Model Make and Take

All programs are about sharing. When we create or host a program, we share information, inspiration and ideas. Sometimes we even share a little about ourselves. This blog post is about working with a local business to bring a youthful passion of mine to a new generation and even bringing back some fond memories for my peers. For this, we will need to time travel just a little. 

The scene is 1984. No, not the dystopian soul crushing future as envisioned by iconic author George Orwell — I’m talking about the actual year 1984. You know: big hair, boom boxes and break dancing. While most of my friends were at the mall, I spent a lot of my time at the arcade, the local library and Paul Frieler’s Historical Models.

I remember the first time I walked into Paul Frieler’s. Paul’s was a hobby store like no other, filled with glass cases containing authentic replicas of battleships, automobiles and trains. They contained meticulously crafted dioramas detailing scenes of battles both historic and fantastic with characters and creatures frozen in space and time. Interspersed with all of this were stacks of model-making books, manuals and magazines. There was even a secret attic. OK, it wasn’t a secret, but it was a small room you could only access via a rickety wooden stairwell, which was secret enough for me. On that level were scores of board games and war games. Forget about finding a second home, this became my first home.

I went to the library shortly after discovering Paul’s, as was my modus operandi: find something that piqued my interest and then research it. On the shelves of my local library I found even more books on models. One specific book would soon become one of my most treasured of tomes, "The Modelmakers Handbook" by Albert Jackson. In it, Jackson described in detail how to build, sculpt and paint everything from storefronts to battlefronts and from train stations to space stations. From that day on, I dreamt that one day, I too would be talented enough to see my models on display at Paul’s.

It wasn’t too long after that that Paul’s moved from its historic location to a strip mall down the street, and shortly thereafter, closed permanently. One day, I remember driving by and instead of Paul’s there was a Mattress Warehouse. While I never did get my models in Paul’s display case, I felt a deep gratitude for the owners and staff for all they had done to create such fond memories and spark my imagination and creativity.

Years later, as an adult and a professional librarian, I ran into some friends and we reminisced about Paul’s. I began wondering if I could bring that inspiration and spark to others in the form of a program at the library. I had a vague concept in mind, but knew that I needed a community partner to accomplish it. So began my quest.

When I approach local businesses, I always think about what's in it for them. I am not being cynical here, because for many local businesses, time is precious and resources can be scarce, so the decision to back an idea with staff, time and possibly funding is always a serious one. I needed to make the idea appealing to them. For this, I thought a library program would raise awareness of their business and generate community interest in the hobby in the community.

I approached several hobby stores, but none were so inclined, and I was about to give up. Then I met the owner and staff of PCH Hobbies and found they were kindred spirits. They remembered Paul’s and shared a love and passion for models too. Only they had turned their passion into a career. Together, we devised and developed a program for our library. We outlined our roles and collaborated. We planned a two-hour program designed for children and families, called it a Model Car Make and Take, and scheduled it for a Saturday afternoon in June. PCH Hobbies would provide the model kits at cost to the library. They would also provide instruction, equipment and staff. The library would pay for the cost of the models, provide a facility and handle promotion. Library staff took prior registrations using Google Docs and called to confirm registrations a week before the event. We even had PCH Hobbies fill the library lobby display case with models to promote the event and hobby books to promote our collection of hobby books. As an added bonus, participants who completed their models could leave them at the library after the event and we would proudly display them in our display case.

One of my primary concerns regarding this program was safety. You see, back when I built models, most of the tools and equipment ranged from unsafe and environmentally unfriendly to downright toxic. I remember using X-ACTO razor blades, Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and lead miniatures. Not to mention the time I accidently super glued my index finger to my thumb so I appeared to be making the “OK” signal all day. For a brief period of time I contemplated a future of having them fused together for life. Fortunately for all of us, the glue wore off.

Thankfully, the hobby store arranged for safety equipment. The models themselves were SnapTite® models, which require no razors. When the day of the program arrived, the staff of PCH Hobbies arrived in uniform with boxes of models to choose from. They brought out a wide array of contemporary models for display, including RC kits, hydrofoils and Lunar Landers. When the attendees arrived, they each picked out a favorite car and sat down. Budget-wise, I built in a buffer to allow for some no-shows and some last minute drop-ins. What I hadn’t considered were the moms and dads that not only wanted to help their child build a model, but wanted to build a model of their own. Guys and gals my age were reliving their childhood with their kids at the library. This was awesome!

At the end of the event, each participant had built a model from start to finish, and while they followed detailed instructions, they also infused each model with their own imaginations and had their own individual work of art. Some of those artworks were placed in our display case so attendees could show their friends.

We survey participants at each program, and the responses from this program are some of my favorites. On that sticks out in my mind is “My daughter and I had so much fun, thank you Friends of the Library.”

It wasn’t until a while later that I realized that I had recreated a small part of Paul Frieler’s in our library and shared it with the community. As a token of their appreciation, PCH Hobbies gifted me a small model. Someday I will finish it and put it in that display case.