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Plarn in the Archives: A Different Way to Experience Chicago Public Library’s Special Collections

Thinking of something you could do this Wednesday? How about upcycling your plastic bags, learning a new skill, and doing goodall while discovering the treasures at CPL’s Special Collections.  

There is a buzz of energy at the usually quiet ninth floor. College students, library regulars, and professionals on lunch breaks—trek to the Special Collections for an hour or two to learn plarning.

Think of plarning as a form of crocheting, but instead of using yarn, you use plastic bags (hence the name: Plastic yarn = Plarn).

It’s perfectly fine if you don’t fancy yourself as a crafter. The Special Collections team and their partners from the Christ Bible Church turns plarning into a fun DIY adventure with three easy steps.
Step 1: Choose your materials wisely. 

When it comes to plarning, you want thin plastic bags that you can insert into a needle. Once you have your bags, fold them lengthwise and cut off the top handles. Then cut them into 1” strips.

Step 2: Turn plastic into yarn.

Once you have your strips, you can start linking the loops together with a knot. Insert the end of one loop through another. Tighten. Repeat. Don’t worry; if it gets confusing, our plarning experts will demonstrate and guide you.
Step 3: Loop. Twist. Repeat.

Now, it’s time to pick up the needle and start plarning sleeping mats! A resident plarning master will teach you the basic steps. Loop. Twist. Pull. Once you get the hang of it (and you will!), you find the repetitive movement to be calming, soothing even.
The workshop at Special Collections adds extra motivation for its participants. Completed mats will be donated to people experiencing homelessness.

“Plastic bags are perfect for sleeping mats. It’s sturdy yet comfortable because of the materials’ cushioning effect. More importantly, they help insulate the cold, which is critical during the winter,” Roslyn explains.

Special Collections Up Close
“This is a first for the Special Collections, and we’re excited to share this with out patrons,” Glenn Humphreys, head of Special Collections, explains. “We want our visitors to experience the archives from a different perspective,” he continues.
Home to the library’s and the city’s artifacts, original documents, and historical photos, Special Collections is best known for exhibits and lectures. This interactive activity is unique in that it allows patrons to interact with the archives up close. As you go through the different stations, you could also learn more about Chicago’s culture of philanthropy throughout history.

“There are photographs, archives, artifacts and other historic items on displaythat showcase how Chicago gives back to the community. This way, you can connect what you read and see to the plarning activity. The experience, then becomes holistic,” says Glenn.

There is a different philanthropic theme every week.
Plarning in the archives also highlights that the Library’s Special Collections are for everyone. “You’re free to come up here to explore our exhibits, use collections, and talk with our resident archivists. You are always welcome here,” says Glenn.
Plarning in the archives is held every Wednesday of September. Click here for the full details.

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