Welcome to the YALSAblog News of the Month. In this post we highlight a few news items from the past month that we think are of interest to staff working with teens in libraries, schools, and youth development organizations.
This year was the first Scratch Summit, a partnership between the Progressive Arts Alliance (PAA) – a Cleveland based organization that deepens the learning experiences of youth by designing and implementing arts-integrated, project-based learning programs; the Scratch Team; the Scratch Foundation; and researchers from the Coding for All project – including those from the Berkman Center for Internet and Society and the Digital Media and Learning Hub.
At DML 2016 I went to a session on post-emergent library makerspaces. This session really dug into the challenges of maintaining a makerspace in a library overtime, looking past makerspaces and learning labs emergent phase. The session explored libraries that were part of a 1 year action research plan funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services.
Below are challenges and solutions from three different libraries of thosedescribed in the session:
Anythink library created The Studio originally planned and staffed by the teen and the technology librarians but they have now moved on to other position. We don’t have the people to support the spaces. Professional artists had been working in the space but the turnover created communication breakdown between the artists and the library. The loss of the original staff also caused institutional knowledge gaps. It is a small library so there was very little written documentation. In order to keep The Studio going the library realized that all staff needed professional development training, not expert knowledge, just a basic understanding of the materials and the space: what is the tech, how to connect patrons to correct media, how to get in touch with artists-in-residence. To be successful the staff at The Studio recommend that you integrate your program into your institutional structure. Your makerspace can’t just be that shiny room in the corner, it needs to be framed as experiential learning for the patrons. No matter what staff member a patron talks to they should be able to give the gist of the program. They found that they needed to change recruiting and hiring of staff, that they need traditional librarians but also need other professionals with different skill sets. Creative professionals bring their network with them.
Recently, I attended the Digital Media and Learning Conference (DML) in Irvine, California hoping to learn a bit more about this education focused world I’ve jumped into after finishing up a PhD in Information Science. I was not disappointed. The DML Research Hub is composed of a group of researchers who are interested in all things digital media and learning (not surprisingly). They have several initiatives including connected learning, make-to-learn, and youth and participatory politics. You can find out more about their work here.
The conference included a mix of educators, researchers, academics, and even librarians. The wide range of presentations held during the conference is what impressed me most. Everything from game design and maker programs to Scratch and digital citizenship. There seemed to be a space for anyone interested in how digital media impacts youth learning. For someone interested in the everyday lives of young adults (like me), the conference demonstrated how commonly used digital media such as gaming and Makerspaces can play a role in the education of youth. Education no longer seems static, fixed in the traditional classroom, but instead learning can occur in many forms and engage the learner rather than bore them.
Three sessions that I attended stick out in my mind: The first, Get Creative with Coding: Dance, Sports, and Other Interests, asked that all participants to take part in some hands on playing through Scratch, a free coding program available from MIT. By taking time to play with Scratch and a smaller version of Scratch called Scratch “Microworld”, we learned how to encourage youth to develop their own online projects on whatever they find interesting – music, sports, fashion. The tie into libraries is that as an informal space for learning, libraries can motivate youth to use the library resources to access this freely available online coding program and become more involved in making within their communities.
Knock on wood, but I’m pretty sure that the universe won’t be able to top the craziness that was my 2012. In the same month I: became my library system’s first Youth Services Manager, was voted to serve as YALSA President, and had a baby.
Why do I mention that personal trifecta? Because quite soon thereafter, the year that I was President, The Future of Library Services for and with Teens report came out and challenged me profoundly. As we all now well know, it called for a “paradigm shift” in the way that we approach and implement teen services in libraries and I happened to have been in the unique position to think through those shifts on both a local and a national scale… while at the same time managing significant personal and professional capacity issues (as so many of us often do).
I mention all of this in a post intended to focus on this year’s Digital Media and Learning Conference because as I’ve worked to support future focused outcomes related to youth and libraries, I’ve spent a lot of time:
- Trying to achieve perfect solutions for complex problems
- Feeling like a weirdo for piecing together concepts, research, and tools from disparate sources
- Worrying about the general mess that comes with change
As it turns out, I need to get over myself. It’s not just me, or even just libraries for that matter, that are struggling with these issues. At DML, I had conversations with or heard from computer scientists and afterschool club organizers, intermediaries and funders, researchers and teachers who are all feeling as messy as I have been. But as we talked and connected, that messiness felt good, exciting, and full of possibility. That messiness felt like we were all moving forward to help this country’s most diverse demographic of teens be successful in an ever evolving tech, career, and cultural landscape. That messiness felt like progress.
STEM learning is a growing part of student’s lives now because of all the fast technology advances. There are many great ways for students to participate in STEM activities while in school, but what can “out-of-school” educators, such as librarians, offer these same students? This is the questions that a group, sponsored by the Research+Practice Collaboratory, wanted to answer. Their main question was: “How can professional learning for out-of-school staff be organized to promote equity in STEM learning?” Through this discussion, four big ideas emerged to support this.
First, “seeing, hearing, and honoring” need to be at hand with all educators, whether in school or, out of school. This means, staff working with teens, and other youths, need to listen to what customers want. The best way to design a program is to listen to what your customers want from you.
For instance, recently I had a young man reach out to me because he wanted to start a STEM Club at my library branch. Although I was timid at first, due to time and money, we decided to go ahead. The positives of having a teen led STEM Club is, they have more ideas of what they want to do, and are very knowledgeable about all different types of STEM programs and projects. When our department started having teen led programs earlier in the summer, we had great success because the teen volunteers were excited to present their ideas, and teens in the community were excited to see what their peers were doing. Seeing, hearing, and honoring has really helped my department in a big way.
Teen Read Week at our school, Findlay High in Findlay, Ohio, has become a time when the library opens wide its doors and invites in a huge variety of people to come share themselves with the school. Last year this included culinary students one day and a menagerie of animals another day. This year we are bringing together the international students from a local university together with our high school students to explore language and culture in a variety of ways in our library.
The networking that comes about from coordinating these events is fantastic. I made contact with the Japanese Outreach Initiative Coordinator at the university. This contact has opened up the opportunity to involve Japanese exchange students to our programming events. The more the merrier! The JOI Coordinator also asked if we would be interested in having a Korean student do a bit of programming, and we were thrilled to welcome her, as well. Once we connect with the student organizations when they return to campus, we will include students from India, Saudi Arabia, and Nepal, as well.
As a high school with 82% of students identifying as White, in a city where 91% of the population in the 2010 census identified as white, there is not a lot of opportunity for students to talk to and learn from people who grew up in other countries and speak different languages. This experience will be good for our students, and I hope it will be enriching for our staff, as well.
This year I am extremely honored and thankful to be a YALSA Teen Read Week grant recipient. I took my time this year deciding what I would do for Teen Read Week. My past Teen Read Weeks had been small in scale. Last year I had teens write a short book review and enter it for a raffle prize (a set of books related to last year’s theme). What could I do this year to really encourage a wide variety of teens to participate, and get excited about reading? I decided to combine a reading program for the month with a fun incentive: Read 1 book for the month of October, get an invitation to our International Murder Mystery Dinner Theatre!!
This year’s theme is “Read for the fun of it”, encouraging multicultural reading and involvement. For the month of October, teens can sign up to be part of our online reading program where the goal is simple: Read 1 book for the month! I wanted an achievable goal, to encourage teens of all reading interests and levels to take part. Upon registering, they will receive a bookmark with suggested multicultural YA books. They won’t be required to read these books, as I really want all teens to be able to participate. I also wanted a non-reading related incentive, to encourage teens who wouldn’t normally read to do so, thus the murder mystery! I will probably give everyone an Applebee’s Ice Cream Coupon for finishing their book too, for those who aren’t into mysteries. I decided to extend Teen Read Week to a month long celebration, as many teens would find 1 week a daunting time constraint to read a book. Finally, I will be adding a Teen Foreign Language collection, as part of the grant, to encourage ESL students to become involved as well. I will be working with the school literacy coaches to spread the word and encourage as many students as I can to participate.
Once we have our ‘guests’ invited, it’s time to put on the show! Upon completion of 1 book read, teens will receive the highly coveted and illustrious invitation to the event of the year- An Assassin in Our Midst: An International Interactive Murder Mystery. Thanks to the grant, we will be able to serve a variety of foods from different cultures for our dinner. Guests will be given programs with their team number, a list of the suspects, space to write notes, and a tear out for their team’s murderer guess. Suspects will be played by members of the Teen Advisory Board, with whom I will have at least 2 practices ahead of time. The TAB members will receive character descriptions, and then they will improvise based on who their character is. Each team will get to speak with and question all of the suspects to determine who was involved in the assassination of an important diplomatic figure. Intrigue, fun, and suspense are sure to ensue!
Over the last few years the library world has been buzzing about programming in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) and coding, the new digital literacy. For many librarians like myself, who come from a humanities background and are used to planning programming around books and literature, this new digital literacy can seem daunting. Add in the fact that many celebrated STEM and coding programs are backed by large budgets, multi-system libraries, and lots of staff, and the idea of putting together a meaningful program at your own library can seem almost impossible! However, I’m here to tell you that you don’t need a big budget and oodles of staff to bring computer science to your community. You just need Girls Who Code.
Girls Who Code is a national nonprofit aimed at closing the gender gap in tech. As the name Girls Who Code indicates, women are still vastly underrepresented in the tech industry – just 18% of computer science graduates are women. Girls Who Code is working to change this with their FREE Clubs program that teaches middle and high school girls how to code after school during the academic year. The organization partners with volunteers like libraries to host and facilitate the Club curriculum – all you need to host your own Club is space, computers, internet and leadership. The program goes beyond just exposing young people to the hard skills of computer science, it also fosters soft skills like public speaking, networking, and collaboration. Additionally, the Girls Who Code network includes a supportive and active community of over 10,000 girls across the country.
When initially looking at the Pew Research Report statistics Crystle Martin referred to in her YALS article, A Library’s Role in Digital Equity, one may assume the digital divide is coming to a close with the rise of teen’s access to technology. According to the 2015 study:
87% of teens have access to a desktop/laptop computer
73% of teens have access to a smartphone
58% of teens have access to a tablet computer
The report also shares the primary way teens access the internet with 91% of them using mobile devices at least occasionally. This means if a teen has a mobile phone with internet access they are adequately connected to the digital world, right? Martin counters this argument by throwing down more facts such as, “one-quarter of those earning below the median income and one-third of those living below poverty level accessed the Internet only through their mobile devices.” Resulting in a significant part of the population being under-connected according to the “Opportunity For All?” findings.
What does this have to do with libraries, though? In the current trend of libraries increasingly adding “innovation” to mission statements and “technology skills” to job descriptions while working towards increasing access we may be missing the key element in creating digital equity, or equal access and opportunity. Giving teens school tablets or providing free library wifi is a great start, but what happens when that teen lives in a home without an internet connection or lives too far away from the library to attend on weekends? When used correctly technology can be a valuable tool in fostering digital participation, but our approach as educators is the most important action to take.