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10 Ways to Use a Library for Creative Inspiration

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Relax, rejuvenate, and nurture your imagination between the shelves.

Recently I had the chance to spend several hours in a library at a Zen monastery. These monks knew how to cultivate an air of calm and rejuvenation: rows of books on meditation, creativity, nature, and art; headphones and a range of music and audio equipment; comfy chairs complete with thick blankets; and delicious silence. I leafed through some books about creativity and felt enlivened within the first 10 minutes. Soon I began to jot down ideas. When I got restless I puttered, discovering new and intriguing notions on the shelves and enjoying the snow-covered scene outside. I could almost hear my synapses firing, and the many pages of notes I took were proof that the stacks held a welcome cache of inspiration.

While it’s true that not all libraries attain this level of nirvana for the hungry, imaginative soul, most of them have several welcoming features beyond their collections: hospitable furniture and nooks; prevailing quiet; and kind-hearted librarians and community members. Some of them even have places for snacks and drinks; many have gardens/outdoor reading spaces. And of course, barring any outstanding overdue fines, nearly all libraries are 100% free. Here are some tips on how to use the library as a refreshing mini-retreat for your creative spirit:

  1. Your local library is likely a good bet for your retreat, but don’t rule out the possibility of commuting to an alternative that boasts longer hours, more space, quieter rooms, etc. Many university libraries are open to the public and often have longer hours than their community counterparts.   
  2. Plan a scheduled timeframe of being “locked in” at the library. Of course you can leave any time, but committing to a set time also sets your intention for the day and helps frame the day as an “event” rather than just a random, undefined visit. Your retreat can encompass solo time only, or you can plan a day that includes attending a class or lecture offered on site.
  3. For your solo time, strategically seek comfort. Avoid high-traffic areas and think about what conditions are best for your muse: curling up in a nook or sitting at a desk? Bring music and headphones if that helps your artistic mood. Wear soft clothing and bring a wrap or throw. Stretch your limbs, neck, and back at regular intervals.
  4. Decide up front about Wi-Fi (or lack of it). You may enjoy the ability to research online or browse innovation-sparking sites, but on the other hand it could become a distraction. If that’s a strong possibility for you, consider locking your phone in the car or disabling your laptop’s wireless connection.
  5. Start by jotting a loose agenda. Do you want to dive right into a project or ease into your day with some poking around? Use hour blocks to divvy up time for planning, creating, researching, learning new things, simply being still, and even daydreaming. If your creative practice can’t be fully executed at the library (perhaps you are a muralist, or a sculptor!) use the time to derive inspiration, research and revise ideas, order supplies, etc.
  6. Remember, as poet Emily Dickinson did, to dwell in possibility. Your agenda is counterproductive when it becomes a confining experience. Remain open to new thoughts and directions that beckon from the stacks.
  7. It’s okay to close your eyes: consider a catnap or meditation to help you center. Studies have shown that meditation can boost creativity. Meditation instructor Tamara Lechner recommends being playful in this regard (avoiding overthinking), adding that sometimes trying a new approach can help to enhance meditation’s power. If you are accustomed to using an audio guide for meditation, engage in a silent session, and vice versa.
  8. Feeling stuck? Look up your favorite author, artist, or musician and peruse some pages/listen to the audio to get into the groove. Mix it up—if you are a visual artist, read some poetry; if you are a writer, enjoy a book full of intriguing photos.
  9. While silence is often an ally, for some it can become stifling. If you draw energy from interacting, spend time getting to know the librarians and your fellow patrons. Consider eavesdropping, too—overheard conversations can work as random idea generators!  
  10. Be open to unusual or unorthodox resources to gain new perspective. For example, the Pikes Peak Library District in Colorado hosted a Human Library in 2017 that included a 91-year-old, a refugee, a Native American, a person with autism, etc. Volunteers who sign up to be “books” can be “checked out” for periods of conversation.

The writer Jorge Luis Borges said, “I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library.” With some thoughtful planning the library truly can serve as a haven for your creative spirit.


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