Administrative Coordinator Tufts University Boston, Massachusetts
Background: How do librarians connect to students when most resources are online? How do educators foster community on a campus without a student center? How do students balance the demands of graduate study with the need for time outside of the classroom? One health sciences library has found an answer, building a robust program of “Fun Labs” that bring students together for non-academic activities in a re-envisioned 21st century library space. All it takes is glitter, glue guns, googly eyes, and a willingness to try something unexpected.
Description: On a dense urban campus with little space to spare, the library is the gathering place for 3000+ students looking to study and unwind. Fun Labs were born out of a need to better serve the non-academic needs of the community, while acknowledging the hectic pace of graduate student life in the Health Sciences. After one successful craft project involving pumpkins and quick-drying paint, library staff realized that simple, fast art projects in the unconventional setting of the library had potential as an exercise in relaxation and community-building. We soon started planning events monthly and experimented to uncover the best days of the week, time of day, and projects for maximum student participation. Projects were designed to be inexpensive, creative, self-directed, and portable, so students would not need to reserve a large block of time to participate.
Conclusion: Fun Labs continue to be popular events, and new projects are added based on student suggestion and continuous evaluation of which crafts draw the most participation. While the goal initially was to provide relaxing activities for stressed students, the program has evolved in unanticipated ways. Fun Labs bring together students from all academic programs on campus, provide a novel and unexpected way to use the library, and help to demystify the library and librarians by creating a relaxing “third space” outside of the rigors of the laboratory or classroom.