I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how you encourage creativity in organizations in general and libraries in particular. One thing I’ve figured out that seems obvious but perhaps isn’t, is to give people as much space and latitude as you can to create, plan, and execute their ideas for projects and programs.
At Curtis Library we had a large room in the library become available for a new purpose. A group of the librarians saw a project called the The Idea Box at the Oak Park IL Public Library and decided that a variation of that would be a great idea for Curtis.
Without any input or help from me (other than providing a very small budget) The Curtis Collaboratory was developed. The Collaboratory has been defined as “part interactive mini-classroom, part think tank, part play space, part studio, part museum, part gallery and ALL PARTS LIBRARY — the Collaboratory is a dynamic participatory learning experience for people of all ages and interests in our community.”
Every month staff members develop a new display for the room. Some projects are very sophisticated and require a group of people to get the room built. Other concepts are very simple and are developed by one staff member. Staff members volunteer to develop a room idea, usually based on their own passion and interests.
In the past year you might have seen any of the following in the Collab: marble runs demonstrating the laws of movement and gravity; books that you could take “on a blind date”; five different types of family trees; or even a display of hand-made books. The consistent goal is to share information with people of all ages in the community, to create a space that draws people into the library, and to have fun in the process.
We are still feeling our way but it seems like the Collaboratory is becoming a real “thing” in the library. One staff member told me that participating in developing displays for the room has become a highlight of her job. A mom told me that her 10 year old son literally runs into the library on the 1st of each month to find out what the new theme for that month is. The shape and definition of the room changes a bit each month but that seems to be part of the fun.
My learning? Self-directed teams seem to be turbo-charged when it comes to creativity!