Craft has become a valuable and often strategic tool for librarians wanting to bring creative activity and intrigue into the 21st Century library space.
The beauty of most craft is its capacity to enhance inclusive engagement by transcending many identity boundaries.
A craft activity can perhaps sometimes seem like a tiny occurrence in the grand scheme of things, and not directly related to the library’s overarching strategic plans and objectives. Maybe the most we can summon in explanation for running a small craft activity is that “it would be fun for patrons” or it might “encourage more people into the library“ and so on. Whilst general aims like these are important, more refined objectives are required if we are to control the impact our craft activities have.
Which craft activity to run?
When deciding on which craft activities to bring into the library, we should be clear about what the return will be for all our effort and expense. It has to be about more than fun. Every single thing we introduce into the library brings us either further from or closer to an alignment with (a) stakeholders’ needs, and (b) the vision statement (ours and that of our governing body – council, university, school etc.).
Some questions to consider when deciding on craft activities:
- Why run this craft activity and not the others?
- Who are we aiming to serve/engage?
- What is the pay-off for the library, in a long and short-term sense?
- Which external partnerships might be developed or further enriched through this activity? (Does our craft activity assist other parties’ objectives? )
- How might this activity impact the perceived views of what your library ‘is’, and its reputation?
Delivery is everything
Think of your craft activity as a strategic project. A small activity can indeed result in big impacts if delivered at the right time, in the right way and with the right people involved.
The chosen craft activity should…
- Have a quantifiable objective.
- Comply with the library’s Vision Statement.
- Align with the library’s Strategic Plan.
- Offer a realistic chance of strengthening the power and clout of the library in the long-term (part of continual growth).
Making badges, magnets and keyrings
My staff and I recently purchased two badge-making machines for our high school library; a 25mm machine and a 44mm machine, (for around $350 each, not including badge parts –see my facts sheet).
We bought these two machines in order to:
- Add a new form of creative engagement into the library.
- Own a machine that could produce ongoing merchandise for numerous causes and events.
- Increase teachers’ views of the library as a place that has ‘whole school relevance’ and is worth collaborating with.
Structure and delivery
With regards to structure and delivery, we presented the activity as follows:
Run the activity as an ‘event’ rather than a programme:
In order to enhance the desirability of the activity and build suspense around a potential second badge making event taking place in the future (just before Xmas). Also the parts are not cheap ($30 – $80 for a bag of 100, depending on the size and whether or not you want magnets, keyrings or badges – see my facts sheet), so an ongoing arrangement would not be financially viable.
No limit on the number of badges that can be made:
This enabled students to make mistakes with their first badges, and to feel free to experiment (and they did!). We ended up making a rule up on-the-fly, however, that students could only have 5 badges pressed in one go. That way the queue actually moved and everyone had a fair go.
Advertise as a “free” event:
The history of the word “free” goes back a looong waaay in Marketing. For now, let us just say that if something is offered as “free”, the consumer (patron) perceives it to be something of value (something that probably should cost money normally). Obviously this promise meant that all materials were provided, including a large and varied selection of photos, imagery and old books and comics to cut badge prints from. (I especially liked picking weird words from an old dictionary and making badges out of those).
A special guest
We paid a professional Manga illustrator to come in and assist students with their drawings. This served both a practical purpose and increased the size of the event.
Invite teachers to attend the event. Entice them with emailed photos of your test badges and magnets! Invite them to bring in a photo of their child and make a badge or magnet from it. It is often the case that we must give something away in order to convince people to simply ‘take a look’. The reality is that teachers are incredibly busy people (at least as busy as librarians!), and we need accept that our invitation needs to be a good one!
Ask teachers to help out or to at least drop by and have a go at the badge-making. Ask them to consider the possible uses of the badge-making machines for their own purposes (always to be used within the library space, of course). On the day of the event, we had 5 teachers put their hand up for use of the machines for their own purposes (special school events, marketing assignments etc.) This is a great way to build bridges and encourage teachers to collaborate with and consult the library for their teaching needs.
Our badge-making event was a lot more popular than we anticipated, with 600 badges, magnets and keyrings (collectively) being made by students. We saw students of all ages, and the gender split was definitely equal. About 30 students illustrated their own designs.
An unexpected long-term benefit of this event was that students proudly sported their cool creations on their blazers and school bags, thereby freely promoting the library and its craft activities!
If you are interested in badge-making as a craft for your library, I have included a facts sheet here.