The North Shelby Library in Birmingham, Alabama, was fortunate to win a 2018 YALSA/Dollar General Summer Teen Intern Grant which allowed us to select four interns. After we had more than 40 local rising 7th-12th grade students apply, our Friends group provided funds for four additional interns. Each intern was responsible for completing 30 hours of service which included their training day.
One of the main duties of the interns was to support the STEAM programming offered at the library so an interest in science, technology, engineering, art, or math was included as a requirement on the application. During the interview stage, we asked applicants their experience in teaching someone how to do something, if they had a favorite science experiment, and about any technology experience they might have had.
The interns created their own STEAM program for tweens (defined as 8-12 year olds by the library). This program was planned during the last hour of the intern training. Before they started planning, the librarians demonstrated the technology that the library already owned and discussed the programs that were planned for Summer Reading to avoid duplication. The teens were also given budget parameters. The librarians then went to the other side of the room so that the interns could plan without expecting the adults to lead. On their evaluations of the program one of the interns reported that, “Everyone’s ideas were listened to during the planning of the program. We all worked together to come up with multiple ideas, then we picked our favorites. We rejected some ideas because they were similar to existing programs or they were too time consuming.” Another intern added, “A few of my ideas were rejected because they involved things that were too dangerous to be inside the library like fire and large amounts of electricity.”
The result of the interns’ planning process was a three activity program, Step into STEAM. For the first activity, two of the interns demonstrated elephant toothpaste. After that, the participants split into two groups. One group worked on marshmallow-toothpick engineering challenges while the other group used cardboard to build the hardest maze they could. After 15 minutes, the groups switched. For the last 15 minutes of the program, the teams used iPads to navigate Sphero robots through the mazes they had built.
Participant evaluations for the program were all positive. One child wrote, “It was the best” and a mother thanked us “for organizing programs like this.” The interns also had mostly positive reactions to their program and found it interesting to watch the kids work together to build their mazes and marshmallow structures. Still, the interns and librarians felt there was some room for improvement.
Our first improvement would be to change the time the program was held. It had been scheduled at 10 a.m. as a special event apart from the rest of the tween summer reading programs which were all held in the afternoon. We all felt that attendance would have been better had it been held at the same time as the other programs, even if it had taken place on a different day.
The second improvement the teen interns suggested was that we should have had more time for the tweens to do the building portion of the program. The participants were really excited about making their mazes but did not have time to bring all of their plans to fruition. One teen wrote “It would be great if the STEAM program lasted more than one day or more hours in a day. That way, students would have more time to create.”
In addition to designing the Step into STEAM program, the interns had to create a teaser activity which would spark interest in their upcoming program. The interns built their own maze and had kids stop by to try to navigate Sphero robots through it during the Summer Reading Kickoff festival.
Finally, the interns supported the library’s weekly STEAM exploration program throughout the summer reading program by assisting the librarians. Each Tuesday, we held two sessions of activities which ranged from taking electronics apart to see what was inside to learning how to use TinkerCAD to create 3D objects. Approximately 15 tweens could participate in each session. Interns who signed up to help with Tech Tuesdays got a crash course in the activity of the day and learned more as they helped participants. They also reset the activities in the 30 minute break between sessions. We have been running the Tech Tuesday program for several years and having an intern present during the program helped it run smoothly. Participants were able to have their questions answered more quickly and the interns were able to help us spot problems such as a table running out of supplies.
The North Shelby Library’s Summer Teen Internship program was a resounding success. The interns helped the library provide our patrons with a better summer reading experience. We were also able to help the interns learn job skills such as working on a team and meeting employer expectations. We will be actively searching for funding sources so we can continue this important program in the future.
Kate Etheredge is the Young Adult Services Coordinator at the North Shelby Library in Birmingham, Alabama.