The Westerly Library & Wilcox Park’s Studio Rhode idea sought to connect the library’s mission and work more closely to the town’s downtown art scene. The Westerly Library & Wilcox Park mission is: to “stimulate intellect and spark imagination through access to literature, information, nature, and the arts” and the Studio Rhode project they piloted worked to promote local artists and help community members realize that everyone is an artist in their own way. Westerly’s Studio Rhode project worked to attract non-traditional library attendees and reach populations that may not realize that library is a place to create and collaborate. The ultimate Westerly Studio Rhode goal is to cement the library’s place as a technology and innovation hub.
Westerly assembled an interdepartmental team from adult and teen services, reference, and technology to put together a project that would support the art community in their town while inspiring library users to create art themselves. The project ran from June through October 2017 and integrated new technology into current programming— their Animation Nation group for tweens and teens and their very active fiber arts group—while also launching a few new programs, including a makerspace, oral history collection, and Westerly Arts and Media (WAM!).
As part of Round I of Studio Rhode, the library received a suite of Apple products that included ten iPad Pros with Apple Pencils, thirty iPad Airs, AppleCare+ for all products, one Apple TV, one iMac, one MacBook Air, a variety of accessories, a lock and charge storage cart, and accompanying Apple professional services. In addition to this equipment, they received matching funds to redesign their makerspace, using those funds to purchase reconfigurable furniture, tripods, acoustic screens and paneling, and shelving. With the remaining funds, they purchased equipment for the revamped makerspace, including a Glowforge engraver, VR equipment, 3D printer, audio/visual equipment, conversion equipment, and stop-motion station.
During the pilot, the library successfully integrated new technology into the existing programs as planned. Animation Nation, a Lego stop-motion movie-making program, ran successfully with tweens, while it had to be adapted to a less structured program for teens; the tween program culminated in October with a movie premier for the collaborative stop-motion film Build a Better Monster. The integration of iPads into the already robust fiber arts group (which does crochet and knitting) was well received, and additional workshops on using Ravelry to find and share patterns were welcome.
The new programs were more challenging to implement, as the library simultaneously celebrated their 125th Anniversary, which drew significant staff and volunteer time away from Studio Rhode. The project team also found a dearth of community partners and artists willing to contribute to the project. The original concept for WAM! envisioned a series of live-streamed and archived artist talks, but as a result of the challenges, the team instead created the #ArtistofWesterly hashtag, along with a series of Pop-up Museums to showcase local artists and library patrons’ artwork. The library also renovated an underutilized existing makerspace into a more fully realized and comprehensive maker area they called the “Boiler Room” to support the project’s goal of encouraging creativity and creation in their community.
The Westerly Public Library does not want for space as many libraries do: it has a gallery, auditorium, and the attached Wilcox Park. The library opted to revamp a corner of the library that had been designated a “makerspace” but was not yet fully realized. The newly renovated space was christened the Boiler Room, as an homage to Stephen Wilcox, an industrialist and inventor who donated the original library building to the town and also invented a safer boiler.
The Boiler Room is a flexible, reconfigurable makerspace with a variety of digital tools and fabrication equipment. Because the Boiler Room was open and adjacent to library quiet space, Westerly installed glass doors to buffer sound from the makerspace while still allowing people to see what was happening inside—and perhaps be tempted to come in and create something themselves. The library bought tools including a Glowforge engraver, VR equipment, 3D printer, audio/visual equipment, conversion equipment, and stop-motion station, while also housing the suite of tools from Apple in the new space.
The original Studio Rhode proposal was called Everyone is an Artist, but throughout the project, the team found that many local artists were hesitant to be labeled as such, as were library users participating in art-focused programs. For that reason, they shifted focus away from the term “artist” and toward the term “creator.” This newly designed, state-of-the art space dedicated to creation perfectly captures the ethos that Everyone Can Create.
Westerly’s project also sought to engage tweens and teens in creating through Animation Nation, a lego stop-motion movie-making program. Before receiving iPads and support from Apple, this program was done with one camera that participants had to share. With the new iPads, more children and teens were able to participate at once. It allowed for some kids to take the pictures for the film while others would be building the scenes. To create the videos they used free programs: Audacity for the audio, Gimp to modify images, and Shotcut to edit the film.
The culmination of Animation Nation was a short film produced over the course of the summer. The tweens group had consistent attendance throughout the summer and was able to collaboratively create a short monster film, Build a Better Monster, which premiered around Halloween. There were about fifty people in attendance at the viewing event, as the tweens brought their family and friends to celebrate
The structured program for Animation Nation failed, however, to capture the same interest for teens as it did for tweens. Attendance was spotty, teens showed little enthusiasm for creating a collaborative film and teens’ abilities and interests were quite varied. To address this, the library opted to pivot to more exploratory programs for teens, allowing for independent play and tutoring for teens through Animation Nation.
In the Boiler Room Makerspace, Westerly hosted an iPad Petting Zoo program for teens to give them another chance to dig into Apple apps like Swift Playgrounds (coding), Sketches (drawing), and Garageband (music). As with Animation Nation, teens enjoyed the chance to explore and reported feeling more knowledgeable about using iPads and their resources, despite the absence of structured lesson plans.
Westerly’s Everyone is an Artist project had significant challenges in realizing its original project vision. The 125th Anniversary celebration drew away significant staff, volunteer, and community partner time. Many partnerships with artists did not come together as they had planned, and several ambitious parts of the project had to be altered. Additionally, some team members were pulled away from this project because of staffing changes.
The project team approached this project with a spirit of flexibility from the start, revising project activities to make them more practical and achievable. One goal was to collect oral histories from the community in Westerly, however because they did not have a focus for their oral history collection they found it difficult to find volunteers to both share and collect stories. They also noted that this activity’s connection to the overall project was tenuous, so stopped collecting stories after an initial two were collected.
The library also pivoted away from their original WAM! Project, that would invite featured artists to give talks and display their works. The library planned to use the new technology to document the artists’ works and livestream and archive their talks. This project was not feasible given logistics, so the library pivoted to activities with a lighter lift. They decided to share the work of local artists through interviews and photographs using the hashtag #ArtistofWesterly. They also held five thematic Pop-up Museums—based off an idea from Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History—at which community members could bring in any artwork or craft they had made and add it the museum showcase. From the Pop-up Museums, the project team developed the idea for Free-Create Fridays to incorporate their new technology with the same spirit of creation and sharing.
The project activities that applied the new Apple technology to existing programs were generally successful. Surveys showed that adding the new tools to the tween Animation Nation program and the Fiber Arts programming was well-received
After the transformation of the makerspace into the Boiler Room, the project team started using the space for more iPad-centric technology workshops. The feedback for all these programs was very positive, with more than half of attendees reporting learning something new and being more comfortable with the new technology as a result of attending. Program attendees suggestion the library offer more general iPad classes, virtual and augmented reality technology, identity security trainings, and conversation technology. A year later, the makerspace is being used for library programs and by community groups, including Streamline Robotics, which comes to 3D-print robot parts. With the project window for Everyone is an Artist/Everyone Can Create closed, the library plans to engage in more technology-focused workshops in addition to the art-and-crafts focused programs they created for this project to better reflect community demand.
Throughout the Studio Rhode project, the library discovered that the public really wants to be connected to innovation, whether it is through learning to use new technology or making something in a hands-on program, and so they continue to explore new programming in
Audacity - free open-source, cross-platform audio software
GIMP - free open-source, cross-platform image editor
Ravelry - knitting & crochet community, including free patterns for download
Shotcut - free open-source, cross-platform video editor
Swift Playgrounds - iPad app to teach Apple's coding language Swift
Tayasui Sketches - sketching app designed for creating art on mobile devices