The impact of Libraries as Creative Spaces
Ready access to information through digital media has challenged the perceived societal roles of public libraries. Since the mid 1990s, libraries have reoriented themselves towards public participation beyond lending and reading. Libraries now offer an increasing range of community-focused creative activities.
Library spaces are transforming. In addition to housing archival and loan materials, desks and reading spaces, libraries are becoming even more flexible and activity-oriented. Given these transformations, understanding and demonstrating the new contributions public libraries make to their communities is critical.
In 2015, the State Library of Queensland (SLQ) commissioned researchers at the Digital Media Research Centre at Queensland University of Technology (QUT) to explore the impact of libraries as creative spaces.
The objectives of the Libraries as Creative Spaces project were to:
• Investigate the community impact of creative spaces in public libraries
• Provide clear evidence of this impact
• Articulate the opportunities to further embed creative spaces in public libraries or community spaces.
The methods used included:
• A contextual review of thinking regarding libraries as creative spaces
• A literature review on the evaluation of creative activity in libraries and creative spaces more generally
• Interviews and observational field research at selected Queensland libraries
• The development and refinement of an evidence-based Creative Spaces Impact Framework
• The development of an associated rich media package (including videos, photos and digital stories) showcasing library-based creative activity across Queensland in 2015.
The contextual review highlights the attention being paid to makerspaces as a site of creative activity in public libraries. However, the review also points to the many other ways public libraries are facilitating creative activity. It also demonstrates that while libraries have been formally evaluated for more than a
hundred years, only recently has there been a concerted effort to develop frameworks that can qualitatively assess the social impact on individuals and their communities. Moreover, few of these frameworks directly assess libraries as creative spaces.
Following the contextual review, an extended literature review was undertaken for two reasons. Firstly, to develop our understanding of how creative spaces are evaluated (outside the library context). And secondly, to develop our understanding of how libraries are evaluated in more general terms. From this initial evidence base, a preliminary Creative Spaces Impact Framework was developed.
The framework was used to interrogate creative activity at five public library sites across Queensland – Ayr, Cleveland, Helensvale, Roma, and Victoria Point.
The framework was revised in conjunction with the fieldwork and further feedback from a range of stakeholders. A summary of the final Creative Spaces Impact Framework can be seen in Table 1.
The Creative Spaces Impact Framework allows for the evaluation of libraries as creative spaces through the creative activities they enable. These activities may be formally organised by the library, informally enacted by library clients, or involve a combination of both approaches. The contents of the framework
represent a range of impact potentials, some of which will be relevant to certain library creative space activities more than others, if at all.