The City of Warren is located in Southeast Michigan. In 2017, it was estimated that 31.4% of youth under the age of 18 in Warren live at less than 100% of the federal poverty level. Technological literacy is an important skill that can empower youth to have successful lives and careers. Youth who are affected by poverty are likely to fall behind their peer group in their ability to comprehend and manipulate technologies, limiting their future educational and career prospects.
The Warren Public Library was fortunate to receive a Summer Learning Resource Grant funded by YALSA and the Dollar General Literacy Foundation. Our goal was to introduce teens to new kinds of technology, specifically virtual reality and artificial intelligence. We used the grant money to purchase two Oculus Go headsets, four AIY kits by Google, and books about applied science.
Previous teen tech-based programs at the library have had low attendance. It is difficult to discern why this is the case, but we made a few decisions to help us try to raise teen attendance numbers throughout the summer.
First, we decided that our technology programs would focus on “process” learning instead of “product” learning. Our goal was to familiarize teens with the technology tools, not to teach them to be experts. For this reason, we allowed them to experiment with the tools with very few specific goals in mind. This made the process more fun and lower pressure because the teens knew there was no right or wrong way to go about using the tools.
Second, we brought the tools to programs that were not technology based. For example, the Oculus Go sets were available at our monthly Teen Spot program, Anime Club, and our summer learning closing lock-in. This allowed us to introduce them to a much wider audience. Specifically, it helped us to reach teens who would not have been interested in signing up for a “tech” program.
Third, we did not focus on “educational” activities. Because our main goal was to interest young people in newer forms of technology, we felt that any use of the tools was educational. For example, while we did download Oculus Go apps that allowed users to “tour” the Anne Frank House, we also downloaded roller coaster simulations and adventure games.
Finally, we asked our Friends of the Library to volunteer to assist with our teen programs this summer. While this was originally for practical purposes, it actually had an interesting effect. Many of the Friends are retirees who are not familiar with technology. The teens’ greater comfort with technology led to collaboration and learning opportunities for everyone.
Although some programs still did not meet target attendance numbers, overall Warren Public Library had more successful teen programs than in previous summers. Perhaps most telling is our “Space Age Tech Day” which introduced both the Oculus Go sets and the AIY kits. While only six teens attended, it greatly improved over our previous technology event for teens, which had zero attendees.
Julianne Novetsky is the Library Technician at Warren Civic Center Library.