Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

The origami revelation: 1 program fail; 3 reminders

The other day I hosted a very regrettable program. In addition to my role as a teen librarian I also host a regular craft night for adults. It’s a nice way to extend my service population, and to be perfectly honest, I like seeing how an adult group handles a project before I hand it to teens. And thank goodness I tried this darn fabric origami thing out with adults first.

It seemed like a good idea at the time. It met all of my criteria for craft programs: inexpensive, can be completed in an hour or so, no special tools or skills required, easy to replicate, attractive. The idea is that you stiffen fabric with diluted wood glue, then cut the fabric to a square, and fold it up like you would any sheet of origami paper.

But here’s the thing: I thought all of the difficulty was in the prep that I did at home: figuring out the glue to water ratio, figuring out how to dry it quickly without destroying my dryer, figuring out how to iron it smooth without destroying my iron (failed at that one), figuring out how to cut a couple dozen pieces square… Frankly, it was a hassle I won’t be attempting again. The library members who came to my program would only have to fold the gorgeous fabric into a decorative lily or a useful box. Simple for them, right? After all the hard work I put in on the front end?

Well, no.

1. It’s not about me

All of that prep work had nothing to do with them! In my annoyance and preoccupation with the messy preparation I’d neglected to stop and look carefully enough at how my patrons would approach the project. Yes, I’d prepared step by step models and printed out instructions, but I overlooked the doing of the project in the preparation for the project. Origami is tricky. Some people practice for hours – days – years before perfecting a design. To expect people who had never done it before to do it with a difficult material and use a pattern not designed for beginners was way more than was reasonable. The doing of the program, for each person in that room other than me began when they set foot in the room. Not days before while buying the fabric, stiffening it, drying it, and cutting it. When we come to the desk, to the program, to the RA interaction, our preparation is merely prologue. It makes a difference for our patrons, but it doesn’t matter to them. The prep is our job. Not theirs.

2. It’s not about the project.

That evening as the group gathered, I tried to cut some problems off at the pass by fessing up and telling them that of all the programs I had helped them with, this was the trickiest. I showed them my steps and results and warned them of pitfalls, and assured them that I was here to help. And you know what? It was tricky for them too. They struggled too. And as each of them left, I don’t think anyone left with a product they really liked.

3. It’s about community

But in spite of that, they all had a good time. They laughed, poked gentle fun at each other, encouraged and gave tips, and actually thanked me. A couple times. I even got an email after the fact! And I realized that what they leave with each month is not a craft. It’s a sense of belonging, an hour or two of socializing, laughter and a break from their regular lives. It’s community. And we are part of it.

In our library service, let’s remember that the right answer is just one of the things we give our patrons. And I might argue that it’s frequent of far less importance than the other things they gain.


  1. I can so relate to this. I do monthly craft programs for adults at my library as well and yes there are definitely times when the projects have been awful and frustrating for both me and my audience, but like you say above those are the programs where people leave with the greatest sense of community. Thank you for sharing and reminding us that its not about what the final product looks like, its about how people feel about the library and their community when they head out the door.

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