Haddonfield Public Library displays more than books

Every book contains a story, but what residents may not know is that new meaning can be found behind every book — at least that is the philosophy at the Haddonfield Public Library.

Every book contains a story, but what residents may not know is that new meaning can be found behind every book — at least that is the philosophy at the Haddonfield Public Library.

Cardboard book displays, all with a unique touch and hand-crafted by teens in the community, are now on display in the library’s Teen Commons room, but how these displays came to be is a story of its own.

Resident and architect Benita Cooper said the idea for a “Design Build Workshop” to teach teens how to make displays blossomed after a conversation with Library Director Eric Zino about the need for design and construction-themed educational events that empower young women and men.

Although initially the workshop was going to be one teen workshop at the library on a weekend, Haddonfield Memorial High School heard about it and asked to join the partnership, transforming it into an awesome three-way collaboration with HMHS teacher Allie Westerside, according to Cooper.

“The purposes of the Design-Build Workshop are to empower young women and men to consider careers in architecture, design and construction and also to promote and practice teamwork, communication and innovation,” Cooper said. “I want to empower anyone regardless of gender to design, build and lead whether it’s literally or metaphorically.”

Cooper wanted to find solutions to problems that are both aesthetically pleasing and structurally sound. Cooper believes this project will foster problem-solving that can accommodate both while inspiring teens to “contribute to society.”

In a hypothetical situation, the students took on the library as a client. In this fictional scenario, students were encouraged to design something aesthetically pleasing that served a purpose to the library. Kits donated by the library were the primary tools in making the displays.

“I intentionally reduced the materials and tools to the simplest form, cardboard and Makedo cutters and screws, so that students could learn to rely on their own creativity to solve problems and think critically,” Cooper said. “Teens were guided through schematic design, prototyping, testing and public speaking.”

Zino said the unique design to each of the displays adds warmth to the library. He said it adds something unique to the library that will catch the eyes of those searching for a good book to read.

“There really is this cool folk art aspect to it,” Zino said. “I am proud of the kids.”

The first two-hour workshop took place at the library where teens were invited from both middle and high schools in all of South Jersey. The second workshop in early June took place just a few weeks after at Haddonfield Memorial High School, where they had an additional week to complete their projects for a grade.

“Design-build is a metaphor for so many things,” Cooper said. “It’s about having the courage to think big ideas, and the discipline and humility to roll up your sleeves and collaborate with others to make the ideas happen.”