Show Me the Awesome: Immersive play in the 21st century library

Show Me the Awesome Banner by John LeMasney at lemasney.com.
Banner by John LeMasney at lemasney.com.

Hello! Some of you visiting today will be regular readers of this blog; others may be here as part of Show Me the Awesome: 30 Days of Self-Promotion for libraries and librarians, a great project to help librarians around the world to celebrate their work.

So if you don’t know me, this is the Big Secret: I’m not actually a librarian myself, but currently an adviser to Auckland Libraries, the largest public library system in Australasia. (My wayward career is best described on my ‘About Me’ page). I make up fun stuff for people to do in public spaces, and so today I’m writing about immersive play in libraries. By¬†‘immersive play’ I mean activities which physically draw your library patrons into the world of a book, artwork, or other piece of media – whether through craft, gaming, roleplay, or content creation.

The big revelation for me came when running a workshop to decide the future of Auckland’s collections management policy – not, frankly, the sexiest task in a public library service, but most rewarding in the long run. Not just because we had a cathartic Nerf gun shoot out as part of the activity, but because I discovered the UN’s Missions of the Public Library.

(I go on a lot about this document, but it’s something really worth hammering home).

The mission statement doesn’t even use the word “books”. It talks about reading, sure – but this is not a manifesto for shelves. Instead, the focus is on activities like stimulating imagination and creativity, providing access to cultural expressions of all performing arts, supporting the oral tradition, and providing opportunities for personal creative development.

That’s an especially big deal in New Zealand, where a lot of the discussion about future branding of libraries revolves around their historic association with books. Wherever you are in the world, that “libraries = books” equation comes up a lot, especially when libraries’ enemies want to imply that they are outdated and can be supplanted by digital means, as happened in the Huffington Post last week.

So, how do we bring those missions of creativity, play, independent learning, and performance to life while remaining true to libraries’ heritage of literacy and reading? Let’s see if we can do it in six bullet points… Read more