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Cooking With Ben: Our Library’s Cooking Show Adventure

by on July 15, 2016

When your library has invested much time and money in a particular collection, you hope that your patrons take notice. Over the past four to five years, our cookbook section at Pharr (Texas) Memorial Library has grown tremendously. Unfortunately, the extensive collection circulated poorly. So we decided to roll with what we had and launch our own cooking show titled “Cooking with Ben” (after one of our staff members). Ben volunteered and was the ideal chef for the job. The response has been amazing!

We realized cooking shows, cooking podcasts—cooking everything—are very popular these days. Tutorials, demonstrations, and photos of cooking are all over television, social media outlets like Facebook and Pinterest, and sites like BuzzFeed and Tasty. We thought, why not appeal to the masses and give them what they want, and  decided to move forward with this project. I teamed up with two of my staff members and we got to work. Honestly, the whole process was very simple.

We pulled out multiple cookbooks and found some pretty easy recipes. When we decided what we wanted to make first (pancakes and a smoothie), we took a trip to the grocery store. The total cost of supplies was only about nineteen dollars.

We then set up shop in one of our library’s storage rooms with our library’s Canon XA10 camera and ZOOM H1 microphone. Very primitive, I know, but the result was actually quite spectacular. After our two-hour shoot, we were ready to post to our YouTube channel and Facebook page. Our initial episode was so raw and unscripted that it made the whole experience more appealing. The comedy of it all sucked viewers right in, and we had over one thousand views on Facebook in under twenty-four hours.

The video was shared over twenty-five times and had more than sixty likes. Since we are not the largest library, these numbers were staggering, and they let us know that we were on to something great, or, as we started saying, “We’re going viral.” Our second episode, in which we cooked up a southern-style grilled cheese sandwich to pay homage to our region, was just as popular. We now have the community asking about and recommending the dishes we will be making next.

The community engagement has been great. Not only do we get to cook up some great food, but we also have the opportunity to promote our library’s cooking literature. Since we aired our first episode, we have seen an surge of cookbook checkouts. Our goal had been accomplished.

Libraries are constantly innovating and coming up with new services and programs to appeal to their communities. It is a smart move to take what is trending and incorporate it into your library’s events and programming. We felt food and cooking were trending, so we made something unique and simple out of it. Millennials love food, and they love to gather ideas from social media on a daily basis. In an interview with Eve Turow by The Atlantic, the food writer demonstrates how college perspectives towards food have changed in just five years:

Back when she was in college, she was content subsisting on “gelatinous brown rice, pre-cooked mushy pinto beans, [and] blocks of bouncy tofu.” But if she were in college now, she says, she’d be taking rice-bowl inspiration from Pinterest and making good use of the nearby farmer’s market and the greenhouse attached to the science library.[1]

The cooking blog Bon Appetit claims that, “On average, Americans spend only 27 minutes a day preparing food, compared to 60 minutes in 1965.”[2] Those are sad numbers. We want people to get excited about cooking again and show them that they can cook up something tasty and filling with just a few ingredients and in less than twenty minutes. We hope our community gets excited about cooking again and enjoys our future videos.

Our first two episodes:

Cooking With Ben Episode 1

Cooking With Ben Episode 2

[1] Eve Turow, “Why Are Millennials So Obsessed with Food?” by Joe Pinsker, The Atlantic, August 14, 2015.
[2] Elyssa Goldberg, “Why Americans Don’t Cook as Much as We Used To,” Bon Appetit, February 17, 2016.

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