Create an Outdoor Book-themed Library Path with Bricks and Paint
At our Library, we’ve been trying to creatively engage with our patrons in new ways due to the changes and challenges for service that have occurred in 2020. Youth librarians, educators, parents, camps, and other institutions that are involved in lifelong learning are likely familiar with indoor and outdoor paths that can be created with stickers, chalk, paint, artwork, signs, and physical structures. You may have seen some of these spring up with a flourish around your neighborhood during the quarantine. Activity and sensory paths, formal story walks and even window displays can be fun means to be creative, interactive, and inspiring while also maintaining a physical distance. Projects can be created by adults for children or you can get the kids involved in their creation.
I recently created a temporary story-path made out of upcycled bricks for our library users. I chose bricks because I had them on hand, and I felt that they could easily be worked into the physical structure at the front of the Lawrence Branch. They are also safe and weatherproof, and nearly vandalism proof - kids can walk right on them. They are set down in place but not cemented in. We can take them up when we wish, or even add to them or rearrange them seasonally.
A hand-painted wooden easel sign announces the start of the path, made of 200+ bricks set into groupings. The path moves from left to right, against a protective low cement bed, and is not long--about 30 feet. It could easily have been spread out to cover more area. The content is not a continuous story broken into parts, but rather prompts to encourage families to recognize books, titles, and authors, sing or dance, and come up with books or characters that fit a category. Some bricks contain inspirational quotes taken from children’s literature. Patrons can stroll by and take a cursory glance or stop and take in the prompts more thoughtfully.
Materials used include the bricks themselves (which were salvaged, very well used and, in some cases, chipped), several dozen colors of acrylic paint, brushes, and both liquid and aerosol sealer finisher. I also used paint pens for detailed lettering and some outdoor household paint leftover from a project at home. The easel sign was salvaged, so it was free. Also salvaged were two handmade kid-height wooden sawhorses to use to advise patrons to maintain social distancing. If you don’t have a large acrylic paint collection on hand, you can start with the basics and mix your own colors as needed to make additional shades.
Research for the content came first, and I began by selecting the songs, story-stretchers, genre categories, quotations, and titles I wanted to incorporate. I kept a notebook and jotted down ideas; I tried to strike a balance of books for all youth age groups. I wanted to include at least one prompt for every letter of the alphabet and to have visual content that could be recognized even by non-readers. I was aiming for nostalgia so that there would be vintage classics but also popular new favorites recognized by the very young.
The bricks were first hosed down, scrubbed, and dried in the sun. Then two coats of neutral color paint were applied and dried. This took place in my garage, with the doors open. Normally, I would not recommend a big painting project in humid summer months. Doing this outside was a hot, buggy, gritty process at times! I definitely underestimated the time it would take for everything to dry; I suggest having a dedicated area for stacking and drying close to your work area, that won’t block any essential items from being used, such as your lawnmower. You don’t want to have to hand-carry the bricks more than necessary or cause yourself any injury. Use wheeled carts or wagons if you have them and tarps to protect your work area.
The detailed painting of the bricks took place in my craft room. By bringing 12 or so bricks in at once I was able to work in the air conditioning and create multiple designs, allowing layers to dry before proceeding. I used my phone right at my workspace to find the necessary colors, visuals, and spelling details while painting. For many, I had taken screenshots of my ideas during the research phase, for ease in later referral. Much of it was trial and error; if mistakes were made I painted over the error and started again or made adjustments. Certain colors were illegible or less pleasing when combined, and so were changed. Some bricks were in poor condition, so I tried to incorporate their defects into the design. The cover for the book Holes, by Louis Sachar, was the perfect fit for a brick with many small craters in it.
Your ability to paint small letters with a fine brush will dictate how long the text on your bricks can be. I recommend keeping it brief until you get the hang of it. You’ll likely find that your skills and results will improve over the course of an ongoing project. Don’t underestimate your abilities - challenge yourself! Also, even without being an expert in painting faces or complicated details, you can often give the hint or suggestion of the image needed by focusing on larger details, iconic imagery, the right font, or getting the colors right. My results are rustic and casual but the overall feel worked well enough for this kid-aimed activity.
After all of the designs were complete, I used a liquid sealer finisher on the bricks, with a large brush. The application went quickly, but once more, I underestimated the drying time in the August heat. A spray sealer finisher eventually worked faster and more efficiently over top of the original sealer.
Finally, the bricks were divided and hand packed into two of our cars due to their total weight, transported, and set in place on a sunny afternoon when the library was closed. We advertised online, and our patrons began enjoying them or saw them when they stopped by for curbside pickups. I hope they’ll recognize some of their favorite titles and perhaps even be encouraged to check others out from the library’s collection! I very much encourage you to create a similar project if you have the means to salvage or purchase the materials. It can be done as one large project or created in smaller increments as you have the time and space. It could also be set up in a way whereby you collect input or replies electronically or even give out prizes for participation.
Ideas for content can be found in many ways to spark your creativity and inspire you. You could browse books and physical library collections but also do your research online. Pinterest, Instagram, YouTube, Google, Facebook, professional resources, and any literature or image sharing social media service will glean more ideas than you can use. You can create with a theme, aim it toward a specific age group, make it for a particular time period or create in a hodge-podge manner like I did. Good luck and have fun with it if you try!
- by Laura G., Youth Services Librarian