New Creativity Paradigms

I've been so inspired by the book New Creativity Paradigms: Arts Learning in the Digital Age by Dr. Kylie Peppler. When I think about what I want to do in my life, not just in my library job, a lot of the ideas are in this book. Its constructionist foundations are an enunciation of what drew me to librarianship; Papert's ideas are so similar to what I’ve been thinking about as an artist and librarian: “Theories of constructionism further assert that people construct new knowledge particularly when they are engaged in designing and sharing an artifact within a community” (2014, p. 10). I have always thought that facilitating the construction knowledge communally is a thrilling idea – though reading over this, it sounds so dry. I just want to help people make things and find/amplify their creativity and connect with each other!

More on New Creativity Paradigms: it’s youth and interest-driven, instead of prescriptive and achievement based. It engages multi-disciplinary arts, including (or especially) technologies. It’s informal, and sometimes falls out of the bounds of what people consider art – ie posting on a blog, or remixing a song, or creating a silly video.

I don't necessarily think these ideas are new. Connected Learning says a lot of similar things, and these theories of education are from the 90s and earlier.I think what Peppler does well is integrate art and Art ideas: “Art with a capital A usually refers to those genres and works at the center of formal arts curricula, embodiments of highly valued creative practices, pedagogies and movements transmitted culturally between generations. Art with a lower case a, on the other hand, includes modes of expression that, while meaningful to its creator, can fall outside of the aesthetic perimeter of formal institutions” (p. 5). I think art is an amazing framework for thinking about how to encourage people to open up to new ideas and to each other and has incredible potential for creating social change, especially when freed from traditional ideas about what makes good art and the purpose of art.

I’ve been thinking of ways to implement this in my library work, and I’ve found that a lot of small ways are adding up to larger ways. For instance, I do open-ended crafts (I call it art) in storytime – none of this stick a pre-cut triangle on a pre-drawn pumpkin kind of thing (nor coloring pages, though I understand their importance in helping with motor skills). So far we’ve done some fun things, including making a “Wish Portrait” out of contact paper and sequins and drawings, and doing “dance drawing” where we dance with pens in our hands. I also am thinking of ways to arrange our makerspace to be more open-ended, inspirational, and encouraging. And I will try to never make a bulletin board that isn’t participatory. I have big dreams for longer programs and art camps and other things that may or may not be right for a library setting in a town where kids are very scheduled and busy, but I’m willing to try!

I do feel like this connects to another article I read recently that I can’t get out of my head. “Locating the Library in Institutional Oppression" by nina de jesus (2014) on In the Library With a Lead Pipe's blog does just what its title says, looking at libraries an Enlightenment and liberalist project, which follow and perpetuate logics of white supremacy – especially slavery, orientalism, and genocide. Those are definitely serious claims, especially because librarians so often come from a place of wanting to help people and wanting to make them more free, not less.

de jesus posits that as a project of the state (the state being more than just the government – it’s also power and privilege), libraries end up perpetuating the racist, sexist, and many other -ist ideas that the state needs to hold power – for instance, wage war on people that have been “Othered” enough that killing them is acceptable to a wider population. Regardless of the intellectual thrust of this article, some of which would need a lot more expanding and expounding in order to convince me, I was mostly taken with its understanding of neutrality in libraries: “The main notion of neutrality that I challenge within this article is that of institutional neutrality. Regardless of many people’s feelings about the coherence of individual neutrality, many have taken it as axiomatic that libraries are neutral institutions and that any failure of libraries to be neutral is largely the fault of individuals failing to live up to the ideals or ethics of the profession, rather than understanding the library as institution as fundamentally non-neutral. Libraries as institutions were created not only for a specific ideological purpose but for an ideology that is fundamentally oppressive in nature. As such, the failings of libraries can be re-interpreted not as libraries failing to live up to their ideals and values, but rather as symptoms and evidence of this foundational and oppressive ideology.”

This argument, that libraries are implicit in perpetuating Orientalism by asserting neutrality, is some of the most interesting to me. In the author’s discussion of Orientalism, which was developed by Edward Said, they discuss information and knowledge: “Part of what made Said’s work so groundbreaking and influential is that he demonstrated the way that knowledge creation within the empire is not (and never has been) a neutral activity and so the knowledge itself cannot be neutral” (de jesus, 2014). This idea is so important for librarians; I think that rethinking neutrality in libraries has a lot of room in it for action (and - librarians talk so much about upholding democracy - can one choose the political system one operates in and then decide to be neutral within that? I don't think so). What I mean by that is – as a librarian, I have absolutely struggled to be as neutral as all the classes in library school told me to be. I think neutrality is impossible in most everything, similar to how I feel about objectivity. There are lots of interesting works on objectivity and science that say what I want to say a lot better.

However, in a library I also think pluralism is possible – that there is room in a library for a lot of viewpoints and ideas, and that viewpoints and ideas are inherently plastic and therefore exposing people to many ideas is vitally important. A library has a role to play in making information available, including criticisms of itself and its funders, and of dominant paradigms, and upholding pluralism and active listening of what information and ideas are relevant to provide and discuss. Understanding that a library is not a neutral space is an exercise that can help librarians think about their goals in their work, as well as how funding sources change mission statements and if we really truly want to model ourselves on business principles, as is sometimes proposed these days.

Another aspect of this article is the articulation of libraries as perpetuating the logic of capitalism. This has become clear to me in the difference in the types of libraries I have worked in – mainly, the difference between a large urban system and a small, wealthy town system. The small, wealthy town library is very financially well supported by its wealthy residents and has access to many resources and people; its model provides the very best for its patrons. The discrepancy between this library and the large urban library I interned with are so stark – that library has very limited funds available for a population that needs the library for basic services as well as for the more cultural spaces a library can provide (think Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs). This logic of capitalism says that if you have more money, you deserve better services because you earned it - but if you don’t have enough money to improve your services, you deserve what you get. This applies to public schools, transportation systems, sanitation services, the prison industrial complex, etc. all over this country.

This connects to New Creativity Paradigms because in thinking of what kind of library I want to be a part of, I want to create a pro-creativity library – one that asks people to think big, look back, and regard each other. I don’t necessarily think that’s a neutral idea – in fact I know that’s not a neutral idea. I wanted to be a librarian because I wanted to create spaces for those ideas and discussions to happen and bloom, and I think that includes thinking deeply about both creativity and the space of the library. This can happen at any library or library-like space – one that is trying to help people by working to open access to ideas and resources to better their lives.