Milwaukee Public Library partnered with luchadores to show that libraries aren't always quiet.
On Friday, Dec. 1, more than 300 fans of all ages gathered at a Milwaukee Public Library (MPL) branch for Crush the Shush, a high-flying Mexican wrestling show featuring the Milwaukee-based Mondo Lucha.
The event was offered as part of a series called Library Loud Days — and rightly so. Event-goers cheered through a series of matches and shouted in protest when one of the wrestlers booed the library and reading as an activity. Later, things calmed down a bit; the luchadores (wrestlers) read stories to kids and signed posters and t-shirts, and patrons created their own wrestling masks and promo videos in the library’s makerspace.
Programming Librarian talked with Eileen Force Cahill, MPL’s community relations and engagement director, to learn what went into this extravagant, shush-busting evening.
Programming Librarian: How did this event come to be?
Eileen Force Cahill: About four years ago, MPL began a strategic planning process that identified three audiences with whom we wanted to establish a deeper relationship. We knew we wanted to change people's notion of the library as a place where an old librarian with glasses would shush you, and reintroduce them to the library as a place where people of all ages in every neighborhood could gather and take advantage of the institution’s limitless resources. We worked with a local marketing agency who partnered with us at no cost, and created what we refer to as an "awareness" campaign, but it's really more of a “perception” campaign.
Library Loud Days was born in summer 2016. For our first event, we closed down a major downtown street in front of the Central Library to host a hip-hop concert with the group New Age Narcissism. Along with the concert, we had food trucks, spoken-word performances and interactive stations throughout the library, including musical instrument demos.
We followed that with Haunted Central, where we created a haunted experience throughout the library, including a special tour of the "Forbidden Fourth Floor." Last summer we had a birthday party for our mascot, Browser, with music, balloon artists, face painters, crafts, cake and more. (Read more about past Library Loud Days events.)
Crush the Shush was our latest endeavor. We were looking for something highly unusual and unexpected. The Library Loud Days team had a relationship with one of the producers of Mondo Lucha, and the idea was born.
PL: Sounds like you had a great turnout. How did you market the event?
EFC: Approximately 300 people attended, mostly families. This was the first time we did a limited ticketing event; knowing that the event would be popular and space would be limited, we used Eventbrite to track registration. The tickets were gone within days.
We marketed through social media, our newsletters and weekly e-news blast to subscribers, and on our website and Spanish radio stations. Since we had a limited number of tickets, we didn’t engage in a full-scale promotional effort.
PL: Were you nervous about things getting too raucous?
EFC: Mondo Lucha offered a family-friendly show with the perfect balance of rowdy fun and kid-friendly intensity. Plus, we had staff, volunteers and security guards on hand to manage and direct the crowd. Making sure that we managed the number of attendees in a first-come, first-served protocol helped manage everyone’s expectations.
Any time you do something new or unexpected, there are concerns about the unknown, but the event was a complete success and so well received by the community. Our staff really pitched in and pulled out all the stops to make it great. It took everyone — librarians, custodians, our IT team, security, the buy-in and participation of our director.
PL: What sort of set-up did the event entail?
EFC: The branch closed early, at 3 p.m., so we could get the space ready for our 7 p.m. start time. Set-up involved moving a lot of furniture and computers to make room for the 16-by-16-foot wrestling ring. The producers of Mondo Lucha brought all the sound and special lighting equipment. The branch re-opened at its regular time (10 a.m.) the following morning.
PL: Tell me about your favorite moment from the event.
EFC: During one of the matches, a “bad guy” character ripped a book (one that was not part of our collection!). The crowd went wild booing. It was cute to see people stick up for the books! (Watch the library’s live stream of the event here.)
PL: What feedback have you received from patrons?
EFC: People were absolutely floored by the show. Kids cheered and all the wrestlers stayed to sign autographs, take photos with patrons in our photo booth, and read stories to the children.
PL: What are your future plans for Library Loud Days?
EFC: We are just in the planning stages for 2018, but everything is on the table: a petting zoo, a carnival, maybe a soccer match, Zumba classes. You just never know what's up our sleeves!
Our community has definitely responded well to the series. Since launching Library Loud Days, our digital and social media presence has more than doubled. Patron counts and circulation are also up. And more people now have a Milwaukee Public Library card than ever before. More importantly, many of the people who attend these events — it's their first time in the library, but it's not their last!
PL: Any final thoughts?
EFC: Libraries are enduring institutions, because they are transformative institutions. At MPL we are a place to read, yes, but also to learn and to connect — to resources, to fellow community members, to job training and employment opportunities, and so much more.
Everyone knows what a library is, but many people need to be reintroduced to us in our modern form. We are so much more than places where you can get books or DVDs or listen to a story time. We are voting booths and community meeting spaces. We have countless digital resources including downloadable books, music and magazines. We have computer classes and job training. We host authors and performers. We have job fairs for teens and adults, we teach financial literacy classes. We have recording equipment and digital editing bays in the makerspace at our new Mitchell Street branch, along with a kitchen for culinary literacy programming. We want everyone to come in and see for themselves!