For nearly ten years, Jaime Kopke has been devising ways for museums and other cultural organizations in the Denver metro area to engage their audiences, beyond serving as reliquaries presenting art and information behind a symbolic wall of glass. After helping found the local Pecha Kucha and running the short-lived but innovative participatory pop-up the Denver Community Museum on her own dime, the museum professional went on to manage community programs at the Denver Art Museum before ending up in her similar, current post at the Boulder Public Library.
While Kopke worked at the DAM to plug the public directly into the museum's collections through innovative programming, her job at the BPL points customers beyond the books and media on the shelves. Although the library is already operating ahead of the curve by presenting inviting public programs like the hands-on Building 61 Makerspace, Kopke aims to push the BPL even further into the future by helping to draft a new master plan based on information gathered during the upcoming Library Lab, two full days of programming on April 5 and 6 meant to inject fun and community input into the planning process. We asked Kopke to explain what Library Lab is all about. Here's what she had to say.
Westword: Describe your job at the Boulder Public Library.
Jaime Kopke: My title is Program, Events and Outreach Manager, but my job is basically about community engagement. The library not only serves as a resource for people to access information, it is also a place for people to connect. My role is to strengthen the possibilities of those connections by creating programs that resonate with people both personally and at a community level.
How do your goals as a library programmer fit into the master plan?
As a city department, the library works to serve the needs of the community, and those needs are always evolving. A master planning process allows everyone to come together and create a guiding vision in collaboration so the library can remain relevant and meaningful to its users. I always want our programs to be relevant and meaningful, too, so this planning process is exciting to me and connects with the work I try to do every day.
How will Library Lab help accomplish those goals?
For the master plan, the library is undertaking many different paths to gather community ideas and input. Some are more traditional, such as a community-wide survey, which is open now, and focus groups down the road. But we also want to try some different tactics, which may reach beyond our normal participants. By being a bit experimental and offbeat, maybe we can bring some new voices into the process. And perhaps waffles are the perfect icebreaker!
Library Lab will be an interactive installation set in our gallery. Everything is meant to be hands-on and participatory, but it offers different avenues for people to engage. For people who are more visual thinkers, we have a word wall to do some collective visual mapping, and for kids, it's a coloring survey. For the hands-on folks, we have a station where people can build with notch blocks to answer questions such as, "How did you arrive at the library today?" People can literally build a structure from their answers. Or perhaps music is your jam: We have a group of singers coming in to lead an improvisational workshop collecting words/ideas and crafting them into a song. Sometimes it's just about trying a new approach or invitation, and then great conversations happen!
Why is it important to tap the community in this way?
A master plan is a reflective process, asking not only about the library and its services, but more broadly about what kind of community people want to be part of. By asking some of the bigger questions, like "What do you want for your community?,” we are letting our plans be in response to larger, transformational community goals and less about the day-to-day operations. Shifts to operations may come, but it will be as part of a collective higher purpose/goal. The community is the driver for all of this.
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How will the Library Lab programs engage people?
It's going to be fun and experimental. We have a lot of library staff who will be directly involved, because we want to make personal connections with the citizens of Boulder. Our director will be serving up waffles one morning at an Idea Barter Station. This is a spot where we'll trade you a free fifteen-minute service in exchange for your thoughts. Also available will be hand massage, face painting and trims/styles from a local salon. We promise the librarians will not be cutting your hair.
But like all community engagement, we need people to make it work, so I really hope folks stop by and feel free to play. We purposefully designed the activities to cater to a variety of time commitments. We know most folks will be bumping into this on the way to their real destination, so there had to be ways to let people participate in a minute, or stay for a while.
Library Lab is open during regular library hours of 9 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, April 5, and Thursday, April 6, at the Boulder Public Library. Day-of sign-up is required for Idea Barter Station services (operating from 10 a.m. to noon daily), and space is limited. Learn more online.