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, The Labs programs are put to the test in a classroom environment.

Don’t miss Emily’s other blogs in this exciting series:  The Labs @ Carnegie Library of PittsburghHip-Hop on L.O.C.K WorkshopsDeveloping Policies & Ordering Equipment, and QuickFLIX Workshops & Contest.



It’s hard to believe we’re less than  a month away from The Labs @ CLP Launch Party on September 19th. Since this guest blog series began in June, the project has seen the success of two partnership-based programs that will form the backbone of Labs workshops, the development of policies and procedures for The Labs, and the on-going process of ordering and organizing equipment. Now, there’s a firm schedule for each of the four Labs locations, and the Launch Party is in the works– the real beginning of this digital literacy project is approaching.

It seems fortuitous that before The Labs spaces would officially open, the project would have one more major programming opportunity. Pittsburgh Public Schools’ Extended Year Program, the Summer Dreamers’ Academy (SDA), is a free summer learning camp for area kids K-8.  Summer Dreamers’ Academy mixes literacy and math instruction with special activities organized by a variety of community partners, including Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh. In past years, the Library’s  Teen Services staff made weekly appearances at the Summer Dreamers’ sites to promote the Teen Summer Reading program, to give away free books, and to sign teens up for library cards. This year the partnership featured something new and special: The Labs.

For three consecutive days in the beginning of August, Digital Learning Librarian Corey Wittig made the rounds to each of the Summer Dreamers locations with me and Labs mentor Molly Dickerson in tow.   This was the plan:

In less than forty minutes…

  • Each student in the SDA classes we visited would have a chance to make a stop-motion animation film using our iPads and the basic iPad Smoovie app.
  • The teens could choose from two paper backgrounds, a whiteboard, dry erase markers, and some magnetic cut outs in order to create their stop-motion film.
  • Students not in the process of making a film could also occupy themselves with our iPad photo booth.

The Summer Dreamers’ set-up offered us a unique opportunity to explore what a general teen audience would make of Labs programming. It is one thing to host a hip-hop or digital filmmaking workshop and have teens show up. It’s another thing entirely to walk into a classroom of a dozen students and not know if any one of them had ever tried (or even considered) making a film before.

Labs programming had to this point been a special event– an opt-in deal. Teens who wanted to be there attended.  In this case, there was no guarantee that any teen we encountered would be interested in making a stop-motion animated film. But they were. They were very interested.

Some simple instructions, a demo of a few films that other students had made, and the teens were ready to try it for themselves. Some teens threw together random elements in an animated frenzy. Others were careful, even meticulous with their movements. Some of the films even had story lines– a feat, given the short workshop period at SDA.

The appeal of using this technology to create something tangible and shareable was evident– participating teens were enthusiastic, even though many were not expressly interested in film-making, animation, or any other specific creative endeavor. But given the creative platform, the equipment, and some moderate guidance and encouragement, and many of these students found a new interest, a new hobby, even a new passion.

I stated that the opportunity to test Labs programming with the Summer Dreamers’ Academy was fortuitous and it was, for several reasons. It gave us an idea of what Labs outreach might look like by allowing us to translate an in-library program to classroom environment. It allowed us to demonstrate the benefit of Labs mentors, because without Corey, Molly, and me to guide the students’ creative efforts, many might not have been as willing to experiment with the technology as they were. It gave the mentors further practice with instruction. It allowed us to promote The Labs to hundreds of students while expanding their idea of what CLP Teen Services has to offer them.

But most importantly, what our time at Summer Dreamers’ Academy allowed us to do was to prove that there is a definite demand for the kind of digital learning initiative we’ve been working toward.  As we move into September and close in on our official launch, this will serve as a rallying endnote to a summer of progress.


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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