Column Description: This column will explore ways to cultivate creativity, community, and connections. Beyond connecting people with materials, it will consider how to forge connections between people and their community, people and their creativity, people, and other people. With a focus on collaboration and the philosophy that great things can happen when nobody cares who gets the credit, this column intends to provide inspiration and encouragement to cultivate imagination and develop a creative community.
(Dedicated to Pama Lebarron (10/19/46-12/30/20) founding member of the Write Circle.)
I used to tell people that our little library was like “Cheers without the beer,” that friendly neighborhood place where everybody knew your name. You’d stop in for “just one” and then make yourself at home, lingering to chat like a bookish Norm. The book tender at the counter stood ready to pour out reading recommendations, while people clustered together in various parts of the library doing creative things. Providing that feeling of at-home-ness has been just as important to libraries as helping people connect with materials and information.
Then the pandemic pulled the welcome mat out from under all of us.
Members of the Write Circle had been meeting at our library every Friday morning to get their weekly writing fix. What would become of this community of writers without their regular watering hole? This program was our first to move online, and the transition was a success for several reasons.
People were highly motivated to hold onto this important part of their weekly routine. They were willing to try whatever was suggested, most had some extra time on their hands, and they were persistent despite difficulties. With so many other avenues of adventure off-limits, tackling online technology became the new frontier. With help from our library system’s Digital Services Librarian, we began to navigate the terrain of Jitsi, Zoom, and GoToMeeting(Thanks, Megan!). Some things I learned:
- You can’t create a better sense of being at home than by being at home! Being welcomed into someone’s space creates intimacy and connection. Who doesn’t love watching someone’s cat meander across their desk? What better antidote to feelings of isolation?
- Online creative communities help maintain one’s sense of purpose and allow for sharing of goals, accomplishments, craft tips, and overall encouragement.
- Online programming expands the reach of the library. Those who are geographically distant, those at home in quarantine or caring for others, people who lack transportation are all given an opportunity they didn’t have before.
- Working with an already established creative community is a big plus. Developing such a community from scratch, completely online, is more challenging.
- Email invitations to potential group members and welcome them to practice using the meeting link with you in advance to work any bugs out.
- Encourage all members to communicate through the email group list, whether they attend online meetings or not. (Write Circlers send weekly accountability reports and excerpts from works-in-process.)
- Keep your cell phone and group member numbers handy so you can troubleshoot when technological difficulties come up during a meeting.
- Juggling discussion online can be difficult. The internet is not always consistent, especially in rural areas. There are delays that result in people talking over each other, background noises surface and interfere, while faces appearing and disappearing at random can be disconcerting.
- Facilitating a group conversation with folks who have a wide variety of views and beliefs during a time of unrest and uncertainty can lead to some “cringy” moments. This is true whether meetings take place in person or online, but seems to be more difficult from a distance.
- Frustration caused by technological difficulties. Microphones and cameras that don’t work properly. Finding out that nobody heard the most brilliant thought you’ve ever expressed (which you’ve now forgotten) because you were on mute.
- Not everyone can participate. Pama had no internet at home and used only a landline phone. While we kept in touch through occasional cards and phone calls, we never saw Pamaagain before she passed away. This dear woman had given wise feedback and fabulous hugs. She is deeply missed.
Prompt: Write about feeling at home someplace that isn’t your actual home. Or write about someone making him/her/their self at home someplace they aren’t expected to.
You are invited to send your response to the prompt for the possible inclusion of excerpts in my next column. Also, please send your ideas for cultivating a creative community to me at email@example.com.
Beth Hadley is the Library Manager of the Sinclairville Free Library in western NY. Her library career began when she volunteered to facilitate a group for writers at the library. The Write Circle has continued to meet under her leadership for over 18 years, having successfully transitioned to the virtual environment in March 2020. When the position of Library Assistant became available, she applied for the job since she already haunted the library offering unsolicited reader’s advisories. Upon her promotion to Library Manager, Beth threw her plans to be a reclusive writer out the window with no regrets. She holds a BA and MA in English from SUNY Fredonia, and her poetry has been published in the Time of Singing journal as well as in Wordstock (Poets’ Hall Press, 2016) and Coast to Coast: The Route 20 Anthology (Foothills Publishing, 2018). Beth believes that every person has a story to tell and that there is tremendous value in sharing those stories. Outside of the library, she enjoys looking out the window to observe birds at the feeder while claiming to be plotting the Great American Novel. She can also be found watching Beverly Hillbilly reruns, shamelessly laughing when Granny trips over her rocking chair and does a somersault. Don’t let the cardigan fool you.