists and writers would you like to see at your library?

I would love to see libraries have more space where people can create things.  People call them hackerspaces, digital labs, etc, but I like to think of them as creative spaces.  They can have instruments, art supplies, technology, or whatever in them.  The only rule for the creative spaces?  Make something!

What does the phrase “library as incubator” mean to you?

Libraries are community spaces where the community can visit and explore.  Part of exploring involves creating things, and to me that’s where “library as incubator” comes in.  Our libraries should be helping our community members create.

You can keep up with Justin Hoenke on Twitter @justinlibrarian, on his blog at or at tametheweb, where he is a contributor.

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