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Access to Technology Prepares Teens for 21st Century Skills

Wednesday, February 18, 2015   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Melanie Blau McDonald
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What’s the formula for a successful launch of a new teen tech space in your library? You want to do something with expanded technology; maybe you’re toying with a makerspace concept or perhaps a music studio/production concept. Or maybe it’s just too much. How do you even get started when there are so many choices?

Monnee Tong, Teen Services Librarian at San Diego Central Library, wrote a blog post for Library as Incubator Project about their IDEA Lab. The IDEA Lab is a teen space (ages 12-21) focused on digital expression. The IDEA Lab is in addition to their teen space. In her post, Ms. Tong describes their winning formula. I believe that formula may be used by any of you, regardless of the size of your library, teen population, location or any other local variables. Here is what I believe are critical factors to creating a knock-out teen tech space:

  1. Limit scope
  2. Limit hours of operation
  3. Have three community partners set-up in advance
  4. Have at least one staff member who is ‘into it’
  5. Have programs taught by both staff and community partners
  6. Mentor interns from the pool customers, aka teens who use the space!

Limiting scope – The IDEA Lab area does not feature 3D printers nor Eggbots. They decided to focus on digital expressions. This means that they could refine the hardware choices and keep adding software. This is a much easier way to get started. The classes are still wide ranging despite what may appear to be a limit.

Limiting hours – After school and part of the day on Saturday/Sunday is enough to get started. If there’s just one of you, limit the time to after school.

Community partners – The partners that made sense for the IDEA Lab were a local TV station, a local arts center, and their local chapter of AIGA, “the professional association of design.” In our area, we might be considered a partner; depending on the type of technology instruction needed. You know your area. Think about who would like to foster the kind of learning that will take place.

Staff – One person has to want to do this. That’s the same for any successful undertaking at your library. You can’t assign passion.

Programs – Here’s one of the beautiful parts, you don’t have to learn it all and teach it all yourself. But also, you don’t have to go always outside of your staff either. The list of what you could offer is endless. Here are some recent offerings of the IDEA Lab: “Design an eNewsletter for Teens” ;  “Build Your Own Company Logo Using Illustrator” ; “Whatcha Mean Whatza Zine?” ; “Animated GIFs Workshop” ; “Typography for Teens.”

Interns – As your group grows, some individuals will develop special skills and they will want to share them. I’ve heard these stories over and over. The story starts like this: we had this shy kid who came in day after day and taught themselves how to be expert in x program. Then, ever so quietly, they started to help other kids. This is another of the beautiful parts.

Voila! If you build it, they will come. And they will learn. And they will teach. But you have to have a great formula for success and you have to stick to it. No shortcuts.

Huge thanks to Monee Tong and all of those who've shared their winning formulas!

~ Melanie

Video credit: youtube video created by Sierra Lewis, IDEA Lab Tech Team Intern, as a promotional piece for the Kendama Club that meets in the Pauline Foster Teen Center at the San Diego Public Library. Kendama is a Japanese toy.

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