From the Director’s Pocket: Public Libraries and Multiple Intelligences, or How We Are All Really, Really Smart!

1I’ve always been a fan of Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences. Gardner’s theory challenges traditional, narrower views of intelligence, and identifies numerous kinds of intelligences including “verbal/linguistic, logical/mathematical, visual/spatial, bodily-kinesthetic, musical, interpersonal, intrapersonal, and naturalistic.” While I am by no means an expert in this area, I do find Gardner’s theory and the surrounding scholarship to ring true with my experience, both personally and professionally.

Libraries historically have catered to those with strong verbal/linguistic intelligence: people who excel at writing, reading, thinking in words, and telling stories. Even as reading formats have changed with the advent of new technologies, Portsmouth has remained a vibrant community of readers (and writers) who visit the library in person and online in large numbers every day. Whether they are borrowing graphic or romance novels, downloading biographies or travel guides from OverDrive or attending a local author literary festival in the lobby, reading is alive and well at the library and thankfully so.

Meanwhile, in the last decade or so, libraries have broadened their outlook and service offerings in order to tap into all of the intelligences of our patrons, and at PPL in particular, I think we have been successful in doing so.

For visual/spatial, logical/mathematical and bodily/kinesthetic thinkers, we regularly offer LEGO engineering drop-in opportunities for children, as well as 3D printing services and 3D modeling courses for both kids and adults. We facilitated the formation of an adult coloring book group and a flourishing knitting group. We offer in-person computer classes on image editing software and computer coding and provide access to all of’s video-based courses on a wide range of computer software.

2For musically inclined thinkers, we offered the BRAVO! series of concerts earlier this year featuring talented young piano players from the Seacoast region. We also greatly expanded our music collection by offering downloadable music through Hoopla.

For naturalistic intelligence, we hosted a two-day environmental impact symposium which brought together numerous environmental organizations and community members to learn about our environment and how we can make a positive impact. Our staff also maintains gardens behind the courtyard and invites children to help throughout the year.

Perhaps most significantly, we have increasingly offered programs and facilitated community discussions encouraging the use of interpersonal and intrapersonal intelligence. For example, we have hosted several Death Cafes with Hospice Help Foundation which gently encourage attendees to think about “their inevitable demise” in a humorous and warm environment. Recently, we hosted two panel discussions which invited the community to come together to discuss the changing face of education and the media in our region. We also have provided ongoing programming around world affairs including not just lectures but also the “Great Decisions” discussion series which allows people from all backgrounds to discuss their concerns in a safe, respectful and neutral environment.

As the director of this library, I take tremendous pride in knowing that our staff works diligently to serve all of the residents of Portsmouth. As we continue to support all forms of reading and writing, we will also strive to offer and create vibrant experiences for all kinds of thinkers and learners. I hope you feel the same way, and that you will share your ideas for even more programs and services you would like to the see the library offer or help make possible. If we work together as a community, the possibilities are endless.


Some online resources about “multiple intelligence” theory and practice:

Multiple Intelligence at Edutopia,

A few videos on YouTube:


A book that might be of interest to children…

You’re Smarter Than You Think : A Kid’s Guide to Multiple Intelligences  [Youth Services, Nonfiction, 153.9 ARM]

Image source:

SteveFrom the Director’s Pocket is a blog series curated by Steve Butzel, Portsmouth Public Library director, dog lover, Phish (the band) aficionado, nonfiction reader, and natural resource, sustainable energy and international affairs enthusiast. If you have suggestions for something that should be included in a future blog post, email him at

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