148. Advancing a Culture of Creativity in Libraries with Megan Lotts

Pictured: Megan Lotts – photo credit: Nick Romanenko

Have you wondered how to address your challenging library work through creativity to help solve problems and uncover new possibilities? On this show Megan Lotts, Art Librarian with Rutgers the State University of New Jersey and the author of Advancing a Culture of Creativity in Libraries, helps us do this. This discussion invites you to unlock your creative potential in tackling your library’s most pressing needs.


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Adriane Herrick Juarez:

This is Adriane Juarez. You’re listening to Library Leadership Podcast where we talk about libraries and leadership and speak with guests who share their ideas, innovations, and strategic insights in the profession. 

Have you wondered how to address your challenging library work through creativity to help solve problems and uncover new possibilities? On this show, Megan Lotts, Art Librarian with Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey and the author of Advancing a Culture of Creativity in Libraries, will help us do this. This discussion invites you to unlock your creative potential in tackling your library’s most pressing needs. Enjoy the show! 

Megan, welcome to the show.

Megan Lotts:

Hi, Adriane. It’s so nice to be here. And in truth, I’m really honored to be a guest.

Adriane Herrick Juarez:

Question #1:  It’s nice to have you here. And I’m honored that you said yes to my invitation to talk with me today about advancing a culture of creativity in our libraries. As we start, will you share your vision for why this is important?  01:31 

Megan Lotts:

Absolutely, and really a great question and thanks so much for asking. First, I think creativity is important for everyone and every organization and not just for libraries. But also, creativity isn’t necessarily a skill we’re encouraged to foster as adults or in the workplace. 

Yet library staff and budgets continue to drastically dwindle while the cost of doing library business continues to rise. Really, never more have we needed to be creative when solving library problems. This might include rethinking efficiency, learning how to work more cohesively in teams. We’re thinking more intentionally when it comes to fostering innovation and how an organization actually gets work done.

Adriane Herrick Juarez:

Question #2:  Yes, and you believe that the linchpin of functioning successfully as teams and impacting communities in positive ways is creativity. How so?  02:28 

Megan Lotts:

Creativity is key when it comes to teamwork, in part because it’s about finding new ways of working by connecting ideas and finding patterns which might just be new or unusual to the organization itself. This, in truth, means we need a diverse set of minds at the table when we’re solving problems, so that we can see those patterns and connections. And in particular I want to add, we need to have the people who will be doing that work at the table in the conversations. But also, we need to work with our communities who can help us advance our collective goals, and there’s a lot of creativity to be had once we really start getting into the communities and working with our organizations. 

But also, it’s really important to recognize that not all ideas will work for everyone in their communities. As a woman who’s over six feet tall, I can confirm that without a doubt, one size does not fit all. Being creative is about getting into the weeds and understanding how things work, but also sometimes it’s about having those difficult conversations to help us better understand and position ourselves so our organizations can be impactful, as well as we can be our best possible versions of who we are and who our organizations want to be.

Adriane Herrick Juarez:

Question #3:  How does looking through a creative lens help us focus on what’s possible?  03:49 

Megan Lotts:

That’s a great question. I want to say that I think it’s very easy for organizations to get caught up in the past when libraries regularly, again, we’re facing budget cuts on all fronts, and we’re always having to share this value and worth to get even a drop of funding. 

But also in my twenty-nine year career, so far, in academic libraries—I’ve never seen morale so low. We’ve got to do something about this. As a field we were already tired, exhausted, and pinned to the wall—and then the Covid-19 pandemic hit. We were turned upside down, like eight times over—then four rides on the Tilt-A-Whirl. We really, really took a new, different realm or idea with dealing with the pandemic. 

I think at this point in the ball game, all we can do is move forward and regroup, and think about what’s possible. Really, creativity will help us regroup. It’ll help us rethink. It’ll help us have these conversations that we must face and figure out—how are we going to move forward with less time and money? Because that’s what’s going to happen. Although it may seem daunting for some, creativity is about looking at what’s possible and considering the ideas of ways of working with fresh eyes and looking again for those unexpected connections.

As well, we also want to work with our communities to collaborate and further each other’s goals, because honestly no one is flush with money right now. Really, I think this is an opportunity for libraries, as civic spaces, to really empower and engage with our communities and others around us. We are better as one and working together in larger teams. But you know what? In truth, creativity—we have to be present. We have to be willing to do the work, and sometimes that work’s going to be really hard, but it’s necessary.

Adriane Herrick Juarez:

Question #4:  It is necessary. In using creativity, you say our organizations can work in unconventional ways, using readily available tools to reflect and strategize on solving problems. Will you share how this works?  05:48 

Megan Lotts:

Absolutely, and thanks again for asking. One of the ideas that I always note is that creativity and innovation don’t have a look or a specific set of tools. All one really needs to be creative is a pen, paper, a prompt, an idea, or a problem that needs solving. However, I’m also a big fan of sticky notes, adhesives, staplers, scissors, stickers, markers, games, outings, field trips. We really could go on and on. But also these days there’s so much technology and virtual platforms. The possibilities of tools are really only limited by our imagination. 

For me personally, I love group work and experiences. However, creativity also flourishes when we’re alone and we can rethink or continue to think about a problem. Sometimes we need to let things percolate a little bit before we have that eureka moment. So it’s important to really have that balance of group to alone time ratio. I think that we have to respect that. 

One of the things that is key with all this work—it’s got to go somewhere. I’m going to be a little hard on organizations. I think a lot of organizations get out the sticky notes and the flip charts. They do a little brainstorming. They host a workshop or retreat. They take a field trip and they assume the work’s done. Creativity is only part of the process. Once you decide on how to attack or solve a problem, you have to implement it and do the work. That’s the hard part. I think that’s sometimes part of what gets lost. We have to do the work. We have to just stop talking about things. We’ve got to move forward.

Adriane Herrick Juarez:

Question #5: Sure. Do you have any examples of creativity in action that will help illustrate the creative methods you employ?  07:41 

Megan Lotts:

So again, a great question. I’m always like, How much time do we have? Because, this is where I really want to go off the rails. I’m going to just mention some of my own work. But one of the things that I do want to say is that—this is happening everywhere, anywhere, and look for it. Once you really start looking for creativity, I think it’s like, Wow, it’s everywhere. I really appreciate seeing the ways in which people deal with it and embrace it. 

In my book, Advancing a Culture of Creativity: Programming and Engagement, I certainly provide a lot of examples of many ways to embrace creativity. In one chapter, I talk about using Lego and toys for teamwork building workshops. In another chapter, I talk about how to use a button maker as a means of teaching and learning for multimodal literacies, such as visual literacy and how to find images. Students love, practically, doing these things, and they need some context of how to apply these skills they just learned. 

Also, I talk about how to use a button maker as a tool for outreach and engagement, just in general. Another example in my book—I talk about how urban sketching and scholarly research are one and the same, as they both rely on observation, analysis, storytelling, and contributing to a community of knowledge. In truth, both practices are curated sets of data and observations, which are building blocks that we use to tell stories. So, that’s really powerful when we can think of these interesting ways, and storytelling, as a means to make a practical way for a student to engage, or someone to learn information literacy—these are hard things. 

For me lately, also—I’ve been eating, sleeping, and breathing zines, both in my work life and my artist life. And if you really want to see creativity and scholarly research come together as one, consider making a zine. Share your story and voice with the world. Empower your communities to do so. That’s really how we make change.

Adriane Herrick Juarez:

Question #6:  What you’re talking about really is the fun part, and I would encourage our listeners to check out your book for more ideas. So, for librarians who want to implement and embrace a creative culture within their own libraries and work lives, what advice would you offer?  09:45 

Megan Lotts: 

First I want to just note, and I think may be the most important—you don’t need a lot of money. I think people assume with all this innovation, and interesting work, and out-there ideas that you need money and it’s simply not true. What you do need though is passion and drive. You have to find something that you can get behind and have interest in. Don’t get behind something that you don’t like because it will be a painful process. I can promise you that. But also, start slow. You don’t need to make the Mona Lisa. And, we don’t make the creative perfect idea or experience every time. So consider making some goals, both short-term and long-term goals—include a draft or a timeline. But also recognize these are drafts. They may change. They will change. They’ll change as the work changes. 

I always encourage people to find a work partnership, or a work friend that you can bounce ideas off of, if possible. This person, or if you’re lucky, group of persons will help you throughout your journey, but also find community partnerships and collaborate. Regularly assess your work. Think about what you’re learning and how this will influence what comes next, and I really can’t stress that enough. 

This isn’t just about work with creativity. This is about anything that we’re doing. We have to start being more engaged with assessment and reflection. We’ve got to really think more intentionally. I’m constantly talking about this lack of money, and lack of bodies, and workers. Unless we really start assessing ourselves and thinking about what comes next, we can’t get anywhere—not in efficient ways. So much can be helped, and determined, and also shown to our administrators and those around us that want to see our value for that drop of money, if we’re already assessing and ahead of the game. We’ve already got that information right there at our fingertips—and that’s what will get us more.

Adriane Herrick Juarez:

Question #7:  Is there anything else you would like to share?  11:58 

Megan Lotts:

I’d like to say for those that are interested in creativity, go for it. If you aren’t sure where to get started, reach out to me, read my book, or send me a note and I’ll give you a whole list of readings—because everybody has time for reading. But really, there’s a lot of good work out there within the field of librarianship and outside the field of librarianship. 

And you know what? I’m here to say ignore the naysayers, because there will be some. This is something I’ve had to deal with all my life as an artist, as a librarian, as someone who thinks a little bit outside the box and you know what, t’s okay. If you have a bad day and you need to have some tears or some frustration about it, that’s okay too, because you can regroup and come back to that place of creativity, and what you love, and what you want to be passionate about. 

This work is not always seen as traditional library work, but again, it’s okay because if you’re regularly reflecting and assessing what you’re learning and how this is impacting your work and your organization—I promise you, it will shine. This work shines because it’s an opportunity for people to engage and really come to you, and to the libraries, on their own terms. And that’s, I think, what we really want. 

I also tell people—dream big. With every project I shoot for the sun, moon and the stars. If I grab one of those I’m happy, because I’ve made forward movement. But when you get lucky and you get the sun, moon and stars, don’t forget to celebrate these moments, because they can include an incredible amount of hard work. 

And our organizations—we want to be impactful in the best possible versions of who we are, and we have to embrace these wins. It helps us move forward on days when morale is low, when we didn’t get that grant we wanted, or we weren’t able to get to where we wanted, exactly how we wanted. 

But listen, that’s the other thing I have to say too—with creativity and play, and the kind of work of this nature, how do you think you might get somewhere? Often it isn’t the actual path or journey that will take you there. So, don’t be afraid to take risks. Don’t be afraid of failure. Think about it as impact, not failure. Think about what you learned, because then it’s always easy to move forward. As long as you’re learning and thinking and being intentional, you can always move forward.

Adriane Herrick Juarez:

Question #8:  That said, do you have any favorite management or leadership books or resources, and why?  14:26 

Megan Lotts: 

That’s a great question. And, you know, I think this is a really hard question to answer. When I think of being a baby of the ’70s—when I think about the access to information I had then versus the access to information that I have now, I’m overwhelmed. I’m always curious to know what others are looking at and reading. I think your podcast is a great example of something that’s interesting and out-there that we should be looking at, and looking for others like you—and what’s happening. So, I want us to be fearless in the type of information we consume. But I also want us to recognize what types of information we’re consuming and the implications that that might have. 

And then for me right now, I’m excited to report I just finished writing my second book, The Playful Library: Building Environments for Learning and Creativity.  I’ve been reading about play, and I have to say, I’d recommend this topic to anyone and everyone—for you, for work, for your families, home, to get a break, to get out of yourself, to get reconnected with what you love. 

But also, for me, combining creativity and play has been an incredibly powerful, powerful experience and this work can be seen around the world. It’s so exciting to read these incredible ideas that it makes me want to do more. It makes me want to be more. It makes me want to reach for that sun, moon and stars and be fearless when I see this great work that others are doing. But also, I think creativity skills are often connected to the arts, and in truth, they’re skills we all need when it comes to problem solving, critical thinking, working together, and so much more.

Adriane Herrick Juarez:

Question #9:  I like what you’re saying about being fearless and exploring the resources that will help you do what you’re hoping to do in libraries, including exploring play and creativity. So thank you for that, Megan. In closing, what do libraries mean to you personally?  16:11 

Megan Lotts:

That’s a really good question. I started working in libraries twenty-eight years ago as a student worker. And again, I’ve already confessed I’m a baby of the ’70s, and when I give you the dollar amount, of like $2.85 an hour, I started making shelving books. You know, I’ve seen a lot happen in that time, and it’s really been an interesting ride. I’ve enjoyed working as a student worker. I’ve enjoyed working at the circulation desk, eventually being a supervisor to circulation desk, eventually going to library school, becoming faculty, and really getting to see the ins and outs of what happens in libraries. There’s so much going on that I’m reminded, and working in the kind of system that I am, I only know so many people even by email. Then when you think about this population at Rutgers, we serve 69,000 students. It’s absurd. 

We have these incredible communities. And really, what’s exciting about that is libraries can be anything we want them to be. Libraries, for me, are places that we go to learn, think, play, work, research, attend events, and make stuff. But again, they can be anything we want them to be. With a little play and creativity, we can truly empower our communities and really help change people’s lives. I think that that’s really exciting. 

I want to leave this planet having made a difference. I want to leave this planet knowing that libraries really supported people’s needs and were there when nobody else was. I think that’s a really, really powerful point and aspect of engaging in civic discourse. I hope that everyone will continue to think how they can be creative, consider being playful, and certainly reach out if you’ve got any questions, because anyone that knows me knows that one thing I love to do is talk. So thank you so much again for having me today. It’s really been an honor.

Adriane Herrick Juarez: 

Question #10:  I’m so glad we got to do what you love to do—talk and share about advancing a culture of creativity in libraries. I like what you say about libraries and the scope of your experience in libraries. I know that creativity has made a positive difference in your career and will help our listeners bring this out in theirs, as well. It’s been marvelous discussing this topic. Thanks again.  18:30 

Megan Lotts:

Thank you, and I wish everybody a great day, wherever you are, and wherever life finds you. Take time for yourself. Be creative. Play.

Adriane Herrick Juarez: 

Be creative. Play. I’m in. We’ll see you later, Megan.

Megan Lotts:

Thank you. 

Adriane Herrick Juarez: 

You’ve been listening to Library Leadership podcast. This is Adriane Herrick Juarez. For more episodes, tune in to Library Leadership Podcast.com, where you can now subscribe to get episodes delivered right to your email inbox. Our producer is Nathan Sinclair Vineyard. Thanks for listening. We’ll see you next time. 

We would like to thank the Park City Library for their dedicated support of this show. The opinions expressed on this show are those of the speaker and do not necessarily reflect the views of Library Leadership podcast or our sponsors.


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1 Comment

  1. Abderrahmane

    We know her in Qatar she did great presentation in education city

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