The Free Library of Philadelphia: A Maker Corps Host Site Providing Meaningful Experiences for Teens

2_kfaiBy K-Fai Steele, Free Library of Philadelphia



How can the Library have a meaningful impact on a teen in Philadelphia? How can we leverage resources to democratize creative learning in every neighborhood in the city? What does it take to fulfill the Free Library’s mission—to advance literacy, guide learning, and inspire curiosity—to teens?




In 2012 The Free Library of Philadelphia received an Institute of Museum and Library Sciences/MacArthur Learning Labs grant to design and plan a space for teens that focused on interest-driven learning, mentorship, and design principles guided by Philadelphia’s teens, Free Library staff, out-of-school youth media instructors/programs, and research from other libraries and museums nationally. Over the summer we began an in-depth, youth-led summer research curriculum, hiring more than 35 teens in Philadelphia to work daily in their neighborhood library to research how teens use their local library, poll youth interest, and develop concepts on how the library can support the interests of youth via physical space, mentors, and programming. Out of the 35, we selected 14 to be part of our Youth Design Council, a group that meets monthly to dig deeper into the summer research, identify shortcomings with current teen services, and come up with creative solutions. Our goal is to have their voice at the table when our flagship space begins construction, but we realized that their insights proved to be more valuable in the immediate future than we had anticipated.




In the spirit of experimentation, the Free Library opened its first dedicated, staffed teen center embedded within our popular lending library, Philbrick Hall at the Parkway Central Library, in March 2012. A mentor was hired to develop and implement creative workshops on a drop-in basis. Programs ranged from video book reviews to bookmaking to animated gif-creation workshops. All programs were augmented by the mentor to suit youth response and meet youth requests.



We are currently developing an eTextiles curriculum to roll out in the teen center in Philbrick, as well as several other Free Library locations. The Free Library has been selected by eCrafting Circles—a National Science Foundation-grantee group comprised of members of the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education, School of Design, and the Franklin Institute—to run creative workshops with youth using the Lilypad Arduino. We will be launching workshops in eTextiles and soft circuits through our Literacy Enrichment Afterschool program (LEAP) beginning this spring, and will be participating in Philadelphia’s Science Festival Carnival on the parkway in April, where the goal is to create the largest human circuit using the Lilypad, conductive fabric, and hoodies.




The Free Library’s Maker Corps program this summer provides an exciting opportunity to build our teen engagement in creative programming—we’re looking for creative, nimble thinkers who enjoy mentoring, as well as playing with technology and rethinking traditional craft. One of our largest challenges as a library in the 21st century is rethinking the place of libraries in society, and how we as an institution can foster creative informal education and provide mentorship for teens, and investigating how books and literacy interface with technology. You can be part of the movement—apply to be a Maker Corp Member at the Free Library of Philadelphia by March 1st. UPDATE: Deadline now extended for select sites to March 8



An animated GIF and photo fun made during workshops on  cinemagraphs and Photoshop.




Maker Ed is pleased to welcome The Free Library of Philadelphia as a Maker Corps Host Site.   For more information, a complete list of current Host Sites, and to apply to be a Maker Corp Member, please see our Maker Corps Page. – Steve




Application deadline now extended for select Sites to March 8










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