Maker Jawn at the Free Library of Philadelphia in Philadelphia, PA

by K-Fai Steele, Teen Programming Specialist

Maker Jawn Initiative at the Free Library of Philadelphia


The Free Library of Philadelphia is proud to be a returning Maker Ed Host Site for summer 2014, through its Maker Jawn Initiative. The mission of the Free Library is to advance literacy, guide learning, and inspire curiosity. Its vision is to build an enlightened community devoted to lifelong learning. Developing maker programming that is supported by the Maker Ed national community aligns seamlessly with the Free Library’s mission and vision. We are excited to provide an opportunity for Maker Corps Members to engage with youth in North Philadelphia, mentoring them in tools and learning pathways, as well as learning alongside them as they develop resilience, collaboration, and problem solving skills. We believe that the act of making in a creative, supportive environment leads to overall community development, with youth working side by side to design meaningful digital and physical objects that capture the richness and diversity of their neighborhoods, and communicate civic and social messages.

Through the Maker Ed Initiative in 2013, the Free Library had the capacity to formally build dedicated maker programming for youth in five neighborhood locations across Philadelphia, with five Maker Corps Members. Our team quickly developed a name, Maker Jawn, a title that has grown to define maker programming at the Free Library. The term “jawn” is a context-dependent substitute noun that gained popularity in the Philadelphia hip hop scene. Jawn is used in the place of a noun, and its meaning changes depending on the speaker’s reference, i.e., “let me show you how to operate this jawn.”

FreeLibraryPhila-3Maker Jawn’s diverse Maker Corps Members has always been a source of strength for the team, with Members having backgrounds that range from chemistry to fine art and industrial design, and span ages 19 to 33. The common element that tied all of the Maker Corps Members together was a deep sense of creativity and play, and the willingness to jump in and provide both planned and improvisational workshops. We have retained several original Maker Corps Members, with more returning regularly to participate in training workshops and Maker Celebrations, and contributing to national conversations on youth engagement with creative technology (HASTAC, DML, Maker Faire). Last summer we received a DML grant to develop Connected Messages (a collaboration between the Free Library, the University of Pennsylvania and Stanford University), for which we received an invitation to present at Maker Faire New York, where the Maker Jawn team received both an Educator’s Award and an Editor’s Award. Our ties to Philadelphia are strong, and the city offers many opportunities to collaborate with local universities and organizations, such as the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education (Dr. Yasmin Kafai’s National Science Foundation-funded Initiative), annual Free Library Maker Celebrations, the Philly Youth Media Collaborative, and more.


The types of Maker Corps Members we are looking for to join our team are creative, fearless, can engage with both kids, teens, and adults, and are sensitive to/enthusiastic about working with an underserved community in the heart of Philadelphia. S/he should also be responsible, and possess writing skills and the ability to track and observe participant progress, and lead participants through the documentation process.

We are excited to see how further engagement with the Maker Ed community will lead to an expansion and deepening of authentic learning experiences for youth in Philadelphia, and are looking forward to bringing new Members into the Maker Jawn fold! Please contact with any questions.








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