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.

The American Library Association has provided a fantastic opportunity for small and rural libraries to develop creative communities around a variety of topics. Our library was awarded one of these * Libraries Transforming Communities grants, which provided funds and training for library staff to facilitate community conversation on a selected issue.  Our project addressed the challenges of educating children during these pandemic times. Our goal: to foster a creative community by sharing ideas and generating ways to work together to meet these challenges.

I knew that the subject matter was important and that the need to communicate, collaborate, and, yes, commiserate was very high. I had a vague sense that I might be entering some choppy waters, especially when a patron heard what our topic was and blurted out “Wow! You’re really going there?”  But the potential benefit outweighed any discomfort I might feel, and the training provided by the grant gave me a measure of confidence as a facilitator.

Some great ideas came from a parent who chose to offer possible solutions rather than dwell on everything that had gone wrong, and her family’s educational experience had been especially frustrating. While attendance in our scheduled community conversations was skimpy, those who participated made up for the low numbers with their high level of engagement. Phone calls and email conversations kept the dialogue going.

We learned that the library didn’t have the educational resources that parents could have benefited from as they tried to help their students learn over the past year. This grant provides needed funds to purchase materials, and we now have input from school personnel to ensure that we buy resources that support the curriculum. We realize that homework help needs to be more available in our community outside of school hours. We don’t have all the answers, but we are forging connections to become a community that creatively confronts these challenges.

In order to be sure that children’s voices were part of the community conversation, I visited a group of youngsters combined from our church’s summer day camp and the village’s summer recreation program. Some had enjoyed school, whether in person or Zoom, and had maintained good reading habits, while one bragged that he only played video games. This illustrates a significant problem looming ahead: Children will return to school with an increasing divide between those who are at, or near, appropriate grade level and those who have fallen behind. More than ever, we need creative community collaboration to tackle this problem.

The children had many concerns about going back to school. Worries about needing homework help outside of school hours. Concerns about trying to make up what they didn’t learn last year while keeping up with the current year. As their list of concerns grew, I wanted to offer reassurance. But, I couldn’t tell them that they wouldn’t need to wear masks anymore. I couldn’t promise them that their internet connection would stop bumping them out of zoom meetings. I couldn’t reassure them that they’d be able to work closely with their friends. But I could offer them one thing they could do.

“If you read for fifteen minutes a day for the rest of the summer, your brain will be getting ready for the learning you need to do in school.” I thought I was repeating something they had been told before, but one middle school gal looked at me with genuine surprise.

“Really?” she asked, not in a smart-alecky way. (I’ve raised two girls through the teen years and know the difference. And what would be the benefit of lying about such a thing?)
“Yes. Reading just fifteen minutes a day will help your brain prepare for the new school year.” I like to believe that they all embraced this revelation.

Finally, I asked them what they thought would help them learn. Hugs, they said, and being able to work with their friends. “Working with others makes me feel more powerful!” An adorable six-year-old elaborated. Me too, Lily, me too.

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

*Libraries Transforming Communities: Focus on Small and Rural Libraries is an initiative of the American Library Association (ALA) in collaboration with the Association for Rural and Small Libraries (ARSL).

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.