Thanks to technology and a wealth of resources available via the internet, youth have more ways to discover their interests and passions. Spaces across the YOUmedia Learning Labs Network, based on the principles of Connected Learning and HOMAGO (hanging out, messing around, and geeking out) provide spaces for youth to gather, collaborate, and learn by doing. With the guidance of caring, near-peer artist-mentors, teens explore animation, recording music, and writing poetry and music. YOUmedia successfully provides a way for youth to learn 21st century skills, which in turn can lead to more workplace opportunities. There is a need for developing a 21st century skillset, which includes “life and career skills, innovation, critical thinking, and information, media, and technology skills.” In essence, workers need to be able to adapt and think critically and differently about situations. YOUmedia has had success with this, encouraging youth to experiment with new technology and activities.

Given the success of YOUmedia, how does one transform the “geeking out” stage of creation and production into a viable career path? For example, Salvador Avila, the Manager of the Enterprise Branch of the Las Vegas Clark County Library District and mentor at the Las Vegas-Clark County Library District, saw how youth were constantly plugged into their music players, so he began teaching DJ classes. Organizations tapping into the successes of the YOUmedia Network are the Cities of Learning Network and twelve new user-centered spaces funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services and the MacArthur Foundation. The Los Angeles Summer of Learning encourages youth to explore and develop their passions in coding, community action, media, sports, and other interests, and learn how it relates to their career or academic future. Youth aged 16-24 can participate in the Workforce Readiness Challenge, where they learn job skills, interview skills and financial literacy.

A project that our office is involved in is the GRIT Lab – a teen community center in the South Bronx that will be a place to connect youth to out of school learning and workforce opportunities. Across New York City, there are 172,000 out-of school and out-of-work 18-24 year olds. Some of the challenges that out-of-school and out-of-work youth face result from a lack of interest-driven opportunities, workforce development programs, and a supportive learning environment. Working with key organizations in the South Bronx like DreamYard and New Visions for Public Schools, we observed how an advisor figure positively affects the student’s academic and personal growth and chances for success. Advisors are a crucial aspect of the youth development process because they are instrumental in advocating for and making sure students are on a path to success in their education. An advisor who works with and supports the student’s customized pathway from the interest-driven to career-driven stages would be ideal, and they could be a resource to connect different resources.

The GRIT Lab faces challenges of connecting areas of youth interest to workforce opportunities. One area of interest is technology – coincidentally, New York City is a rapidly growing technology center. Tech is now the second largest jobs sector in the city and will be a source of opportunity for many young New Yorkers. By identifying these industries and the requisite job skills now, today’s youth can be prepared to succeed in these sectors. For example, training a young person today how to code or write a computer program will give them exposure and some basic skills in the technology field. Some of these needs are being addressed by YOUmedia Cohorts and workforce development programs like the Red Hook Initiative in Brooklyn, which provides job and leadership training for young adults and has a Digital Stewardship program for young adults where they work to maintain and provide Wi-Fi for the neighborhood. Per Scholas, a non-profit based in New York with other locations across the country, trains adults in the information technology sector. Per Scholas connects their graduates with career opportunities at Doran Jones (a partner company) and other corporations. Workforce development is a necessary and important layer to add to youth centers.

These skills and opportunities are vital to workforce development, but not always connected to long-term jobs. Even though the emphasis is on developing workforce skills, the holistic needs of the teen remain important. Third places like the DreamYard Art Center with its YOUmedia space, the Children’s Aid Society Next Generation Center (NGC), and the FEGS Bronx Youth Center serve the youth population of the South Bronx. The NGC offers hangout space and structured programs, as well as resources and advisors for youth to learn more about educational and career pathways. One program, the Next Generation Caterers, is a youth-led catering business. Not only does this program produce students with job and culinary skills, they have also been introduced to a work environment through their interests in that field.

The developing trend is that children and youth need more than traditional, in-school learning. User-centered out-of-school learning environments like YOUmedia and the GRIT Lab see the whole child, and the long-term value of interspace learning, advisors and support systems, and the need to pair learning with opportunity. The movement for out-of-school learning opportunities paired with workforce development impacts teen services. The Connected Learning “hanging out, messing around, geeking out” model which YOUmedia uses and its impact on teens has been critical for this move to create an environment that supports youth, and connects their interests to academics, and workforce development.


Margaret Sullivan, Principal of Margaret Sullivan Studio, is a leader in programming, visioning and designing libraries of our future! With a specialty in designing teen spaces to support Connected Learning principles, the Studio was responsible for designing the DreamYard Arts Center in the South Bronx, a YOUMedia prototype, and Cloud901, the new Teen Learning Lab at the Benjamin L. Hooks Central Library in Memphis, TN.



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