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 examine the nuts and bolts of launching a digital makerspace in a large library system by taking a look at policies and equipment.

Don’t miss Emily’s other blogs in this exciting series:  The Labs @ Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh offers an introduction to the program and how it got started, and The Labs @ Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh | Hip-Hop on L.O.C.K Workshops profiles The Labs’ partnership with a local outreach group for a teen sound mixing program.  ~Erinn

The official launch of the The Labs is two months away, and the team is laying the groundwork for what the project will become. Building a functional infrastructure for a project like this requires developing a set of uniform policies and procedures for each Lab site, as well as researching, ordering and cataloging the necessary equipment. While these processes don’t offer the immediate thrills of watching teens develop their filmmaking or music production skills, they are necessary steps to ensure The Labs are a success.

New cables and equipment!

The selection process for equipment and software is based on several factors. Ideas were gleaned from pre-existing digital learning lab models, such as Chicago Public Library’s YouMedia and the Digital Media Lab at Skokie Public Library.  The Labs coordinators also consulted with Drew Davidson of Carnegie Mellon University’s Entertainment Technology Center and Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh’s programming partners Hip Hop On L.O.C.K and Pittsburgh Filmmakers and the CLP – Main Teen Advisory Council. The overall mission of The Labs also has influence over equipment and software purchases; items are assessed for how accessible and easy they will be to use.

You don’t necessarily need top of the line equipment or software… what most Pittsburgh teens need are the tools to get started.

Corey Wittig, Digital Services Librarian at Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, took the number of Lab spaces and the program’s budget into account and had to limit purchases to what is absolutely necessary for each site, prompting the current emphasis on ordering items that have the most potential for use. Quality and affordability have been important in choosing key Labs software and equipment– iMacs, MacBook laptops, basic audio and video recording devices and cables–but accessibility is also a top concern. Most teens should be able to come into a Labs site and use the resources with relative ease. Digital media recording and editing software like Apple’s iMovie and GarageBand, however basic, are perfect for beginners, yet still handy for more advanced creators. As Wittig says, “You don’t necessarily need top of the line equipment or software,” because what most Pittsburgh teens need are the tools to get started.

Equipment in the busy Labs office.

This emphasis on inclusivity has also been integral in developing policies and procedures for The Labs. Again, the team has looked to pre-existing models for guidance, with the acknowledgement that what works for one community may not work for ours. It’s clear that too many rules or steps to navigate before using The Labs will deter teenagers from engaging with the space. Efficiency is essential to bringing in new users. In this way, the existing rules for the CLP – Main, Teen Department served as a good model for creating effective policies with minimal restrictions.

The policies for The Labs have been whittled down to a lean five or six items, all of which tie to accountability and respect – respect shown to The Labs spaces and staff, respect for the equipment being used, and respect for other users. If we can encourage respect and accountability, we can further instill a sense of ownership of the space amongst our teen users. We hope this sense of ownership will make one-time visitors into regular Labs users who will spread the word to friends about what they found at the Library, and, ideally, become life-long library users and supporters.

As free and open as The Labs are intended to be, there is a need for structure. Developing policies and procedures bridges the gap between ordering a bunch of equipment and actually creating a sustainable program that can fulfill the original idea’s potential.

 

Guest blogger, Emily Fear

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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