PEPPERELL -- The word "geek" doesn't mean what it used to. These days, said Lawrence Library children's librarian Kat Lewin, the term no longer carries the insulting connotations it once did.
"It's something you're very passionate about, something you're very interested in rather than a derogatory term," she said.
It's also changed functions from a noun to a verb. Lewin herself said she identifies with the word. She said she "geeks" trivia and baking. She shares her passion with cooking through her blog "Kat Cooks the Books," in which she experiments with recipes portrayed in literature.
The Lawrence Library is helping spread "geek" awareness through the "Geek the Library" campaign.
The program was developed by the OCLC through partnership with Leo Burnett USA and funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. "Geek the Library" is a nationwide library advocacy campaign designed to show libraries as more than merely places to borrow books but as resources for community togetherness.
The project really took off in 2007 and 2008, when the Online Computer Library Center conducted research on bolstering community support for libraries nationwide. In addition to bringing awareness to what libraries have to offer, the broader mission was to shed light on some funding difficulties that libraries across the country have been facing.
"We wanted to see if a large scale library support campaign could effectively increase funding for libraries by reaching a substantial portion of the voting population," said Geek the Library program manager Linn Edvardsen.
One of the key findings of the research, said Edvardsen, was that public perception benefited greatly by changing the discussion surrounding libraries, from services and information to "how libraries provide transformational opportunities for community members."
Enter "Geek the Library." The campaign, which has touched thousands of libraries across the nation, provides a platform for community members to promote their own passions and a forum in which to meet others who share them. Whether it's science fiction, poetry or pepperoni pizza, the library wants you to answer: What do you geek?
"Because it's asking a question, it starts that dialogue and makes it really easy for people to get so excited, to talk about their passions and break the ice," said Edvardsen. "In that conversation, it brings out the value of the library and how can the library help with what you geek."
Lewin said the Lawrence Library is aiming to launch the campaign in Pepperell in mid-April, during "Love Your Library" week. The staff is still in the conversation phase about how best to bring it to the community, but several ideas have already been discussed.
One is to start an "I geek..." board, where residents can write down what they geek and see what they have in common with their neighbors. For each thing that a person geeks, the library plans to help promote it in one way or another.
"Whatever you geek, whatever you're passionate about, the library will support that. If you geek movies, we have movie nights. If you geek cooking, we have recipes books or we might have class," said Lewin. "If we find out a lot of people geek dogs, maybe we'll have a grooming program. If a lot of people geek photography, maybe we'll have a photography class."
But the key is to hear back from the community.
"By being more aware of what people are outspoken about, it makes it a lot easier to tailor our collection and programs for the needs of the community," said Lewin. "(The library's) a community space and we want it to be accessible to the community."
As for the new direction of the term "geek," it should only be considered a good thing, said Lewin.
"It's not a bad thing to wear you're heart on your sleeve, so to speak. You shouldn't be ashamed of being interested in something, even if it's not necessarily the popular thing to be interested in," said Lewin. "You should be free to express who you are and find other people in the community who like the same things you like."
Regardless of future programming, the library hopes to be able to disperse T-shirts, bookmarks and bumper stickers to spread awareness for the campaign.
"The goal is the make everyone in town realize that they geek something and we can support it at the library," said Lewin.
"Wonderful things can happen by being a geek," she said.