Picture yourself walking into a library on a brisk winter
day. You see smiling faces and a variety of tempting new books. You hear
snippets of conversation, rustling newspapers, the cheerful chirps of the
checkout stations. You feel your toes beginning to warm up as the snow melts
from your boots. And, taking a deep breath, you smell... cookies?
It’s just another day at Norwich Public Library. Since 2016, when grants from the Norwich Women’s Club and the Norwich Lions Club sponsored an update of the library’s kitchen facilities, many events there have taken advantage of the power of food to bring people together. “Cupcake Wars,” for example, gathered kid chefs and adult judges for some friendly competition. As an excited audience looked on – and sampled the goodies – four teams vied to take home top honors for their baked confections, appraised not only on presentation and creativity, but also on teamwork and collaboration.
More recently, an afternoon of cooking science presented young chefs with a delicious challenge. What happens, and why, to a basic chocolate chip cookie recipe when you vary the amounts of flour or baking soda? Or when you use shortening instead of butter? Events geared toward adults include a cookbook talk and baking demonstration with King Arthur Flour head bread-baker Martin Philip.
A Cupcake Wars team poses with their winning creation
These types of offerings don’t just bring people together within the library’s four walls. The Cook Nook, which made its debut in October, allows cardholders to borrow unusual kitchen items such as an apple peeler, a food mill, an empanada maker, and various specialty baking pans. “We encourage people to share photos of their creations! We’re really hoping that the Cook Nook will be a spark for creativity, a place where community members can inspire each other,” says Library Director Lucinda Walker.
The library’s cooking resources can also serve as an impetus to share what we have with others. At a November event, kids and adults made fresh-baked dog treats, as well as fleece pet toys, to donate to the Upper Valley Humane Society. And the upcoming Baking for Good series invites young people to the library to make cookies, muffins, and quickbreads to donate to organizations throughout the Upper Valley.
“Baking combines science and collaboration, math and texture,” says Children’s Librarian Beth Reynolds, who spearheaded the Cook Nook and organizes many of the library’s cuisine-related events. “It’s a chance for people to see a project through from beginning to completion. They can enjoy the results themselves, and feel good about giving to others.” What more could we say? Life at the library is pretty sweet.