Watchworthy Wednesday: New Report Features Connected Learning in Libraries

In their just released research report, “Connected Libraries: Surveying the Current Landscape and Charting a Path to the Future,” scholars from the University of Maryland and University of Washington examine the different types of “connected learning” happening in public libraries across the nation and the challenges that librarians face as facilitators.

The report opens with an infographic explanation of connected learning, an educational framework that emphasizes learning experiences that are socially embedded, interest driven, and oriented toward educational, economic, or political opportunity.

Examples of connected learning experiences in libraries are discussed and resources for librarians to use for implementing such programs are reviewed. Among the projects highlighted in the report:

  • Dressing a mannequin with a member of Nordstrom’s visual merchandising team.The Houston Public Library’s video game design classes. A single session class, intended to pique youth’s initial interest in game design, used the game Portal 2 to teach participants about the principles behind designing game levels and a multi-week course let participants design and develop an entire game of their own.
  • Salvador Avila, branch manager at Enterprise Library in Las Vegas, turned his personal interest in music into a popular ongoing program for teens aptly called “Learn to DJ.” Youth engage their passion for music while learning on professional DJ equipment, and sometimes progress to booking paid gigs.
  • Since 2011, a community hacker meetup called Hack the Evening, has met at the State Library of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia. The meetup brings together people from a variety of educational backgrounds, ethnicities, ages, and careers to collaborate informally on personal projects.
  • YOUmedia Chicago sponsored Library of Games, a podcast and blog by Chicago high schoolers, who used YOUmedia’s media production resources. The program morphed into a teen-driven tournament.
  • Providence Public Library partnered with Nordstrom to help teens explore fashion- and design-related career options.

Since connected learning is fueled by an equity agenda, it is important for libraries and other learning institutions to ensure they meet the needs of all their patrons, especially underrepresented youth, according to the report. “Helping teens develop 21st century skills and literacies can assist in closing the economic and cultural gaps that many non-dominant youth face. The digital divide in the United States is no longer a simple divide between having access to the internet or not, but a spectrum of digital inclusion…. The equity agenda of connected learning focuses not just on providing access to technology, but also on building skills and competencies that will increase the opportunities available to underrepresented youth.”

On the challenges and opportunities of implementing connected learning in libraries, the report’s authors — Mega Subramaniam and Kelly M. Hoffman, of the University of Maryland; and Saba Kawas, Ligaya Scaff and Katie Davis, of the University of Washington — wrote:

Library staff across the United States have encountered both opportunities and challenges while introducing connected learning in their libraries, from building relationships and finding professional development opportunities, to working around resource limitations and communicating the value of this new vision of youth programming.

The authors, who lead ConnectedLib (an Institute of Museum and Library Services-funded project that brings together researchers and public libraries to create resources aimed at building librarians’ capacity to leverage digital media and connected learning principles to promote 21st century skills among the youth they serve), share strategies that they found librarians using to mitigate and solve problems. They noted:

In light of the current landscape of connected learning literature and resources, the ConnectedLib Project will address three main needs. First, it will add to the research in the fields of digital media and learning and library and information sciences. Existing literature involving youth, technology, and libraries is primarily anecdotal in nature, focusing on particular programs or advice for practitioners (Herr-Stephenson et al., 2011; Hill et al., 2015). IMLS emphasizes the importance of integrating research and practice more closely instead of simply focusing on case studies (Hill et al., 2015). Addressing this need, the ConnectedLib team conducted interviews and focus groups in 2015–2016 with over 80 teen librarians and youth-serving library staff nationwide from libraries of all sizes in urban, suburban, and rural areas. Our analysis of these interviews and focus groups identified librarians’ challenges and needs in developing connected learning programs for their teens — even if they do not think of their current programming in connected learning terms. Second, using the insights from this research, the ConnectedLib project will develop and disseminate a scalable set of resources for teen librarians to help them learn about connected learning principles and apply them to their programs, regardless of their library’s budget or size. The end product will be a set of free, online modules that will provide continuing education units to public library staff who work with teens.

“We wanted to share examples of connected learning in libraries, opportunities and challenges associated with introducing connected learning in diverse library settings, and existing resources that are available for public librarians who wish to implement connected learning principles in their youth programming, with library researchers and other researchers interested in working with and in libraries,” said Subramaniam, associate professor and associate director of the Information Policy and Access Center in the University of Maryland’s College of Information Studies. “It is our hope that, collectively, all researchers interested in working with libraries will address the gaps that we have identified in the existing connected learning research and resources for libraries in this white paper.”

The ConnectedLib report is available for free download. For more information on connected learning, the Connected Learning report also is avaialable for free download.

Images of fashion design projects at Providence Public Library courtesy ConnectedLib

Editor’s note: Watchworthy Wednesday posts highlight interesting DML resources and appear in DML Central every Wednesday. Any tips for future posts are welcome. Please comment below or send email to mcruz@hri.uci.edu.