The Labs @ CLP has been around for four years now, working to better integrate mentorship and maker-centered learning into our programs and services. If you read some of our early blog entries about the development of the program, you’ll know that programming was designed in a very prescribed way: one workshop and one Open Lab at each site each week. We were focused on introducing youth to opportunities for making and experimentation. Deeper dives would come later.

It was a useful way to get rolling, but we’re moving past it now. As weekly sites have continued to evolve (and we added more locations) the look and feel of programming at each Labs location began to better reflect the neighborhood, the youth who spend time there, the space available in the Library itself, and the staff, too.

The Labs mentors, staff hired for their creative know-how and drive to support youth learning, are now embedded at a weekly site whereas they used to roam all over. This focus on a specific library has helped catalyze this evolution by allowing staff to form deeper bonds with youth and better work with the rest of the Teen staff to create programming and projects responsive to the interests of youth. Now each site has its own flavor. We learn from one another, borrowing and adapting as needed, creating programming and services that share goals, but often differ in approach and presentation.

To illustrate this point, Amalia Tonsor (Labs Mentor at CLP – East Liberty) and Jesse Landis-Eigsti (Labs Mentor at CLP – Allegheny) have both written reflections on how music recording (a popular activity at both locations) has shifted and grown at their weekly sites. Enjoy!

~Corey Wittig, Digital Learning Librarian, Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh

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The Booth: Music Recording at CLP – Allegheny

by Jesse Landis-Eigsti (Labs Mentor at CLP – Allegheny)

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Even in the early days of The Labs at CLP – Allegheny, we had teenagers coming in to the Library interested in making music. They came prepared with stage names, lyrics, a vision for their song; everything except the space to record it.

At that point, we had most of what we needed to make their vision a reality. We had microphones, instruments and recording software. The biggest obstacle was the culture of quiet that still runs deep in the Library. Even our more passive projects sometimes attract the ire of adult patrons who want libraries to be silent; to have teens singing and rapping at full volume would have been impossible in our shared space.

For a time, we used the Library’s meeting room, which provided closed doors to block off the sound. This was a good stop-gap measure, but ultimately inadequate. Set-up and tear-down took up precious time that could have been used creating. The meeting room was far from the Teen Space, so assistance and supervision were both in short supply. The room’s acoustics were bad. We had to share the space with a weekly yoga meeting. The list went on and on.

Still, teens asked to use the meeting room time and time again, because whatever the shortcomings, it was a space where they could try new things, where they could be expressive and vulnerable and bold.

When, after the hard work of many staff members, a recording booth was installed at CLP – Allegheny, it was a huge victory. At first glance, the booth might seem like a small addition…it is a compact, flexible fiberglass cube that can accommodate 2-3 people. But it quickly demonstrated the power in having a designated space for a beloved activity.

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Essentially, the recording booth has removed unnecessary barriers to the process. Teens who are interested now need to take a quick lesson on how to properly use the equipment. Then they are free to sing, to rap, to experiment with audio effects, and more. With the process much less daunting than it was before, we have the number of participants in a day that we used to see in a week.

With the process much less daunting than it was before, we have the number of participants in a day that we used to see in a week.

We’re also seeing more experimentation. Before, there were enough obstacles to the process that we tended to only see students with very targeted specific goals. We still have those students, but now we’re also getting people with less experience who are interested in trying something new. We’ve had teens experiment with voice acting, try karaoke and make haunted house background noises. When you make a resource easily accessible, you’ll see that it gets used in creative ways that you might not have predicted.

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As people write, collaborate and perform in new ways, our job as staff in the space is to support the energy that’s already there. Music making has long been a popular activity at CLP – Allegheny, but now it’s something more: it’s part of the culture.

Recording at CLP – East Liberty

by Amalia Tonsor (Labs Mentor at CLP – East Liberty)

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Whether it’s outbursts of singing among friends, songs turned up on the computers, teens quietly recording lip syncing videos using musical.ly, looking for beats, writing verses, or YouTubing music videos and rap battles, music has always been an important part of our students’ lives and the Teen Space at CLP – East Liberty always has a soundtrack.

At CLP – East Liberty, creating space and programming focused on music production is one of the most direct, simple and meaningful ways we can support youth in their passions. Just like at CLP – Allegheny, in creating more structured and supportive opportunities for youth to make and record music at the East Liberty branch, we are really just opening truer space for the culture that is already here.

Creating space and programming focused on music production is one of the most direct, simple and meaningful ways we can support youth in their passions.

Cultures of large institutions may not always be community-driven, but developing music programming in support of young musicians is one way in which Teen Services is plotting connected learning pathways from the ground up, starting with the genius and leadership of the students in our space.

Since the inception of The Labs, we’ve had an evolving recording and production station deep in the Teen Space, farthest-flung from the general public areas where many adults (and some staff) are still resistant to seeing and hearing teenagers being teenagers in the Library. This station has included DJ and beat-making equipment, music production software, microphones, an electric drum set, and guitars, basses and amps.

With the ongoing challenge to balance our noise with the needs of other library users, we began informally disassembling and reassembling the recording equipment in the upstairs meeting rooms when teens’ interest in recording music aligned with openings in the reservation schedule. With climbing requests for this kind of “studio time”, we were able to create a standing reservation for studio hours in the meeting room on Tuesday afternoons. To streamline the setup of this weekly pop-up studio, we purchased an additional set of music recording equipment that is installed on a mobile book cart and can be wheeled in and out of the meeting room for studio sessions. The cart includes headphones and a 4-channel splitter, microphone, cables, interface, and a laptop that students can check out from the Teen Space on their library card for in-house use.  Recording groups can sign up for timeslots in advance, and all teen musicians sign in to the studio with a representative studio leader who is responsible for the equipment.

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The Tuesday studio hours have been hugely popular, with teen regulars leveling up through more thorough and ambitious projects and more youth in the space getting interested in music through exposure and modeling. Moreover, as teens become aware of the Library as a production platform, we see new people coming in explicitly to make use of this resource. The music equipment in the Teen Space is still used almost constantly for messing around, and staff and peers use it to train new students toward their independent use of these resources in the studio. The mobile music cart has many limitations and challenges, but it has been a hugely successful project to pilot more permanent music resources and to demonstrate that the student interest and leadership in music is already here.

Maybe we’ll get a recording booth.

 

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Amalia Tonsor is an artist, educator and mentor in The Labs @ CLP, working with and learning alongside teens in creative media projects to grow in ourselves and connect in our communities.

 

 

 

 

Jesse Landis-Eigsti is a mentor in The Labs at Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh. He’s a musician, a writer, an improviser, a cartoonist and a composer! Jesse loves projects that bring his various interests together.

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