Winter community events coming to Bennington Free Library

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BENNINGTON — For a library to truly serve its community, it has to offer more than just books on the shelves.

It needs experiences and programming, giving people more reasons to come to the library.

As part of that effort, this winter, the Bennington Free Library's offerings will include two free events focused on mental health, learning and self-esteem, targeted at adults and youth.

The youth-focused event, a clay-making workshop Saturday, Feb. 2 from 2 to 3 p.m. at the library, will teach children ages 6 and up how to make clay animals — from penguins to foxes.

A later "self-care" event geared to all ages, will offer a DIY stress relief coloring book station and self-affirmation valentine workshop.

"That's kind of why I'm cutting these out," Michelle Freeman said, gesturing to cardboard cut-out hearts at her makeshift desk in the children's room of the library.

She's a junior at Bennington College, who is the two events through her field work term.

Her idea to have an event promoting self-care stems from the time of year -- right around Valentine's Day.

"I think Valentine's Day is kind of a bad holiday, and tells you that your happiness relies on other people," she said. "I think it's important to remember to take care of yourself in light of holidays like this."

The self-care event will be at the library from 5 to 7 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 7.

"Just to remember to take care of yourself is really the main theme of event," Freeman said.

The library will have out self-care books at the event, to tie into Freeman's focus, said Linda Donigan, a youth services librarian at the library.

"We want people to care for themselves, and in turn, care for others,' she said. "It's really an important message."

Thinking about integrating self-care into your life can be scary, and people often get the message that they have to spend money to do it, Freeman said.

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But that's not the case.

"I think that's a big misconception about self-care," she said. "I think a lot of people think you have to go buy a bath bomb or go spend money on chocolate .. when really, self-care could be taking a walk down the street, or taking five minutes out of your day to remember to meditate."

The other event, a clay-making workshop, is aimed at making ceramics accessible to more children.

They can learn basics of ceramics, like scoring and slipping, in an empowering activity, Freeman said.

"It's a perfect match," Donigan said. "Because clay is so accessible. You don't really need a lot of skills, a lot of background, but kids just go to it. And it's fun."

To sign up for the program, registrants should email the children's librarian at

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Participants will make animals, including some that aren't easily brought to mind.

"I'm purposely trying to target so animals that maybe aren't as well-known," Freeman said. "There's polar bears and penguins, but there's also snow hares and arctic fox."

In making the animals, kids can learn more about them, she said.

The library has collaborated with a Bennington College field work term student every year for the past ten years, in a long, successful history, Donigan said.

"It's really fun to work with college students, and it brings a certain kind of energy," she said. "They certainly have their finger on the pulse in a different way than we do."

The library is central to the greater Bennington community, due to its position on Main Street and its commitment to outreach, Donigan said.

Freeman's projects contribute to the library's larger mission, she said.

"In terms of our commitment to the arts and to the library being a cultural institution," she said. "In order to really maintain a connection to the community, you need to offer more than just books on the shelves. You need to offer experiences."

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The library offers programming in areas like science, the arts, technology for people of all ages, she said, in an effort to have something for everyone.

"Having this clay workshop on a Saturday is really exciting," she said, pointing out that the library's children's room is usually filled with people on Saturdays. "People want something fun and free to do, as families. And that's what the library is here to offer."

The library wants to make it easy for families to come to the library and spend time together. And with free programs that are child-centered and encourage learning, the library provides that opportunity.

It's "key" that the library offer arts programming for children, Donigan said.

"Children need lots of opportunity to do art," she said. "They need lots of opportunities to have a reason to come to the library."

The library, she said, is a "public place with a lowercase P."

"So we want the public to understand they have many reasons to come to the library," she said.

She said she hopes these programs Freeman offers will help bring people back.

"Both programs that Michelle is offering are new," she said. "This time slot, this age group, this time of the year -- we always do Valentine's in here, but for Michelle to offer valentine-making for young adults and adults that's something new."

And, she added, people like to try new things.

Freeman said one of the main reasons she chose to do outreach at the library is because it's centrally located. Her school work focuses on community outreach.

"I just think the school, the college hasn't had a relationship with the town [of Bennington] for a long time," she said. "I'm trying really hard to change that, and help students become more integrated in the community."

Patricia LeBoeuf can be reached at, at @BAN_pleboeuf on Twitter and 802-447-7567, ext. 118.


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