Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Serving Artists in Your Community by the team at the Library as Incubator Project

Today I am pleased to feature a guest post from the ladies of the Library as Incubator Project. These ladies caught my eye with their out of the box thinking about how librarians can focus on and serve a select aspect of their community. Today's blog post follows my earlier one this week on Strengthening Community Ties with an audience focus. The Library as Incubator project demonstrates how librarians can serve artists in their communities, but also serves as a model for cultural heritage professionals seeking to engage any audience.  Pick a group in your community with a common interest and focus on their needs. Show how your library, archives or museum can be an information hub for any group you choose. Check out the Library as Incubator Project on the platforms they list at the end of the article for more inspiration. Thanks so much to the Library as Incubator Project team for sharing your unique point of view with ArchivesInfo!


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The Library as Incubator Project was founded in 2011 by Erinn Batykefer, Laura Damon-Moore, and Christina Endres, while we were students in the UW-Madison School of Library and Information Studies. The goal of the Project is to highlight artists whose work has been “incubated” in some way by libraries, and to give artists and librarians a place to connect. Here we present some ideas for library/archives staff on how to reach out to and support the artists in your community.

1. Help artists get to know the libraries in your community.

Don’t assume that every user group in your community knows about the library and - more specifically - what it can offer them as professionals or hobbyists. A lot of fine and creative artists know and appreciate their public, school, or college library but might not know that the services it offers that can really help them develop as artists, writers, and performers. There are a number of ways that you can reach out to artists to create a mutually beneficial library/user relationship.
     Invite local arts organization members to a special library open house geared toward artists. Showcase the collections and services the library provides that would be especially useful to that user group. Or, offer to attend an arts council or arts organization meeting to talk about the library and how it can be of particular use to artists.
     Prepare a set of materials that talks specifically about these collections and services for artists to pick up at the information or reference desk. A generic list of library services can be overwhelming for some people, but putting a special spin on the services (like explaining that the business reference materials can be particularly useful for creative artists starting their own small business) can help focus the guides and make them clearer for users.
     Does your library have gallery space? Make it clear where people can find information about showing their work in the library, online and in the library itself. Brochures located near the gallery space means that users can have their questions answered quickly. Include an FAQ section that outlines artist submission guidelines, timeline/scheduling information, and a specific staff member to contact with follow up questions.

2. Gear (some of) your resources toward artists.

Even if your library doesn’t have the budget for a full-blown makerspace, studio, or performance space doesn’t mean you can’t support artists with library resources. Bibliographies, finding aids, and book lists are always helpful - why not try creating one specially geared toward a type of artist (like reference books for writers, or great books for fiber artists)? Of course, inspiration for creative projects comes from everywhere, not just books written by peers. So you won’t be able to address everything - nor need you! Just put a note at the bottom of a book list to remind users that if they have questions, they can always ask for assistance.

The nice thing about “the arts” is that there are plenty of people who do them professionally or as a hobby - at the next staff meeting, ask if there is a great knitter among you who would be interested in putting together a book display of his/her favorite knitting books. This is a fun way to involve staff from multiple departments.

Artists may also be looking for ways to turn their work into a business.  Promote materials that may be of use to artists and writers trying to monetize their work, perhaps through a “Business of Art” book display.  Include books with details about money and finances, but also about other practical skills like framing and building a website.  Include a list of online databases and resources that may also be of use.

3. Promote workshops to the artists in your community.

If your library holds arts-related workshops, chances are the artists in your community will be interested.  Find out about your local artist groups, crafting communities, and arts organizations and promote your workshops through their newsletters, listservs, or even Facebook pages.   Even if you think a workshop may be too basic for more seasoned artists, you might capture the interest of a collage artist who has been meaning to learn to paint, or a poet who is interested in photography.  Workshops are also a great venue to introduce artist patrons to other resources and materials that may be helpful to them at the library. 

Keep in mind that artists may also be looking to learn skills that are not necessarily directly related to the arts.  Make sure that the artists and writers in your community know about computer software trainings, small business workshops, and social media how-to’s.  Try marketing to the creative community on social media sites where extra plugs to a specific user group come at no extra cost. 

4. Encourage artists to share their work with the community.

One incredibly useful role of libraries in the lives of artists, writers and performers is as a venue for displaying or presenting their creative work. Consider ways that your library can fulfill the role of “venue” for the artists in your community. Serving as a gallery or as a reading/performance space may be an obvious answer, but think about ways to extend that involvement - or to still be supportive of creative work even if you can’t actually showcase it in the library. Artists can curate book displays, prepare recommended reading lists, and facilitate workshops. Offer the option for artists to facilitate a workshop based on their work and incorporate it into your programming schedule (relatively simple if you plan it when you book their gallery show/event). Be sure to discuss what the library will offer in terms of support (whether it’s just paying for supplies, or whether the artist will be compensated).

5. Show artists you’re there for them, 24/7.

One of the most popular responses we get from artists on our survey about how they use libraries is that they wish the library was open 24/7 for those days when the most productive hours are between 11 pm and 3 am.   Of course, the library has to close at night, but the web is always open.  Make sure that artists in your community know about the great online resources your library offers at all times of day and night.

It helps to talk to a few artists and writers. Ask them what kinds of resources they would find helpful when the creativity strikes at midnight. Make these resources easy to access and locate.  Create a page on your website, or even a category for artists within your existing resources page, with links to rich visual resources like the Smithsonian Galaxy of Images, NYPL Digital Gallery, or images from your local/state archives.  If you subscribe to databases that include art, poetry or other creative resources, highlight these as well.  Post bibliographies and booklists online, so users can place hold on those items at any time of day. 

There is a lot that can be done to serve artists at the library, and sometimes you have to start small.  Take one or two of these steps, reach out to the artists and writers in your community, and build from there.  The artists we’ve talked with appreciate all the small things librarians do to make their lives easier, and there’s much for the library to benefit from these relationships as well.

We want your ideas and tips on how to connect your library/archives with artists too! Feel free to get in touch with us at libraryasincubatorproject @, or connect with us through Twitter (@IArtLibraries) or Facebook (Library as Incubator Project). We are always looking to start conversations with new colleagues!

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