5 whys to invest in a Creative-in-Residence

Creative-in-Residence Dr Matt Finch and Library staff member Emma Constance in front of Toowoomba Public Library, Queensland

In 2016 the library I work for employed a Creative-In-Residence, Dr Matt Finch. This investment was pitched to senior management as having two main focuses. Firstly as an inwardly facing role, the selected professional would lead our library staff on a journey to increased community participatory practice in designing our public programs. The second outcome envisaged was an outward facing strategy to bring new networks, partners and to showcase libraries in creative practice. This pilot needed a special creative and in 2015 our library approached Dr Matt Finch, then in the UK, to ask him to take on the 12 month role. Matt had worked in a variety of public library and GLAM organisations. He also had a track record of producing innovative public programs with participation, gaming and fun at their core — some of which involved zombies. This was a considerable investment for the library service as it involved reallocating a vacant permanent staff position to fund this initiative.

Here are the 5 whys to take to your management to encourage them to invest in an innovation like this:

  1. Inject new energy into your teams — and be prepared for the energy generated, energy expended and energy demanded of your staff. The Creative-in-Residence is there to encourage new ideas, meld those ideas into a program and deliver it. Programming ideas came from new areas including our traditional back of house and collections areas with the Face Lab a lasting favorite.
  2. New connections — a Creative-in-Residence brings their own global connections to the role. Matt came to us with access to the British Library collections as a Creative Researcher and with his connections the library was able to add local content to Poetic Places, an app that helps you to encounter poems and literature in local locations, accompanied by audiovisual materials drawn from archive collections.
  3. New thinking — and be prepared to be challenged whether you are Front of House staff or the CEO. Matt brought ‘participatory’ practice into staff briefings, management planning meetings and in evaluation. This new way of thinking can be challenging for staff who are comfortable with the status quo and bureaucratic reporting practices.
  4. Broadcast your library practices to a global library audience — Matt was also invited to be a guest blogger for The Library as Incubator Project on his year as Creative-in-Residence. Matt is perennially curious and met with every team at my library service and reignited that sense of wonder for all that we do in libraries in the teams as seen through his eyes.
  5. Talking Turkey and World Domination — enjoy very different partnering opportunities with serious researchers. This game has gone on to be a learning resource for educating children about scrub turkeys. Everyone had fun including the academics involved.

Matt will not be available until 2018 as he has extended his time here and is seconded into another role working with public libraries and our professional development stream and will then go on to work with a University to finish 2017 in Australia. Our experience of a Creative-in-Residence has challenged us, energised us and engaged us in innovative practices which has sometimes been uncomfortable. Above all though we have learned stuff!

I challenge you to work out how your library can invest in an in-Residence today even if it is to free up one of your own creative geniuses to focus on being creative.