The Library as Place Maker (2013)

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We’re delighted to welcome Kauser Razvi to the site today for the first post in a series that will explore Literary Lots.  This project got a lot of attention in the spring with a Kickstarter campaign; now they’rer working to re-purpose abandoned spaces and bring art and literacy programs to the children of Cleveland OH in partnership with the Cleveland PL. It’s exciting stuff– don’t miss it! ~Erinn

Cleveland is a city in transition.  Between building new places, dealing with a declining population, and muddling through new economies, it’s figuring out where it’s going .  On top of all of this, Cleveland is also trying to maximize possibilities in empty spaces – spaces left from long-gone businesses, foreclosed and abandoned homes, and spaces cleared and unplanned. People are thinking of new ways (and some old ways) to reuse the space.  Over the last few years, old spaces and odd places have been converted to pop-up shops, roller-rinks, concert venues and community art shows.

Between keeping an eye on these happenings and taking my kids to pop-up events, museums, festivals, and on regular neighborhood walks, I started thinking about how I might be able to marry the inventiveness of the pop-up and someplace I love to go and take my kids – the Public Library.

I take my kids to the library as often as I can. We check out books, magazines, movies, music, and audiobooks. We even have a “library bag” in the car with discontinued books from the Library Sale as well as the latest audio book and maybe a few other library finds.  Living in a city like Cleveland, I see how full the library in my neighborhood is all the time – the computers are always booked, kids wander in after school or on hot summer days, and men and women come before and after services from the Catholic Charity in the winter to read, play chess, and warm-up. The library resources in all their dimensions are used.

In my city view, libraries are central anchors in neighborhoods.  As the distance grows between those who have and those who have not, the library acts as an equalizer. It is a place to access knowledge and experience that people may not otherwise find at home or school.  And while the library is a central asset to neighborhoods, it’s often a place one enters alone and leaves alone.

So, I thought, what about bringing the library outside?  And bringing other organizations into the library?  And so this marriage between the pop-up, the library, and the need to bring people together around something amazing like a great children’s book came to life in the form of Literary Lots.

The idea of a Literary Lot is to bring children’s books to life by re-creating images, scenes, and ideas from those books in tangible, visible, and physical ways over a few weeks of summer.  While many urban neighborhoods are close to institutions (such as museums or non-profits) with programming, families in many of these neighborhoods may not have the means to attend.  Being geographically close to a cultural or institutional asset doesn’t mean that someone can access that asset.  One of the main goals for Literary Lots is to bring institutions together in a place they may have previously  dismissed as vacant or empty.  Literary Lots wants to transform once-empty spaces into new experiences for kids to see books in a way they never have before – by walking through them. We want people to bring their kids, participate in programs, play, or just sit and read all day in a place that’s there, in their neighborhood – someplace literally “out of a book.”

Luckily for me, the Cleveland Public Library director was open to the idea and willing to work to create the Literary Lot for the summer of 2013.  This year, we’ll be focusing on food-themed children’s books (think Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, Strega Nona, Stone Soup and others).  The art pieces are being designed to include a stage, a tea party space, giant spaghetti tubes to crawl through, and sandwich boats to sit on.  Together the Cleveland Public Library, Ohio City Writers, and Art House will create a series of youth programs along with a whole set of community programming.  We’ll be having a “double feature” movie night based on our favorite food books (the Chocolate Double Feature pairs Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (the old version) and Like Water for Chocolate). We hope for tea parties, author’s visits, and a Cleveland Salon to talk about eating well with our children – as well as audio recording sessions to capture and share the personal stories we each have about food.

I’m not a librarian, but libraries are critical community assets that can be tapped and leveraged in many new and different ways.  Their physical presence in a neighborhood highlights the importance of access to knowledge as well as the opportunity to come together in a free and open space for collaboration, discussion and creation.  I totally believe that something magical happens when you put these things together.  So, let’s see what magic we can create with Literary Lots.


KauserRazvi_headshot Kauser Razvi grew up in the suburbs of Chicago and attended college in Boston and has been an urban dweller ever since. A love of cities and their complex problems as well as their exciting possibilities led Ms. Razvi to study sociology, journalism and urban planning. Thanks to a career of more than 15 years spent untangling complicated systems, processes, and projects in the public- and nonprofit sectors, she’s mastered speaking “bureaucracy” while also speaking Spanish, Urdu and learning Arabic with her kids. One day, she’ll finish writing that children’s book and clean her desk a bit. She currently lives in Cleveland with her family and actively volunteers and serves on the boards of organizations whose missions focus on youth, education, community development and vibrant urban life.

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