The Library as Incubator Project is delighted to partner with Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh and guest blogger Emily Fear to showcase a new digital literacy initiative at CLP called The Labs. ~Erinn

by Emily Fear

Through the University of Pittsburgh’s MLIS program, I’ve been incredibly fortunate to work with some great people on a number of truly fantastic projects. My lucky streak continued when I began a four-month long internship for Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh (CLP) – Teen Services, and not just because I’d be working with more great people on more truly fantastic projects, but also because I was coming in at a tremendous crossroads for the department.

Let me back up to the beginning: The idea for library labs at CLP originally came about in 2008, but budget was a significant hurdle for the project. Corey Wittig, CLP’s Teen Services Digital Learning Librarian, noted that the state of library funding in Pennsylvania was “doom and gloom every year. Possible branch closings. State funding cuts. No one knew how they could fund purchasing the equipment or the staff that would run [the labs]. How are we supposed to take on this kind of initiative with a skeleton crew?”

Despite these challenges, the idea stuck. The Carnegie Mellon University-based design team behind the YouMedia space in Chicago encouraged CLP – Teen Services to forge ahead. The Teen Department at the Library’s Main branch had an influence on the development of the Chicago Public Library teen space, so bringing library digital media labs to Pittsburgh seemed like a natural choice. Add in the increasing amount of research that points to the importance of developing digital literacy skills for youth, and it’s easy to understand why the project took such a hold. It had such potential. It just needed funding.

Corey Wittig, Teen Services Digital Learning Librarian. Photograph by Brian Taylor at btphotographer.com

The CLP team began seeking grants for the project, and in December 2010, the Grable Foundation agreed to fund a new position for a Digital Services Librarian. Among other duties, this person would be responsible for spearheading the development of digital media labs in multiple library locations. Taking inspiration from Chicago Public Library’s YouMedia, the CLP digital media labs would enable teens throughout the City of Pittsburgh and Allegheny County, PA to learn, create, collaborate, and sharpen digital literacy skills through the use of computers, audio and video recording equipment, graphic design tools and various media-editing software programs. The Labs would be set up in four Library locations, overcoming Pittsburgh’s topographical and public transportation deficiencies by insuring that no city neighborhood would be more than four miles from a Lab location. This would include neighborhoods where this kind of learning experience may not be typically available to teens.

In February 2011, Corey Witing joined CLP as Teen Services Digital Learning Librarian. Now, in June, 2012, the Labs @ CLP are realizing the long-term plans of the team that has pushed this project forward. While the team is working on the actual debut of the digital media labs, Lab programs are already on the books for June and July, equipment such as iPads, Macbooks, and camcorders have been purchased, and  two new part-time, temporary Library Assistants are in place to serve as informal educators and mentors in the labs. More importantly, there is the acknowledgement that this is really happening. And with that acknowledgement comes the growing awareness that a project like this is worth implementing.

Stay tuned for upcoming blogs on exciting programs that are happening at the Labs @ CLP this summer, including partnerships with local DJs and Pittsburgh Filmmakers.

 

Emily Fear is a MLIS student in her last semester at the University of Pittsburgh. As part of her program, she is currently serving two internships: One at the Pittsburgh Toy Lending Library, a 30+ non-profit organization dedicated to serving children and families in the Pittsburgh area; and another as an intern for the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh Teen Services, for which she is writing this guest blog series. Come August, Emily hopes to continue her library work in Pittsburgh, her hometown that never fails to inspire and amaze her.

 

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