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Making a place in the community: Public libraries go “Outside the Box”

Jennifer Pearson /

Public libraries across the country are learning the art of placemaking by creating shared, fun entertainment events in their communities. Outside the Box is a community initiative funded by Redbox. Libraries work with OCLC and the Project for Public Spaces to learn about public placemaking, and work with community members to put plans into action by hosting public entertainment events. The goal is to build community through shared entertainment experiences.

Project for Public Spaces explains placemaking this way:

“Placemaking is how we collectively shape our public realm to maximize shared value. Rooted in community-based participation, Placemaking involves the planning, design, management and programming of public spaces. More than just creating better urban design of public spaces, Placemaking facilitates creative patterns of activities and connections (cultural, economic, social, ecological) that define a place and support its ongoing evolution. Placemaking is how people are more collectively and intentionally shaping our world, and our future on this planet.”

Libraries in five communities worked with OCLC and the Project for Public Spaces last year to pilot the program. They planned events, including concerts, movies, block parties and more. The pilot produced 12 events and reached more than 3,000 people.

The libraries began by hosting community members in a placemaking workshop led by the Project for Public Spaces. During this workshop, they learned about placemaking principles and how to apply them in the best way for their space and community needs.

They then used the principles to plan their community events. Redbox supplied each community with materials and support to help make the events successful. For some events, this meant Astroturf, tables and chairs—for others, outdoor movie screens and pop-up tents. One library even hosted a 21+ 1980s themed dance party.

Through the process, the libraries gained new knowledge and experience in planning community programs directly with stakeholders. They drove community conversations and created new partnerships and perceptions in the community. They received positive exposure in a new role. And they also took away long-term ideas for their outdoor spaces. In Columbia, South Carolina at Richland Library, Columbia mayor Steve Benjamin asked library director Melanie Huggins if they could make their parking lot “pop up park” permanent.

This year, we’re at it again. New communities have been chosen from a competitive application process to participate in the 2014 Outside the Box program. They are:

  • Athens-Limestone Public Library, Athens, Alabama
  • San Pedro Regional Branch Library, Los Angeles Public Library, San Pedro, California
  • Winter Garden Library Branch, Orange County Library System, Winter Garden, Florida
  • Ada Community Library, Boise, Idaho
  • Pembroke Public Library District, Hopkins Park, Illinois
  • Bedford Public Library, Bedford, Indiana
  • Spencer County Public Library, Rockport, Indiana
  • Carter County Public Library, Olive Hill, Kentucky
  • Rocky J Adkins Public Library, Sandy Hook, Kentucky
  • Livingston Parish Library, Livingston, Louisiana
  • Shrewsbury Public Library, Shrewsbury, Massachusetts
  • M.N. Spear Memorial Library, Shutesbury, Massachusetts
  • Springfield City Library, Springfield, Massachusetts
  • Pontiac Public Library, Pontiac, Michigan
  • William P. Faust Public Library of Westland, Westland, Michigan
  • Chemung County Library District, Elmira, New York
  • Wallkill Public Library, Wallkill, New York
  • Bath Community Library (BHM Regional Library System), Washington, North Carolina
  • Sevier County Public Library, Sevierville, Tennessee
  • Pottsboro Area Public Library, Pottsboro, Texas
  • Spokane Public Library, Spokane, Washington
  • Gillett Public Library, Gillett, Wisconsin

These libraries will use training videos combined with individual guidance from the Project for Public Spaces and OCLC to create events using placemaking principles. Each library will also get to choose up to $5,000 worth of materials, courtesy of Redbox, that they can use to enhance their outdoor events.

Even if you’re not participating in the program, you can take advantage of the training tools and placemaking guide available on the Outside the Box website to create your own placemaking ideas for your community, because when people connect, communities benefit.


About the Author

  • Jennifer Pearson

    Jennifer Pearson

    Jennifer is the Senior Manager of Advocacy Programs for OCLC. She works with other OCLC staff and members to advance OCLC's advocacy work.

    Jennifer came to OCLC from Ingram Library Services where she served as Manager of Cataloging Services for five years. Jennifer has worked in almost every aspect of the library industry—including time as a publicist for a small publishing house, an elementary school librarian, student worker at a University law library, ILL staff member at a University library, and bookseller/barista at one of the finest independent book stores in America (Square Books, Oxford, MS).