After successfully launching a digital, multi-site makerspace initiative in a large, urban library system, The Labs team at Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh got down to business with six months of exciting programming in filmmaking, graphic design, and audio recording.  We’re delighted to continue our partnership with The Labs @ CLP to share the team’s insights into successful maker programs for teens; don’t forget to check out other posts in the series, which are archived HERE. Enjoy! ~Erinn

by Molly Dickerson

Since Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh launched The Labs @ CLP in September 2012, the program has taken on a new life. When André Costello and I joined The Labs as mentors in June, Corey Wittig, the Digital Learning Librarian and program manager for The Labs, had already laid the framework for the program. However, we still needed to develop policies, order equipment, build an informal curriculum around the equipment, and figure out what it means to be a mentor in The Labs. In the subsequent months, we were able to learn through trial and error, become a more cohesive team and begin to develop best practices for our mentoring style.

The Labs environment fosters creative, collaborative work behind the scenes as much as it does in the workshops; like the teens who frequent The Labs, Corey, André and I share our own areas of expertise while learning from each other. Among us, we have experience in filmmaking, music and audio production, tech-based crafts, photography and graphic design, all of which became monthly themes for our first six months of workshops. In the months prior to the launch, we were drawing on a theoretical concept of The Labs in order to inform our lesson plans and learning goals. Although André and I assisted our summer workshops hosted by our partners, Hip-Hop on L.O.C.K. and Pittsburgh Filmmakers/ Pittsburgh Center for the Arts, we still didn’t know what to expect from a new library program for teens. Ultimately, we played to our strengths, developing a scary story filmmaking challenge for the month of October.

Romie and Sead edit their latest film at the CLP-East Liberty Lab, January 2013.

Romie and Sead edit their latest film at the CLP-East Liberty Lab, January 2013.

Looking back, our October lesson plan was comically ambitious for the kind of drop-in programming The Labs welcomes. The Labs doesn’t require teens to sign up to attend our workshops (except for some special circumstances) or even commit to sticking around for entire sessions. While this model made the intensely bullet-pointed filmmaking outline I shared with Corey and André impossible to implement, it lent itself to the casual setting we needed to get acquainted with our new users.

Because André and I have been staffing all four Labs locations without any overlapping sessions, we rarely got a chance to discuss our workshop experiences in person during our busy first few months. We depended on email, Google Docs, and phone calls to recap our workshops and prepare each other for our biweekly Labs schedule. One week, André would present workshops at our CLP-Allegheny and CLP-Main (Oakland) locations, while I would be at our CLP-East Liberty and CLP-South Side locations, and then we’d flip schedules for week two. Corey, André and I have discussed the pros and cons of this arrangement, and it seems to benefit everyone by allowing us to offer different skills and personalities to our audience while ensuring the mentors are familiar with all the sites.

As October’s scary story film challenge began to take shape, so did the personalities of the different Labs locations. Some attendees began to attain the status of “regular,” and short films turned into long-term projects. Teens at CLP-Main (Oakland) opted for a mysterious sci-fi web series rather than a short film. The series, Chronology, is still in production at The Labs, but the teaser trailer is available on the CLPTeens YouTube page.

At CLP-East Liberty, the teens worked around challenges like inconsistent attendance (only some could stay for the full three-hour session every week) and wardrobes (without a costume department, they had to work with whatever clothes they arrived in after school) and spent several sessions editing their film after the workshop theme had technically ended. Although André and I discussed filmmaking fundamentals and introduced the teens to our equipment (Canon VIXIA HF R300 Full HD Camcorders) and software (iMovie), the teens were largely independent throughout the production of their film.

As mentor-mentee bonds formed and the teens showed their enthusiasm for the workshops through dedication and effort, The Labs began to feel like a real program, and no longer just a concept shared in an office. With so many things falling into place in our first month, The Labs team was even more inspired to forge ahead with a new topic: music and audio production.

Stay tuned for “Life After the Launch, Part Two: The Labs as a Recording Studio (and More!)”

LAILabsDickersonMHeadshotMolly Dickerson is a mentor at The Labs@ CLP, Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh’s digital media learning lab. She earned a BA in Film Studies from The College of Wooster in 2010 and an MLIS from the University of Pittsburgh in 2012, both of which have informed her passion for her work at The Labs. You can follow her Labs activity on her Facebook profile.

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