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.  For this installment, we take a closer look at a special Labs program that partners with local outreach group Hip-Hop on L.O.C.K., but don’t miss Emily’s introduction to The Labs and how they got started: The Labs @ Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh.  ~Erinn

by Emily Fear

It’s 1 pm  at Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh – East Liberty. In an upstairs meeting room, five teens–two girls and three boys–are sitting around a table listening to Hip Hop On Lock program leaders Jordan Gilliam and Jacquea Olday discuss their organization’s recent educational outreach. They’re listening, sort of, but it’s the middle of the afternoon; it’s hot outside and their energy is waning before the event even begins.

Then DJ Hank D  starts to test his equipment. The turntables come alive with the beats made by skillful scratching. Five sets of teenage eyes are locked on him. Five teenage expressions share the same thought – I cant wait to get started.

Transformation is the key to The Labs’ mission

As it has been for other digital literacy initiatives, encouraging and enabling music production is one of the major intentions of The Labs. In the near future, actual Labs spaces will include equipment to record and edit audio performances and will provide assistance from Labs mentors, but the available resources don’t end there. Partnerships, like this recent collaboration with Pittsburgh’s Hip-Hop On L.O.C.K. project, reinforce the objectives of The Labs and build opportunities for programming and idea sharing among community organizations.

Any potential argument one could pose against the idea of hip-hop in a Library is undone by the level of engagement shown by the teen participants of the East Liberty Hip-Hop On L.O.C.K. workshop. The moment the turntables started up, the teens were focused and energized, ready to learn and create.

Learning is directly tied to creation in these workshops, and the process begins with the fundamentals. As well-versed in contemporary hip-hop as many of these teens undoubtedly are, it’s necessary to understand hip-hop’s roots. The workshop began with a three-page “survey,” testing teens’ pre-existing knowledge of the history of hip-hop and elemental aspects of rhythm. Their answers informed Hank D’s explanations and example videos, including performance clips from Kool Herc and Grandmaster Flash.

The Labs enable teens to take what they know to the next level and transform themselves from cultural consumers into cultural creators.

The next step is a technique demonstration. DJ Hank D gathers the teens around his equipment and shows them how specific effects are achieved on the turntables. Then the teens try. Their first attempts are tentative, but within seconds, their confidence builds. They get a little more aggressive, a little showier, a little more playful.

Two boys seem absolutely smitten with scratching. It’s easy to understand why: what they’re learning is deeply connected to what they are interested in. By actively teaching background and techniques–the kinds of information one would typically gather at the Library– The Labs enable these teens to take what they know to the next level and transform themselves from cultural consumers into cultural creators.

That transformation is the key to The Labs’ mission. The positive response to the Labs & Hip-Hop on L.O.C.K. workshops shows that there is genuine interest in programming of this type. While we continue to create curriculum, try out programs, train staff and order equipment, it is that interest that we hope to cultivate into creative production.


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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