A Toowoomba Summer (or Winter)
It was wonderful to be back in familiar spots and see how the work we did in 2016 has been developed. The warm and sunny Queensland winter didn’t hurt either; I hardly felt like I was missing out on the sweltering heat of NYC in August.
On this trip, I divided my Toowoomba time between the University of Southern Queensland (USQ) and the Cobb&Co Museum. I was welcomed by excellent researchers, artists, and educators of all walks of life. There was work in the museum workshop and the university makerspace, lectures to be given, discussions to be had, time in TV and radio production studios, lunches and meetings, - I’ll tell you all about all that soon. Butlet’s start at the beginning.
On my first Toowoomba week, I attended a workshop delivered by a team from the State Library of Queensland (SLQ). This was a day-long session devoted to “The Impact of Libraries as Creative Spaces”: a document that is meant to break a hefty institutional mission-document into chewable bites, and turn it to a practical tool to be used by everyone - including managers, front-of-house staff, and other librarians who, as I have been discovering, take on all sorts of different responsibilities.
It was an interesting day. As I heard passionate librarians discussing how to reach people and engage their audience, I found myself taking notes for syllabi I am currently preparing tor the upcoming semester. Engagement and relationships may have different specificities in a rural library branch and in a city university classroom, but in the end it all comes down to that: we want our people - students, patrons, staff - to engage in invested relationships with themselves and with each other and with materials that can be ideas, paint, books, or the world around us.
If that’s what we want - engagement as relationships - we need to build it. We need to know what to ask for. We need to figure out how to support and scaffold. As I pitch in on the debate of how and what libraries can ask of their patrons, funders, or admin boards, I think about my students and what I ask of them. How does this shape our engagement in the classroom? I’ll have a lot more to say about this, but for now I leave you with a question: in your classroom, your library branch, your office - what do you ask of the people you work with, and how are you supporting them in answering it?
This event at Toowoomba City Library was also an opportunity to reconnect with some people I had worked with in our 2016 workshops, both during the day and in the reception to follow at the Toowoomba Art Gallery. It was there that I saw Lemon-Bear’s person.
During our workshop, she had talked about her favorite childhood toy - a red stuffed animal called Lemon Bear - while she explained what had drawn her to the piece of grey fabric she chose to work with that afternoon. “It’s not the same color… well, it’s not the same fabric either!” she realized. But one property after the other, she told us about her story, her toy, her material, herself.
She is now in charge of Toowoomba Art Gallery's education programming and told me how the workshop gave her an opportunity to relate with materials and use them to question ideas; this made her change how she scaffolds the engagement of young patrons in the art gallery as well. And I’m sure Lemon-Bear is as proud as I am.
I had a wonderful time in Toowoomba and was thrilled to work with such talented and kind people. Thank you!