Fun with Technology @ the Library

Posted on April 18, 2019

by April S

A day in the life of a librarian is definitely different from day to day. After all, we’re hosting programs, helping customers find information on a variety of topics, assisting with readers’ advisory, evaluating library collections, doing outreach, keeping up with the latest technologies, staying current with Library trends, and so much more. I’ll freely admit that I’m often exhausted by the end of the day. At the same time, I love my job and find it incredibly rewarding.

Kids and Technology

Kids working in the studio at the Library

When we talk about technology these days it is often assumed that kids will know how to use it. After all, students today are referred to as digital natives. The newer generations are growing up emersed in technology. Typically, they use some form of digital technology everyday. But that doesn’t mean they’re able to or even want to learn everything on their own. That’s where the Library can help.

Technology @ the Library

Recently, I sat down with Nancy Eames, Youth Services Coordinator for the Toledo Lucas County Public Library, to talk about teens and technology. Really, we ended up talking about kids of all ages.

After our meeting, a short questionnaire was sent out to our librarians to gain further insight on the topic. What I discovered is that our librarians are truly engaging the youth in our community in fun and unique ways.

Technology at the Library - photo collage of tech programs at the Library

What kinds of tech programs or clubs are you hosting at your Library?

Kate McGowan, Oregon Branch Library:

Currently we offer a monthly coding club for tweens and a “Teen Tech” monthly club series that features a variety of hands on projects. We’ve made touch screen compatible gloves as we explored circuitry with Circuit Scribes and we’ve designed valentines with the 3-D printer. I also have a group of kids that are filming and editing BookTube videos using library equipment and our create space studio. In the past, we’ve done programs with Garage Band, and 3-D printing guitar picks. We also do a bit with our Cricut (designing t-shirts, customizing cups and school gear with vinyl).

One of our favorite programs is a “tech take apart” where we deconstruct and reassemble computers and other equipment to see the components and how it works.

Technology deconstructed - tech take apart program at the Toledo Lucas County Public Library

Joseph Cowley, King Road Branch Library:

We host a Code IT Club twice a month on every 1st and 3rd Thursday late afternoon. And a Minecraft Club every 2nd and 4th Friday of the month at 3:30. We also host Tinkerlab challenges on the 2nd Thursday of the month. While they’re not exclusively tech – they are a lot of fun.

Code it (left) and Minecraft (right) - screenshots

Carlye Seybold, Waterville Branch Library:

We mostly see tweens at our coding clubs. I’ve been doing a Code IT Club with Grades 4-9 using Prenda and Scratch. Prenda is a website that brings together different coding programs like Scratch and Python and teaches kids how to use them.

Coding screenshots from Waterville Branch Library

Are the clubs well-received?

Kate McGowan, Oregon Branch Library:

What I really love to see is the extension of these programs beyond the program itself. For example, there are a handful of teens who learned and enjoyed the Cricut enough that they now use it for locker decorations and school projects. There is also a tribe of teens who learned to love garage band. While Oregon’s memory studio isn’t a recording studio by design, they use the tools and software available to make recordings and create songs. It’s also really inspiring to see those who attended the program teach friends who didn’t attend, how to use the tech tools we used.

Joseph Cowley, King Road Library:

Our Code IT Club has been taking place for about two years now at King Road Library. Parents and the kids who attend seem very interested and like our offerings. Parents really like that we are introducing coding in a nonthreatening and creative way. We utilize online programming and free websites that the kids can access at home or school if they want to do it on their own time, but we also have robotics that they can play and learn with if they are more tactile in their learning. We also encourage them to try as many things as they want to, we have some attendees move to something new every 10-15 minutes.

Minecraft Meetup has been a program I started here last summer on a twice a month basis, and has seen great success. Our attendees are generally Minecraft fans, so this gives them an opportunity to play the game they love, work together to overcome obstacles, socialize and work on social skills, and have fun at the same time. I play the game with them as well, and its always fun!

Do you have any interesting observations you would like to share?

Kate McGowan, Oregon Branch Library

We had several homeschool families participate IN Oregon’s Summer Coding Camp. Because everyone was a beginner, it was interesting to see the dynamic of a younger sibling pick up and apply the concepts before the older sibling. On more than one occasion, the older sibling had to ask the younger for help. Also, I think tic-tac toes was one of my favorite creations. A teen with more coding experience undertook the creation of a tic tac toe computer game using Scratch. Because he was asked to do something “creative” for the playing pieces, he used images of “tic tacs” (the candy) and toes (bare feet).

Joseph Cowley, King Road Branch Library

We encourage social interaction in our coding clubs (and pretty much require it). That can be helping each other with challenges, forming groups to work or play together, and just getting to know one another. We have people looking forward to seeing friends they have made at these programs, or school friends meeting at our program to spend more time together in what is seen by their parents as a productive outlet. Many of these kids that are interested on their own have a good deal of knowledge and intelligence (certainly more than I had at their age), but often they are inexperienced socially. This gives our participants an opportunity to engage with tech or ideas that are already known or comfortable to them, which helps our coders or gamers feel more at ease interacting with each other.

Image of kids attending coding clubs at the library

Coding Clubs

Knowledge of technology, and how to use it effectively, is very important in our modern society. Computer coding is an important skill to have and hone. The emerging tech industry offers high paying jobs, but the market is very competitive.

Coding is one of those 21st century skills that students need and some school districts teach it, but not all of them do. So, the Library is a place where we can provide that opportunity.

~ Nancy Eames, Youth Services Coordinator

Sometimes when people hear the word coding they may imagine a person sitting at home alone manually typing out computer code.

For some teens, technology may be an interest, a hook that brings them to the Library. They love Minecraft, or video games, or making YouTube videos. But in the context of a library program, you do more than consume technology. Librarians strategically design our programs to promote interaction, communication, team building, critical thinking, problem solving and a host of soft skills that the technology alone does not provide.

For example, the Prenda program used in many of our coding clubs promotes the concept of librarian as facilitator, not instructor. Coders are reminded to work with their peers to work past a problem. In any of our maker programs, there’s usually a degree of looking at what others are doing and asking, “Hey. How did you do that? Where did you find that? Wow, I’m going to try that too.” Technology used in a Library context has great potential to be of much greater value than simply learning a coding language.

~ Kate McGowan, Librarian at Oregon Branch

Coding clubs provide great learning opportunities for area youth. And they’re more social and interactive than traditional classroom settings. Librarians believe coding clubs help to engage kids, which in turn creates a welcoming learning environment. Through coding clubs, area Youth Services librarians are teaching tweens and teens how to use the latest technologies in fun and creative ways.

We have learned that coding clubs are more effective, because then people can come in at any level that they’re at and get guidance and assistance on the project that’s interesting to them.

~ Nancy Eames, Youth Services Coordinator

Librarians are also helping kids do cool things with coding. Our Library system uses toys that teach coding in really simple ways. According to Nancy Eames, one of our newest toys is the Code-a-pillar, which is geared towards preschoolers and early elementary kids (but can be fun for all ages). We also have toys like the Spheros and Ozobots that we use in our tech programs. And for many of these things there are Apps that interact with the physical toys. A librarian or attendee can use the iPad to make the toy do something. So, we might have a race between robots. It makes it fun and interactive.

When you just say come learn to code – it doesn’t sound very fun. But if we say create your own video game or learn how to program a robot that sounds fun. And that’s coding – that’s using computer language to make something happen.

~ Nancy Eames, Youth Services Coordinator
Coding made fun ... cool coding toys.
For me, using technology is never the end goal, but rather just the beginning. We utilize technology for what it is, a tool. It is a tool that sparks interest. It is a tool for learning, self-discovery and creative expression. In the scheme of leveling the digital divide, it is good that the Library can make these technologies available to teens at no cost. It is a greater thing that librarians across our system can use these technologies to empower teens.

~ Kate McGowan, Librarian at Oregon Branch

It’s so great to know our customers (and librarians) are learning a lot and having fun in the process. Librarians are helping to make a difference in our community – one program, coding club and customer-librarian interaction at a time.

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