Creative Spaces Support Lifelong Learning
Creative spaces are concepts that are rich in possibilities and opportunities for today’s libraries. In the simplest of terms, a creative or creativity space is any place where people can create, tinker, play, explore and discover through a variety of materials, tools and interactive discussions. These spaces of inspiration and imagination come in many shapes, sizes and price points. They can be anything from a table or a booktruck filled with arts and crafts supplies to a learning garden outside the library to a full digital media center. Whether a public, academic or K–12 library, a creativity space provides an opportunity for offering services that engage users of all ages and backgrounds, addresses their needs and interests, and supports lifelong learning.
The Changing Landscape of Education
The addition of creativity spaces in library environments is not driven by an arbitrary trend to keep libraries relevant but out of necessity to meet the changing landscape of education. Research has shown that self-directed, experimental, content-rich learning promotes executive function skills, a term that describes the management of cognitive processes, including working memory, reasoning, task-flexibility and problem-solving as well as planning and execution. Strong executive function skills are instrumental in shaping one’s success in school and in life. A focus on hands-on learning is being widely adopted in schools today to support the recent changes being made in assessments and curriculum. These curriculum changes are driven by the national commitment to early learning and the adoption of Common Core State Standards and assessments.
Furthermore, the climate of economic uncertainty in America that began in 2008 is now turning to innovation as the way to ensure a prosperous future placing a great emphasis on Science, Technology, Engineering, Art (Design) and Math — the STEAM subjects. All of these subjects require an environment which can provide hands-on experiences.
A Chinese proverb reinforces the importance of providing hands-on learning opportunities: “I hear and I forget, I see and I remember, I do and I understand.”
Offering environments that promote creativity and innovation is a natural evolution for libraries today as they continue their universal mission to support education and promote life-long learning.
Types of Creativity Spaces
Early adopters of libraries as locations to support content creation immediately added makerspaces with high tech equipment such as 3-D printers and laser cutters. However, as this trend continues to gain momentum, libraries are beginning to look at the concept of creation spaces in much broader terms. The result is more targeted services that best meet the interests and needs of the specific community. Offering a variety of opportunities for physical and digital creation geared toward both independent and collaborative work leads to a rich learning environment attracting a diverse group of users. As a result, it is important that library programs are designed to adapt to these opportunities.
Creativity Spaces & Collaboration
Creativity spaces should be designed to allow for easy collaboration. Most of the activities listed in the graphic below provide opportunities for users to work together. Examples of group collaboration opportunities in a creation space include a couples cooking class or a large robotics project in which individuals work on smaller elements and then come together to create the finished product.
Room for Individual Study Too
It is also important that creativity spaces easily adapt for independent study and exploration. Many of the activities detailed in the graphic below can also be independent pursuits. One might assume that a co-working space is needed for collaboration, but a quiet workspace may be all that is needed for completing an individual task.
Programming Specific: Libraries provide organized, structured programs for users to learn special skills.
Project Specific: Spaces and tools are provided so users can complete specific projects in either organized classes or at their own pace.
Free Form: Spaces and tools let users experiment on their own.
Since physical and digital activities can be both collaborative and independent in nature, designing flexibility into the spaces to support these two types of activities is important.
No matter what type of space you are planning, a good creativity space always takes into account:
- Users’ current interests
- Individual/personal exploration
- Group sharing and exploration
- Adaptability and flexibility
Understanding the Program
In planning any library space, it is important to take the time to understand the programming requirements. To best understand how the space can serve the library’s mission of offering a creativity space, below are a series of questions to help you engage in proper discussions to help ensure the remodeled or new space will properly support the services that the library will offer.
Encourage the library staff to seek input from users to establish a direction in terms of activities and types of spaces based on community interests and suggestions. Share images of the possibilities and let users provide feedback. Set up a series of focus groups with various parties: parents and caregivers, teens, adult users and non-users, community leaders and business owners. It is important to understand the types of programs that interest the community to be sure the proper infrastructure is developed to support these activities.
Plan of Action
Keep in mind creativity spaces are active learning environments that will have different requirements than traditional library programming. Pay special attention to lighting, acoustics and access to power. Incorporate changes in flooring to best serve the types of activities such as hard surface materials where arts and craft activities or science experiments will take place.
Select furniture and finishes that are easy to clean, allowing people to create without worry of damaging things. Furniture should be durable and moveable so that it can be easily rearranged as needed. Incorporate the feature of height adjustability when appropriate. Ergonomic chairs are necessary for those tasks that require a considerable amount of sitting time. Plan for storage needs up front and consider a variety of storage options. For example, lockable storage is needed for items that should only be accessed by staff, and open storage works for items that should be easily accessible to users. Strongly consider using casters on tables, chairs and storage units to make it easier to clear out a space for other programs. For larger spaces where programming will be conducted, incorporate some type of mobile instructor/leader podium workstation. Areas should be clearly signed in terms of wayfinding and instructions. Choose signage solutions that are flexible so they can be easily changed as appropriate for the activities and instructions.
Brainstorming with library staff and the communities they serve about the possibilities should be an integral part of any library building and renovation project. The opportunities for incorporating creativity spaces in libraries are endless and necessary to best support today’s educational landscape.
Kim Bolan Cullin
Latest posts by Marisa Amara (see all)
- International Library Spotlight: Holy Cross College, Bury, UK - April 6, 2016
- International Library Spotlight: The Forum Towcester, Northhamptonshire, UK - January 6, 2016
- On-Trend Products for Today’s Libraries: 2015 - October 14, 2015
- Creative Spaces Support Lifelong Learning - September 9, 2015
- International Library Spotlight: Kingston Library, Milton Keynes, UK - June 5, 2015