The End!

As we reach the end of this course, I feel I have gained a greater sense of what it takes to make innovative learning opportunities happen in libraries. I’ve enjoyed hearing the perspectives of my classmates and seeing their creativity in action.

I particularly enjoyed reading Hanging Out, Geeking Out, and Messing Around and The Participatory Museum, which each shared important concepts about what works and doesn’t and why participatory learning experiences are important, valuable, and even works of activism. I would have liked to spend a little more time with each of these books – to perhaps focus on fewer reading assignments in more depth and respond to the discussion boards in two week chunks. This pace seems to be my favorite when it comes to online classes.

I really liked that we could contribute our discussion responses in a variety of formats and wished I had tried a video! I am always hoping to connect more with my classmates and the video format is a neat way to do it.

The article on the Library of the Future included some valuable concepts that I think would be worth exploring more – for instance, the collective impact model as a way to sustain and enhance participatory spaces. I’d love to hear from a panel of librarians and partners who have collaborated on a participatory space in a library, and to learn some tips for collaborative partnerships that work.

The self-motivated and transformative learning we discovered this semester show what is possible in libraries. Our communities can inform the types of “making” we pursue at the library, so it’s critical that we include them in the process.

I think it’s also critically important to learn ways to bring about change in organizations that aren’t as receptive to it. It can be tough to move things forward when a library is still having arguments about whether or not to start a facebook page or is unable to staff the reference desk – so we have to think of those smaller libraries with limited resources – and how to bring them into the fold and give those eager librarians the skills to execute this kind of work!

Play at the Library – early literacy sensory play stations

For our maker project, I set some limitations on myself. I set a goal of creating a project using only items that could be easily found within the home. I work in a community where many people do not have much money, and where thirty percent of adults lack a high school level of education.

The target audience for my project is adult literacy learners who are parents of small children. I hoped that through this project I could help instill the importance of play as a learning tool and to emphasize some other important early literacy skills.

I decided to make play dough for this assignment. The idea is that play dough would be one of several sensory play stations, and that parents would be able to move from station to station with some ideas on how to create fun learning experiences without needing to spend a lot of money. In addition, because oral language (talking) is an important early literacy skill, this would be emphasized among parents who read at lower levels of literacy. I would also promote letter sound knowledge and vocabulary at other sensory stations. There are many opportunities to have fun while also learning. I’ve seen some parents come to the library asking for tutoring for their small children – what I would like those parents to understand is their own potential in teaching their children school readiness skills.

I don’t have kids of my own and rarely have the opportunity to work with children at the library where I work. But I do meet a lot of parents, so I took this as an opportunity to teach some important lessons while also having fun. I meet many parents who face a lot of stress in their daily lives. Imagine being without a job or working a job with a fluctuating schedule! Imagine what it would be like to lack literacy skills as an adult. Play is universal! Talking to children is important. Those with low literacy skills themselves can play an important role in teaching skills to their children – while also building their own skills.

Lessons from YOU Media

The report on the Chicago Public Library’s YOU Media Lab provides some key takeaways about the design of a youth media lab, its benefits, and needs for sustainability. This kind of research provides a solid grounding for support of participatory learning programs and experiences. This report provides an example of a program evaluation from an outside researcher, and helps to build credibility and gain a greater understanding of successes and opportunities to improve.

One thread that carries through this course is the need for effective outcome measurement for library programs. The ability to communicate clearly on the benefits of participatory programs, such as the YOU Media Lab, is critical. In the report, some clear benefits were shared through a survey conducted with participants at the lab. Indicators included: finding the space to be welcoming, feeling emotionally and physically safe, feeling a sense of belonging, improving in at least one digital skill, improving in academic skills, understanding opportunities available after high school.

The participatory space created at the YOU Media Lab engages teens in relationship building and learning new, transferable skills. Some examples of digital skills learned include: recording music, creating animation, building a website, designing a graphic, and making a video. Peer to peer, staff to teen, and individual learning experiences provide teens with the opportunity to engage in new types of learning, build skills, and develop relationships.

Participation and Activism

When I read Simon’s reflection after the publication of The Participatory Museum, I was struck by two key takeaways: 1. Humans are the best agents of participation, and 2. Participation is political.

What Simon says about involving people in the development of participatory programming was right on. This is often missing from organizations – we survey people asking what they want or we come up with our own ideas. I like the idea of giving volunteers the opportunity to pitch a program idea. This requires that organizations work towards recruiting highly skilled volunteers.

I found it interesting to read about how Simon experienced an identity shift and stopped calling herself a designer or engineer. She explains that she now considers herself a community activist. As a library professional, the community activist role is one that feels central to the work I do. What if all librarians thought of themselves in this way? What if we learned to define the impact we make in more concrete ways?

When I think of a community activist, I think of someone who is willing to think critically, voice concerns, and build participation and engagement. I believe librarians have a responsibility to be active in this way.

Collective Impact – A Catalyst for Library & Social Change

While reading about trends of the library of the future, I was struck by one that I see as incredibly important to the sustainability of libraries and those who work in the field: collective impact. This trend goes far beyond traditional collaboration and partnerships, which are valuable in their own right. I see collective impact as very much in the now and likely to continue into the future.

Kania and Kramer define collective impact as the “commitment of a group of important actors from different sectors to a common agenda for solving a specific social problem.” I currently serve on the board of a local literacy coalition that is working with the United Way to develop collective impact initiatives surrounding school readiness and grade level reading. Seeing examples of this type of work in action is fascinating and illuminating. As students, the more we can understand these types of movements the better suited we will be for the library of the future.

Public libraries have always played a strong role in supporting literacy and education, and collective impact efforts foster greater awareness of the ways libraries contribute to learning. In addition, collective impact efforts give libraries the chance to benefit from cross-pollination and to develop more effective ways to measure impact (it is not enough to count the number of people who walk through the door – we need to know how they were transformed). Collective impact efforts involving libraries require capacity to participate (significant time) and credibility.

I believe our own participatory experiences as librarians can truly help to improve library advocacy, sustainability, and spark innovative solutions to complex social problems. Having a deep understanding of our communities & developing strong engagement requires looking outward and continuously learning.

Kania, J., Kramer, M. Winter 2011. Stanford Social Innovation Review. Retrieved from: http://www.ssireview.org/articles/entry/collective_impact

Personalizing the Library – from the volunteer’s perspective

In The Participatory Museum, Simon explains the value of personalizing experiences for library and museum visitors, and emphasizes the importance of empowering frontline staff to serve as “relationship brokers.”

As a volunteer coordinator, I’ve seen this kind of relationship brokering help our library improve services in critical areas – and generally make it a more fun and rewarding place to work.

Volunteers don’t just organize and shelve books – they provide free homework help, keep the local history open a few hours a week, teach yoga classes, serve as computer readiness trainers, and tutors adults in basic reading, spelling, and math skills. We want our library volunteers to build a stronger connection with the library, staff, and community. We want to improve their experiences at the library and learn from them. By improving relationships among staff members and volunteers, the library opens up greater community engagement and more room for innovation.

Simon notes: “If visitors perceive that an institution is personally responsive to their changing needs and interests, they are more likely to visit again, become members, renew their memberships, and donate time and money to the institution.” Providing better experiences for library users means understanding unmet needs and tapping into the pulse of the community. Volunteer engagement is one way to build innovation, gain feedback, and encourage participation at the library.

Simon, N. (2010). The participatory museum. Santa Cruz, Calif.: Museum 2.0.

Mentoring Matters

It makes a great deal of sense that successful innovators benefit from mentoring relationships. Mentors provide valuable feedback. In my own experience, informal mentoring relationships have helped me to build confidence in my abilities. By gaining insight and advice from enthusiastic people within the field (and sometimes outside of it), I have developed a deeper sense of what I hope to achieve and how I might get there.

I do not have a formal mentor, however through my involvement with non-profits locally (the San Diego Council on Literacy and the local REFORMA chaper) and various library jobs, I have been able to connect with other professionals who share my values and teach me valuable lessons. In addition, I am fortunate to have a past writing teacher as a champion.

These people have helped to nurture my own growth. It has been helpful to learn from people at various stages of their careers – a school district resource librarian, a public library principal librarian, a literacy coordinator. By observing their behavior, communication style, and ways of getting things done, I see ways that I can do things better and inspire others to do the same.

It is liberating to acknowledge that you do not know everything! I enjoy surrounding myself with positive people who are enthusiastic about libraries and motivated to do good work. There is something magical about meeting people who are interested in what you have to say, willing to share helpful feedback, and make suggestions about room for growth. I hope to do the same for another person someday.