If you’re looking for a cutting-edge example of a creative digital literacy initiative in a large urban public library system, you’ve come to the right place. We’re proud to continue our partnership with Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh and to share a new post in our series on The Labs @ CLP. This week, Digital Learning Librarian Corey Wittig shares his perspective on how The Labs’ programs are changing to meet the needs of Pittsburgh’s teens. Don’t miss the links to previous installments in this exciting suite at the end of the post! Enjoy ~Erinn

LabsBannerby Corey Wittig

If you’re reading this, I’m going to assume that you believe digital literacy is important, that connected learning is an incredibly exciting educational concept, and that it is the next natural step in library programming.

In January, I presented a two-part webinar for ALA Publishing titled “Creating a Digital Media Space for Today’s Teens.” To create the two-hour presentation for colleagues and peers, I asked myself ,what worthwhile information I can impart to the good people paying to check out my PowerPoint skills?

For librarians and library administrators interested in creating a digital media lab for teenagers, I knew I could supply solutions to early quandaries and program roadblocks. Equipment suggestions, workshop structure, staffing–I can help with these issues because I’m dealing with them all the time.

So that was my plan: give them practical knowledge. After all, I’m not an expert; I’m just a few steps ahead of them. I would have loved to have given a presentation on my successful, well-staffed program’s 5th anniversary, but that’s not where I am. I shared what I knew:  how to cobble together a digital media lab in a medium-to-large public library system and set it up for success.

In the beginning, you’re figuring it out as you go.

Ideally, you and a team of various professional types would have planned every detail of your program before it ever launched, but that’s not reality for most librarians. More often, this kind of program is treated as an experiment. And, like any experiment, you pursue it because it has merit. If it works, you find a way to justify its continued existence.  That’s fair.

If you’re reading this, I’m going to assume that you believe digital literacy is important, that connected learning is an incredibly exciting educational concept, and that it is the next natural step in library programming. If you believe this as I do, then I don’t need to sell you on what we’re doing. I’ll just tell you where we are.

What we’re doing right now is making adjustments. In a lot of ways, we’ve been doing that from the beginning, but with new staff and the early jitters out of our systems, The Labs  will, for the first time, be able to run like I’ve wanted it to run from the start. The Labs @ CLP  just hired two new mentors, and we’re gearing up for a new, expanded workshop schedule.  If all goes well, I envision the “Summer of The Labs”– a summer full of great programs in the Library with our partners at Pittsburgh Filmmakers Youth Media Program, Hip-Hop on L.O.C.K., and HackPittsburgh.

With the new mentors, we can not only add Saturdays to our schedule at our Main Library, but also schedule two mentors to run a workshop instead of just one. A second staff member will help with everything from workshop management to fielding such questions as “How does the clone stamp work again?”

The biggest adjustment from a programming standpoint is our shift to daily activities over monthly themes. Right now, for instance, The Labs has monthly workshops that focus on a particular theme, like photography. As Labs mentor André Costello chronicled last month in his blog for The Library as Incubator Project, the LABS workshops are currently broken into weekly workshops with smaller activities and lessons that culminate in each participant earning a competence badge for that month’s chosen medium. It’s been working well, but what about the kids who don’t want to learn photography? What about the artists and their sketchbooks, the designers, and the musicians we’re trying to attract? So far, they have been encouraged to enjoy Open Labs time at the Main Library’s Teen Department, which affords them some one-on-one time with a mentor.  This set-up doesn’t have the draw of a workshop, where the energy of our teen library users’ make it a community instead of a solitary lesson, but it does create an opportunity for lots of disciplines to be taught at The Labs.

With the new Labs’ schedule, we’ll cycle through four subjects (or themes) a week with open time on Fridays and a new Labs shift on Saturdays made possible by the new staff. At the neighborhood libraries, we’ll rotate through the themes weekly. This means all mediums will be happening throughout the week simultaneously, and everyone will get to experience the community and support of workshops on a regular basis.  It will look something like this:

The Labs @ CLP-Main, Teen Dept. (weekly)

The Labs – neighborhood  locations (monthly)

Mondays – Music/Audio 1st week – Music/Audio
Tuesdays – Design 2nd week – Design
Wednesdays – Maker’s Studio 3rd week – Maker’s Studio
Thursday – Photo/Video 4th week – Photo/Video
Friday – Open Labs 5th week (if there is one) – Open Labs or special project
Saturday – Wildcard (plus collaborations with Outside the Lines – teen librarian Abby Harwood of CLP-Main, Teen Department’s Stem + Art program.)

We couldn’t do this at first. Labs mentors Molly Dickerson and André Costello have been diligently jumping between all four Labs’ locations, planning and executing workshops around the clock and trying to keep track of who was working on what LED project where. Even with my help staffing CLP-Main, I couldn’t ask them to juggle four different subjects. We couldn’t swing it. The monthly workshops have been a great way to start, but we’re ready to move forward.

Though this shift in programming has been planned from the start, the specifics were a total mystery until I visited ArtLab+, a digital media studio for teens in Washington D.C.’s Hirshhorn Museum sculpture garden.

The visit to ArtLab+ (part of an IMLS Learning Labs convening) was a total inspiration. Open for more than a year, the program has already undergone many tweaks. Ryan Hill and Amy Homma (Director and Manager of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden’s Digital Learning Programs respectively) are doing fantastic work and showing teenagers how to do the same–all in an amazingly well-curated environment.

The workshop schedule is clearly a big part of how we’re working to mimic that environment; it covers many forms of expression but remains simple. The mentors are obviously the other piece of the equation; they provide a variety of personalities and skills to suit a temperamentally diverse learning space.

Talking with Ryan and Amy, it was wonderfully encouraging to think of how far a program like theirs could go in a year. I want The Labs to be where they are soon, and I’d like you all to join in.

In the near future, the programming shift in The Labs workshops will have us focusing more on manageable lessons than large scale projects.

The big projects are for the teens to choose–we’re just there to help.

Andre, Corey, Molly, and LeeAnn on their way to a conference to share  their work with The Labs.

Andre, Corey, Molly, and LeeAnn on their way to a conference to share their work with The Labs.

Want more?

Check out the other posts in this exciting series on The Labs @ CLP by guest blogger Emily Fear:


Corey Wittig, CLP's Teen Services Digital Learning Librarian

Corey Wittig, CLP’s Teen Services Digital Learning Librarian

Corey Wittig is Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh’s Digital Learning Librarian and program manager for The Labs @ CLP—the library’s teen digital media lab initiative. Corey has worked at Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh since graduating from The University of Pittsburgh with a Bachelor’s Degree in English Literature in 2006. He spent four years in the innovative Teen Department at Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh – Main (Oakland) before graduating from Pitt’s School of Information Science with a Masters Degree in Library and Information Science.  Since then, he’s worked  on designing and implementing The Labs, a system-wide network of four digital media labs, housed within four CLP locations and strategically located around the city of Pittsburgh. For his work designing The Labs, Corey was named an innovator and Library Journal Mover & Shaker in 2012.

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