Post-Emergent Library Makerspaces: SLAMS, a Path Forward

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.

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Getting inspired at DML 2016

img_4174Recently, 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.

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Messiness as Progress: Reflections from the 2016 DML Conference.

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.

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