A group of twelve people gather around a table about to transform used bicycle tubes into fashionable pouches or change purses. Next month it could be knitting—or making bracelets from old printer cables. At the Greenpoint branch of the Brooklyn Public Library (BPL), the library has tapped into the New York City borough’s thriving artisanal community to create a popular monthly workshop for 12-15 adults.
Kure Croker, branch manager and program coordinator of the Greenpoint branch, teamed up with Kim Grassie Konen and Julie Schneider, both sellers on the powerhouse artisan sales website Etsy, to create what has become Greenpoint Hand Skills. According to the group’s Facebook page, Croker and Konen met in Denton, TX about 10 years ago. So Kure approached Konen initially regarding the idea for Hand Skills, and Konen then approached Schneider to join her in creating the workshop. Konen works at Etsy headquarters as well as selling her crafts on the site, which is how she knew Schneider, who runs Etsy’s own weekly craft night.
The crafting program meets the first Saturday of every month and covers a variety of crafts, including knitting, zine-making, and paper art. Croker ties the program into the library’s collection by providing a curated selection of titles that match the theme of the workshop. Schneider and Konen conduct the workshops on a volunteer basis; they purchase the supplies upfront and are reimbursed by the library or the Friends of the Greenpoint Library group.
Robert A. Simic, neighborhood library supervisor, told LJ, “Adults can be an especially difficult demographic to crack program-wise, especially 20 and 30-year-olds (unless they’re parents), which is what I think makes the success of the Hand Skills program so impressive.” Schneider told LJ that she, Croker, and Konen got the program off the ground by doing press campaigns with local blogs and newsletters such as Brooklyn Based, Greenpointers, and NonsenseNYC. They also posted flyers around the neighborhood, and of course in the library. Each month they reach-out to local blogs to promote that month’s particular workshop. They also promote on Facebook and Tumblr, and Hand Skills gets a boost from its leaders’ participation in other in-person events outside the library, such as Brooklyn Craft Camp and Brooklyn Etsy Labs Meet and Makes.
Hand Skills isn’t the only Greenpoint branch program creating a buzz within the Brooklyn community. The library has also offered an eight-week watercolor course for seniors, a hands-on gardening program, and frequently hosts musicians and authors “We try our best, despite budget, staffing and space issues, to be a part of the thriving Brooklyn artisanal culture, even if it is in a small way,” explains Simic.
Though the narrative around library maker spaces often focuses on providing access to 3D printers and other high-tech equipment, BPL and the artisans behind Greenpoint Hand Skills tie their antecedents to the maker movement as much as to older traditions of collaborative co-working on crafts.
“Greenpoint Hand Skills carries on a tradition of sharing creativity and knowledge in a community setting that can be traced through history with things like quilting bees, knitting circles, potlucks, and DIY skill shares,” explained Schneider. “As such, it fits right in as a piece of the DIY and maker movement that is carrying handmade skills and pursuits into this present digital age.”