February 19, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

World Peace and Other Aspirations: The Role of Play | Editorial

SLJ Think Tank 2013 Leadership LogoPam Sandlian Smith, who graces SLJ’s May cover, knows how to have fun. Her ongoing reinvention of library service at the Anythink Libraries in Colorado shows what leadership exercised in a spirit of wonder and playfulness can achieve.

Her libraries are like the best children’s rooms extended to every corner of the library, and even out the door—Anythink’s Wright Farms library features a new “Explore Outdoors” garden to the delight of adults and kids alike. This extension of the principles of the children’s room is a natural for Sandlian Smith, who began her career in children’s services at the Denver Public Library. Her perspective may just define the library of the future.

“Creativity and innovation are two of the most important assets to success, but as a culture, we have few places that actively nurture creativity,” Sandlian Smith told attendees at SLJ’s Public Library Leadership Think Tank. Focusing on that gap, she’s transforming Anythink into what she calls a “participatory library.”

From “Playing for Keeps”
Photo by B.Mayer

This is informed by the thinking of the first Denver Public Library director and legendary librarian John Cotton Dana. He defined the library as “the center of public happiness first, of public education next.” How to get happier? At Anythink, this is addressed at every level: organizational structure, buildings, and programs, all inherently playful and designed to foster creativity among patrons of all ages.

Play, of course, is important in learning. “Genuine inquiry is fundamentally and inescapably playful,” writes Barbara Fister, a professor and librarian at Gustavus Adolphus College, in “Playing for Keeps.” And it’s not just for kids. Grown-ups, too, she adds, “need play to promote innovation and discovery.” Hence, retaining the ability to play as we think is essential.

John Hunter at
SLJ‘s Public Library Think Tank.
Photo credit: Matt Carr/Getty Images.

Taking play seriously can mean playing serious games. Just ask John Hunter. A teacher in Virginia’s Albemarle County Public Schools, Hunter is the creator of the World Peace Game, a complex role-playing enterprise that puts kids in charge of forging peace despite all kinds of social, economic, political, and environmental challenges. What he’s found out about kids along the way is incredible and is shared in his new book World Peace and Other 4th-Grade Achievements.

This resonates for me as I reflect on recent acts of violence and the enraged responses in the media and culture that fuel the cycle of negativity. Hunter fosters compassion instead. This inspiring teacher gives his students the tools to approach problems creatively, to work together to resolve an incidence of bullying, to witness the impact of bad and good choices as they reverberate through the interlocking aspects of the game.

What we play at most is what we practice; it’s what we master.

Librarians and educators like these—who create space to explore ideas, build skills to execute on creative impulses, and encourage a complex worldview—inspire us all to be happier human beings. I’d like to think that happy and more creative people will forge a path to a more peaceful future, locally and globally.

I’m going to go and play now, and I hope you will, too. Our futures might just depend on it.

Rebecca T. Miller

Rebecca T. Miller About Rebecca T. Miller

Rebecca T. Miller (rmiller@mediasourceinc.com) is Editorial Director, Library Journal and School Library Journal.