“You want to do what?”
That was the initial reaction facing Sean Casserley, the country librarian of the Johnson County Library system, when he told people he wanted to have a hog butchered in the Central Resource Library.
But he took the risk on Saturday, and it paid off. Now the library’s staff is trying to work out how to turn the success into a reimagining of what a library is for in the Google age. Soon, people will be able to stop by the Johnson County not only to browse books, but to make a model on a 3D printer, sew a shirt and pick up new skills in classes.
More than 100 people showed up Saturday afternoon for the library’s Books & Butchers presentation, which featured a live demonstration of how to butcher a pig carcass.
Experts from The Local Pig, a meat company in Kansas City, gave a two-hour presentation on how to butcher half a hog, the importance of locally sourced products and facts about humanely raised meats.
The presentation drew several questions from a fascinated audience.
Jennifer Zimmerman, who owns a small farm in Gardner, came to the event out of curiosity. When she saw the headline for the event on the library’s website, she burst out laughing, she admitted.
In the end, she was glad she made the drive.
“It was absolutely helpful. It was amazing,” said Zimmerman, who recently started raising small, heritage breed pigs on her farm. “To be able to see first-hand what they were talking about was invaluable. I’m excited to try out everything I’ve learned.”
Many of the audience members were happy to see the library pull of such a unusual event.
“As a person who lives right down the street, I love that this library is putting on these kinds of events now,” said Charlie Huette of Overland Park. “It was fun and educational. It’s cool for the community.”
The amount of interest from the public pleased not only the coordinators, but also Alex Pope, the co-owner of The Local Pig, who put on the presentation.
He wasn’t sure what to expect because he had never butchered a pig in a library before.
“I was worried people wouldn’t have questions, but there were a ton of detailed, educated questions, which made it fun,” Pope said. “I was amazed that there were people in the audience who knew their pigs.”
Casserley and John Helling, associate director for system-wide services for the Johnson County Library, approached The Local Pig to do the presentation as part of a bigger movement.
Both men, who were hired last spring, are trying to prepare the Johnson County Library system for an unknown future.
With the rise of the Internet, people’s needs have changed, Helling pointed out, and while libraries are still a place for people to browse books, their role is evolving.
“One of the main uses for a library is that we’ll help you research a question,” he added. “But now Google is doing that for us. So now we’re trying to figure out what our new role is going to be.”
So, they are trying to draw interesting and informative workshops, classes and events to the library. Bringing in The Local Pig was merely a test of the waters. They’re thrilled to see their idea was appreciated.
“It’s really encouraging that people took time out of their weekend to come here,” Helling said. “It turns out there really is an appetite for this kind of event on a Saturday afternoon. People want to learn; they don’t just want to sit in front of a television.”
Now, they’re already brainstorming more events for next year, such as home-brewing classes, workshops about organic gardening and behind-the-scenes looks at local theater. But those are just ideas at the moment.
In addition, in January, they are also opening a room in the middle of the Central Resource Library that will have video and sound equipment, editing equipment, sewing machines, and a 3D printer.
“We wanted to offer tools many people can’t afford, but they can use towards turning an idea into something tangible,” Helling said.
Both Helling and Casserley are excited to see where the work will lead. Their goal is to predict what people will want from the library in the future, before people have to ask for it.
“When you read a book, it gives you hope in the possibilities, and that’s exactly what libraries are about,” Casserley said. “It is a place to embrace your limitations and do the most with what you have right under your fingertips, so you can realize ‘This is possible for me.’”