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Play Make and Learn in the Sparta Free Public Library

Monday, March 25, 2019

On a night not long ago at the Sparta Free Library, community members who rarely interacted in the past had lots of fun together. It was all thanks to the library's commitment to Play Make Learn principles.

Through a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, Aimee Schreiber, youth services librarian for the Sparta Free Library, was able to coordinate book discussions, book kits, famous author visits, all leading up the to the “Better Together” culminating event. The goal of the event was to bring together a diverse audience to celebrate books, authors, and their community by creating crafts and activities selected to highlight Latinx culture.

stencil chalk art
Stencil chalk graffiti created during the Better Together library event.

Programming activities took place at both the public library and the middle school to reach more people and serve multiple needs, another goal of the grant. “We were hoping that these gatherings of workshops and big-name authors could bring more diverse audiences together,” Schreiber said. “The Better Together event was designed to do this. Spanish and English were spoken at the event and the crafts were a big draw. It was positive to see members of the Latinx community come to the event and praise it.”

death mask spoons crafts
Death mask spoon crafts created during the Better Together library event.

The event aligns with the purposes of libraries. Schreiber said, “We talk about the five elements in libraries: talking, singing, reading, writing, playing, looking at the idea of play make learn, and prioritizing experience within the library. I think the library is reaching a wider variety of people now that we have embraced this broader philosophy.”

Libraries have always been places people come to learn, to access information. Now libraries are also spaces to provide experiences people want. Playing and making, including the idea of makerspaces, are having a big moment, particularly in libraries.

The Sparta Free Library offers story time to provide experiences in teaching early literacy skills. They have an interactive play center to encourage play and imagination and positive peer interactions. Every Monday is a “groovy Monday,” starting with a dance or rhythm story and 30 minutes of dance activities with props like shaker eggs and bells, with a built-in opportunity to model behavior for parents and guardians. They also do a “board in the library night” (an all-ages board game event), and host Lego club each month.

Purposely exploring and understanding different needs in the community has positioned library staff, including Schreiber, to better serve their community. “The idea of a library experience is that you are promoting this shared resource space. It highlights how valuable our community members are,” she said.