By Darla Hane
Internationally, public libraries have for centuries been places of community, education, and tradition-sharing. Wherever I am in the world, I first visit the city’s public library. After the city’s international airport, a community’s public library is one of the best reflections of the new area I’ve landed in.
Living in Anchorage, I often hear that our winter city is one of the most diverse cities in America. As the Innovation Lab Coordinator at Loussac Library (through the Americorps VISTA program) I’m able to work directly with our diverse community through a space reserved for community members to share and discuss ‘big ideas’ and work together to discover innovation solutions.
My friends from around the world hear about our work and are intrigued, ask questions, and bring our ideas back into their own communities. Anchorage’s innovative entrepreneurs and artists have even caught the attention of a large library in Asia who wanted to know more about the “Street and Skin” art exhibit, an exhibit of graffiti and tattoo artists displaying over 120 pieces of art in the library, enriched by artist-facilitated lectures.
Innovation is a word quickly gaining in popularity. Faster than ‘organic’, ‘holistic’, and ‘all-natural’ are being used in marketing and advertising, innovation is the skyrocketing corporate culture buzzword. You’ve probably heard the word. Or see the word in Forbes or Entrepreneur magazine. The company you work for may have innovation in their mission statement.
Rooms, even entire buildings, set aside for innovation labs are also gaining popularity in corporate businesses and academia. Many corporate Innovation Labs, housed in secret locations, are able to grow amazing ideas that result in revolutionary products or methods, from military aircraft, medical equipment, to the way we browse the internet or view the animation in Grand Theft Auto.
One of my favorite innovative products is 3M’s Post-its: low-tech, but so pervasive in my office and home that I keep a couple in every room. Lockheed Martin’s “Skunk Works” lab is a salient example of a lab that is so effective at producing cutting-edge innovation, that the lab is now a model. Skunk Works’s high degree of autonomy for thinkers and creators, unhampered by bureaucracy, is being emulated by corporations like Google, Pixar, and Nordstrom’s, as well as leading universities, including Stanford, Harvard, and MIT.
The University of Oxford’s Said Business School’s strong support of social entrepreneurship and social innovation has resulted in a massive leap toward social innovation labs: collaborative spaces where creative ideas are encouraged as solutions in the context of ethical, social, and community-centered growth. At our Innovation Lab on the fourth floor of the Loussac Public Library, the needs of the Anchorage community inspire collaborative educational workshops, meet-ups, and events, all of which are free and open to the public—no secret location, coffee is welcome, and there are Post-It’s aplenty.
No two innovation labs are alike, because no two communities or businesses share exactly the same needs. Visit the Loussac Innovation Lab and you’ll find me hanging art and sipping coffee with graffiti-style artists, on the phone with the FBI scheduling an informational workshop, entertaining the Mexican Consulate staff with my very limited Spanish, as we work together on a financial literacy workshop, or meeting with refugees who need help creating resumes.
The monthly art-hang has turned into an official library-sponsored event, with May themed around “Nerd Art”. Artists hung their pieces in the Lab themselves on May the fourth. The art exhibits are turning out to be a wonderful way for local artists, business owners, and entrepreneurs to meet each other and connect over a range of multi-faceted skills.
Along with rotating monthly art exhibits, the Innovation Lab at Loussac Public Library hosts workshops in resume writing, grants and small business loans, and several other classes and discussions geared toward job skills and creative entrepreneurship. The Lab partners with nonprofits and community organizations to make sure that every educational experience in the space is high quality and unique. Library staff are on hand to help guests locate follow up materials if needed, including books, DVD’s, or more community resources from library databases.
The Innovation Lab at Loussac Public Library is also growing. Grants are being used to purchase a 3-D printer and computers, valuable technology tools that aid in creativity and knowledge sharing.
August is fashion month in the Lab, with workshops and lectures planned throughout the month, culminating in a runway show based on interview clothing. This event is garnering support from national corporations eager to contribute unique employment services to Anchorage’s dynamic community.
As the Innovation Lab at the library grows, the Lab is also changing to meet individual, corporate, and community needs. There is conversation, idea-sharing, and a strong commitment to sharing cultural and education amongst the community members using the space.
Darla Hane has lived and worked internationally with diverse clients and focuses on hospitality and education. She most recently studied Social Entrepreneurship with Oxford and is a current AmeriCorp VISTA with the Municipality Of Anchorage’s Public Library. She is a fan of Post-It’s. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org