Are you a maker? With all the emphasis on high tech gadgetry, it can make you feel a little left behind if you can’t swing a 3D printer on your budget or lack the skills to wield some soldering equipment.

But, like the science-technology-engineering- math portmanteau STEM which added an “A” added to encompass art and become STEAM, the expansion of the “maker” trend to incorporate arts and crafts as a creative and productive use of time and space is a step towards recognizing the wide variety of material production that libraries have long been supporting. And it’s an easy way to get in on the making trend with supplies you likely have laying around.

We’ve had success with this sort of low-stress, drop-in crafting at our library.

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So, your first questions might be, “Who is this? And why is he writing here?” Good questions. Let’s start there. My name is Miguel Figueroa and I work at the American Library Association on a new Center for the Future of Libraries initiative. As I’ve begun my work over the past year, I’ve been focused on three objectives:

  • Identifying emerging trends relevant to libraries and the communities they serve
  • Promoting futuring and innovation techniques to help librarians and library professionals shape their future
  • Building connections with experts and innovative thinkers to help libraries address emerging issues

And if those objectives sound pretty obvious to you, I’m not surprised. I know that YALSA members, by the nature of your work and your audience, tend to be on trend, innovative, and outward-looking. In fact, over the past year YALSA members have been incredibly helpful in suggesting trends for me to explore, including Collective Impact, Connected Learning, and Emerging Adulthood.

Today, as part of “30 Days of Teen Programming,” I want to try to connect teen programming to an important and emerging view of the library as platform.

David Weinberg’s excellent article, “The Library as Platform,” proposed the potential for the library to serve as a platform by leveraging its data and information resources for members of the community to build from. And John Palfrey, in his forthcoming book BiblioTech: Why Libraries Matter More Than Ever in the Age of Google, encourages libraries to become platforms for hacking – engaging large communities of people with diverse skills and perspectives to remake libraries and their communities using the resources, information, and data libraries make available.

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As a librarian, you probably see the impacts of programming every day. You know your work is important based on interactions with your teens. And they probably make it clear – through their words or behavior – when a particular program has hit or missed the mark.

But what if you had more than anecdotal evidence? What if you had data to tell you what works, what doesn’t, and why?

In December, ALA’s Public Programs Office released a first-of-its-kind research study to quantify the characteristics, audiences, outcomes and impacts of library programming. The National Impact of Library Public Programs Assessment (NILPPA) describes the current state of library programming and proposes an ambitious, eight-year research plan for further study. NILPPA also poses a number of questions, including: What counts as “success” in library programming? What impact does programming have on participants and communities? What skills must programming librarians hone to maximize impact and reach underserved communities?

But let’s back up for a moment. What is the Public Programs Office (PPO)? Located one story up from YALSA in ALA’s Chicago headquarters, PPO promotes cultural and community programming as an essential part of library service. Operating on grant funding, our 10-person staff offers professional development activities, programming resources, and grant opportunities to help libraries fill their role as community cultural centers — places of cultural and civic engagement where people of all backgrounds gather for reflection, discovery, participation and growth.

Library programming has changed since PPO was founded more than 20 years ago. Back then, support for library programs for adults was limited and fragile, and the title “programming librarian” was most likely to refer to someone in tech services. Today, there is a robust community of librarians whose job descriptions include the creation of programs for all ages.

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teens in front of a graffitti muralThe first item in YALSA’s Teen Programming Guidelines states, “Create programming that reflects the needs and identities of all teens in the community.” And the overview of this guideline goes on to say:

In order to ensure that library programming meets the needs of all members of the community and does not duplicate services provided elsewhere, library staff should have a thorough understanding of the communities they serve. Library staff must continually analyze their communities so that they have current knowledge about who the teens in their community are. They must also develop relationships with community organizations already working with youth. Library staff play a crucial role in connecting teens to the community agencies and individuals that can best meet their needs.

The part of the overview that I think sometimes is difficult for library staff working with teens is the “continually analyze their communities so that they have current knowledge….” Read More →

The Teen Programming Guidelines discuss the physical spaces of hosting teen programs in their eighth guideline.  When YALSA released its Teen Space Guidelines in May 2012, I dove into the wealth of information that the guidelines provided.  My school was in a transition period where we gained an additional media center space that needed to be completely renovated.  Our original media center also needed some updating, so the Teen Space Guidelines was the perfect tool for me to use in approaching our spaces.

The first teen space guideline states, “Solicit teen feedback and input in the design and creation of the teen space.” Librarians and media specialists should always take into consideration the community they serve.  I needed feedback on what our students wanted to see in our original space.  A simple Survey Monkey survey was all it took to gain valuable insight into layout, furniture, needs, and wants for our high school students.  With their advice, we were able to rearrange furnishings and incorporate a few new pieces to freshen up our original media center.  Students also suggested that we move our manga section closer to the circulation desk.  Manga books are cataloged in the 740s in the nonfiction collection.  In our media center, this happened to put them in a far corner of our space and hard to see from the circulation desk.  Not only are these super popular books that are checked out frequently, but they became hot commodities that were frequently stolen.  (We do not have a book security system.)  After moving these books closer to the circulation desk, students have easier access to them, and we do not lose near as many to theft.  This also allowed us to promote the books more easily, which is also one of the guidelines in Teen Space Guidelines.  Teen feedback can never be underestimated.

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In the Fall 2014 YALSA journal (vol 13, number 1), I published an article about creating outcome measurement tools collaboratively with staff and participants for a teen program (Measuring Outcomes for Teen Technology Program, p. 25). The program I discussed is the Teen Tech Squad, tech workshops for teens led by teens at Hennepin County Library.

When I began working with the teen librarians to identify outcomes and measurement tools, an important step was relying on the expertise of the teen librarians. I did not assume that I knew what teens were doing in the workshops or what skills they were gaining. I relied on the expertise of the teen librarians to identify these things. I worked with them to make sure that they understood what outcomes are and we collaboratively created the outcomes and survey questions. We also took the time to get teens opinions on the questions we asked so we knew our questions would be understandable and effective. I empowered staff to take the lead on implementing the evaluation and continue to offer my assistance as they discover what is working and what isn’t.

This approach to evaluation is called “developmental evaluation,” a concept developed by program evaluation consultant Michael Quinn Patton. Developmental evaluation differs from traditional evaluation in many ways. For example, one way is the role of the evaluator. Traditional evaluation positions the evaluator as an outsider from the program they are evaluating while developmental evaluation positions evaluation as a job duty of the program deliverers. Developmental evaluation is most suited to programs that are innovative and adaptable; that is, not static.

Why this is important is that I see a need for libraries to have an in-house evaluation expert. It may seem easier (although more expensive) to hire an outside firm to evaluate. What library staff miss out when they do this is learning how to evaluate on their own. Knowing how to evaluate means that you can work evaluation into the biggest and smallest projects at your library. It can help you design projects intentionally, evaluate them, and decide what should continue, what should change and what can come to an end.

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Girlvolution_Web LogoLast spring, a couple of coworkers and I did some outreach at an event called Girlvolution. It was a completely youth-led conference, with sessions on social justice issues ranging from foster care reform to sexual identity. The teens leading each session mixed statistical and factual information with their own perspectives and experiences.

It was the best conference I had ever been to. I was blown away by how poised, informed, and prepared the youth were. But I wondered: how did they do their research? Had they been visiting our libraries every year without us even knowing it?

Our Youth and Family Learning Manager looked into it and found out that this was exactly the case. Although Powerful Voices (the organization that hosts Girlvolution)  had a “Library Day” as part of their program each year, the library had not been providing direct support.

PV

What an awesome organization.

So this year, we collaborated. My coworkers and I met with their staff to hear more about their organization’s mission and goals, and to learn how we could help. We arranged for me to visit Powerful Voices on a Thursday afternoon a couple of weeks ago to talk to the youth and their adult allies (mentors) about research. It was a great conversation about everything from whether all the world’s information is available on Google (heck no) to evaluating resources.

PV survey results

Results of a survey asking participants to rate the effectiveness of Library Research Day.

That Saturday, the girls and their allies all came to the library. We settled down in the computer lab and got SERIOUS about research. I showed them how to find books in our catalog, and how to decode Dewey. We dug into databases to find the most up-to-date information and the best statistics. We ended the day with pizza, which is never a bad idea.

Powerful Voices ends their sessions with a gratitude circle. That Saturday, many youth and adults mentioned finding out about all the great resources the library has to offer, and how helpful librarians can be. I was grateful for all I learned from them, and to be part of the support network for such talented and engaged young women.

Many libraries across the country are offering great STEAM programs for teens; but are these programs as accessible and interesting to diverse teens as we would like them to be? Teens identified as underrepresented minorities–i.e., African-American, American Indian, Hispanic/Latino, and Pacific Islander teens–routinely score below their white peers’ in math and science. It’s not about aptitude, though; it’s about whether these teens have adequate access to learning opportunities that prepare and inspire them to pursue and succeed in science, technology, engineering, and math. That’s where the library can step in with informal learning opportunities that engage all teens in STEAM.

To make STEAM programs accessible and motivating, directly involve teens in the process of “doing” STEAM. Hands-on learning is great, as it emphasizes that every person is capable of doing science. Even better is collaborative work, which allows teens to work together to create a product greater than they could accomplish on their own; this is often called “citizen science.” Hands-on activities also allow teens to prioritize the things they enjoy and find interesting in a program.

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Green Screen logoName: Green Screen by Do Ink
Platform: iOS, compatible with iPad
Cost: $2.99

While digital media labs complete with green screens, cameras, computers and software may be out of reach for many libraries, creating composite photos and videos with your teens doesn’t have to be. I set out a few weeks ago to find a free or low-cost green screen option and have been fortunate. After testing several chroma key apps, Green Screen by Do Ink is the one I keep coming back to for flexibility and user friendliness. I had begun by looking for free apps, and quickly discovered that I could either pay up front for green screen capabilities, or download free apps that include “in-app purchases.” In-app purchases meant paying to unlock the chroma key tool or to get rid of an obtrusive watermark that rendered the free version essentially useless. I also discovered in one case that the developers’ definition of green screen did not match my own (it was basically a $4.99 masking tool, something that comes included in many photo editing apps). With no advertisements or watermarks, Green Screen’s $2.99 cost is worthwhile.
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