The Public Library as a Center for Technological Creativity
I am a Technology Education Librarian at a public library branch for youth in Charlotte, North Carolina, called ImaginOn. It is also a partnership with the Children’s Theatre of Charlotte. Our link together is our mission statement which is “bringing stories to life.”
There are many ways that we bring stories to life through technology on a daily basis. While some schools come to see a theatre performance, others visit the library to learn about our services with contemporary technologies.
One of the well used technology resources at ImaginOn is Studio i, where youth can create a video using Pinnacle, Stop Motion Pro, iMovie, or Final Cut software. They can also create music using GarageBand or Sony ACID music. The library owns a portable station that is called the ReadyANIMATOR (readyanimator.com), which has software on it for people to create movies and music. Making movies—whether live action, 3D or stop motion—develops important skills to bring stories to life. Learning about storyboarding, presentation, and filming, using appropriate music, and mentoring each other are activities that fit into many of the courses they are currently taking.
Sometimes schools that visit Studio i already have a project in mind that they would like their students to work on. Others come just wanting their students to be aware that this place is a resource they can use as part of their school work or as a place they can use free resources to explore a hobby. We have an annual Film Festival and Music Bash (two separate programs) that are a culmination of what was created in the Studio i or in the community by youth, throughout the year. These celebrations give youth an opportunity to emerge from behind the microphone or the camera and connect with other youth who share the same passions. They also help motivate them to create something they would like others to see. We invite filmmaking professionals to work with the youth on an aspect such as sound design or acting that they might want to further pursue through courses or other library programs.
In addition to music and video creation, video gaming is also very popular at ImaginOn. Game design programs using such software as Kodu, Little Big Planet, Scratch, GameMaker, Alice, or MultiMedia Fusion help bring stories to life through a different medium. Several of these programs are free, and youth who are familiar with playing video games are usually quick to pick up the basic mechanics of using the software. Peer mentorship really takes the lead during these workshops as students learn how to improve their knowledge of the program.
Game design is another great program for parents to work alongside their child and learn the software together. We offer game design workshops and have the software available on the computers or consoles so that the youth can play at their convenience (without having a staff-led program). Open play gaming is an even more popular activity, offered as part of an after-school program with a local public school in the library. It has brought many non-library users to the library, encouraging youth who might not have been familiar with all that the library had to offer to start using the resources (beyond just gaming) more often.
This past summer was our first time for using the LEGO Mindstorms robotics. One teen said that he was glad this was going on at the library; otherwise, he would have just sat at home and done nothing. He was new to the area and ended up meeting other teens that attended the program. Together they built a robot within an hour that was able to kick a ball! A companion website that has step-by-step photos of putting a robot together is nxtprograms.com. The computer program to run the software is already written and just needs to be transferred to the robot once it’s built.
There are countless modifications that can be made to force the youth to think beyond following the instructions. Teamwork and skills such as math, science, and physics are naturally a part of their experience. Since we have two robotics kits, we often build a robot with one kit and then have the youth model their robot on the one that was created, a more effective guide than mere 2D photos.
While we do have a lot of technology resources at ImaginOn, we are always learning how to make it more interesting and secure for the youth and the library. We’ve had our share of resources “go missing” or get broken. Since many youth (like many adults) may only stay in their comfort zone—for example, by connecting to their favorite social networking site rather than taking part in a workshop—we’ve tried to bring our classes to them. Instead of locating the game design workshop in the computer lab, we move it to the gaming corner. If anyone wants to game at that time, they have to take part in the program or just wait until open gaming starts up again for the day.
The library of the 21st century is a resource for youth to try out technologies they enjoy and might want to get better at. Coming away with a product, whether an edited photo, a burned DVD, or a game they created (and can access online to edit when they get home) is an exciting experience that can live beyond their visit to a physical location.
Kelly Czarnecki is a Technology Education Librarian at ImaginOn in Charlotte, North Carolina. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.