The Adams Public Library in Central Falls is a small urban library that is tight on space. As such, it has no dedicated teen space for the many teens who use the library in the afternoon. To address the need for teen engagement within the confines of limited space, the Adams Public Library in Central Falls piloted its Teen Space on Wheels, which provided dedicated teen tech times and equipment in the library’s multi-purpose space. Using a variety of mobile digital creation and fabrication equipment, this project sought to be a model for libraries who may not have space to dedicate to teens but still want to engage with their teen community in a way that increases their knowledge of and confidence using digital tools.
Teen Space on Wheels was part of Round II of Studio Rhode, with the project running during the spring and summer of 2018. The original plan for the project, designed by the library director and teen services staff, proposed using the library multi-purpose space for digital-literacy programming starting in March, with time to explore the different equipment and develop a better understanding of the teens’ interests and knowledge. Delays in receiving the grant funds meant that project-related activities did not begin until June, however, resulting in a very compressed timeline.
Throughout the month of June, the library offered teen programs on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday using the Teen Space on Wheels and focusing on a different topic each week. First they offered “Having Fun with 3D Printing,” in which teens used website ThinkShare to select and print 3D printed objects. Next was “Exploring 3D Pens,” in which teens used 3Doodler pens and plastic filament to create 3D objects. The final topic was “Green Screen Magic,” in which teens were able to learn how to take still photos and video and manipulate the background using a green screen app.
As the library offered programs for teens, they noticed increased interest in the technology tools from children who wanted to join the teens in the multipurpose room. To meet this need, they began offering Kids Tech Time. Using some of the technology from the Teen Space on Wheels and led by a volunteer from the University of Rhode Island Graduate School of Library and Information Studies, they added one session of Kids Tech Time to each week’s schedule of events.
To complete this project the library purchased two computers, and variety of digital creation and fabrication equipment including green screen, 3Doodler pens and plastic spools, Little Bits Synth Kit, Chibitronics (Chibi Lights), LED Circuit Stickers STEM Starter Kit, iPads with tripods and apps, Silhouette CAMEO 3 Bluetooth Starter Bundle with self adhesive vinyl, one 3D printer, and PLA Spool Filaments. Finally, to round off the Teen Space on Wheels, they needed the wheels and so purchased a library shelving cart with three flat shelves.
Rethinking the use of library space was the foundation of the Adams Library’s pilot project design. The library staff was able to identify the multi-purpose room as an available and underutilized space, however it could not be converted to a permanent teen space because the of the room’s multiple functions. The idea of a mobile teen space was developed to take advantage of the multi-purpose space without needing expensive or permanent changes to the room.
The team planned to load a cart with a wide variety of technology and digital creation equipment that would help improve digital literacy skills and that could store neatly away when not in use. The cart is movable anywhere in the library, with a teen space created temporarily on the spot. There were no issues with mobility and wheeling the equipment around the library proved to be a smooth and practical idea.
That said, one challenge that arose with the library space was the additional staffing required to host programs in a typically unused room. The library had to cancel a handful of programs because they simply did not have the staff available to cover the new space. Because flexibility and mobility were built into the design of this project, the space issue will be easy to reexamine as they movie forward. The challenge of staffing the additional room means they may need to find space in the existing children’s room or look at the main library floor, but they will continue to offer programming in one or more of these locations. The mobility of the cart means that they do not necessarily have to settle on a singular solution, and can explore using different spaces as needed.
Teens are frequent users of the Adams Public Library, however without a dedicated teen space and engaging programming, disruptive teen behavior is sometimes an issue in the library. Even before the technology cart was ready, the library decided to open the multi-purpose room for teen use after school with crowd favorites like board games and a Wii.
The teens loved the temporary space because it gave them a space within the library where they could be social, however when the Teen Space on Wheels cart was finally showcased, teens were not always interested in the formal programs that the library introduced along with the equipment. The librarians had to be flexible, learningthat when teens were not enthusiastic about a particular project, they needed to adapt and allow the interests of the teens to guide the activity. For example, when using the 3D pens, the initial project was a flop so the teens created glasses instead, which was meant to be the second project with that tool.
When using the green screen technology, the library saw the real power of letting teens choose their own activities and take ownership of their learning. A sessionin taking still green screen photos evolved when the teens discovered—without librarian instruction—that the app and screen could be used for video as well. From there, the teens chose a haunted house theme together and began writing storylines to create
a scary—and sometimes goofy—movie. This program was the most well received according to post-program Project Outcome surveys, indicating that allowing the freedom for self-directed learning was a successful strategy.
Along with the Project Outcome surveys, the Adams staff started a teen advisory board was created to allow teens to express their needs and interests in a welcoming and non-judgmental and environment. The library plans to have more programming using the other items they’ve bought in their cart with input from surveys and the advisory board.
This project sought to provide a model for creatively using limited space, to build positive teen interactions through engagement, and to improve digital literacy skills in youth. The library did successfully build their Teen Space on Wheels, outfitting their library cart with a variety of digital fabrication and technology creation equipment. It is, however, unclear if using their multi-purpose space as originally proposed is the right solution for their space given staffing constraints. Because the equipment is on wheels, of course, the library is very able and willing to try out a variety of solutions. They will also be consulting teens about where they would like to see their space, through surveying and working with their Teen Advisory Board.
Another goal of this project was to strengthen relationships with teens. The library staff worked together to evaluate their teen services using the YALSA Teen Services Competencies for Library Staff. The library focused on Competency 2: Interactions with Teens. This competency states that staff “Recognizes the importance of relationships and communication in the development and implementation of quality teen library services, and implements techniques and strategies to support teens individually and in group experiences to develop self-concept, identity, coping mechanisms, and positive interactions with peers and adults.”
Library staff worked together to self-assess their level of skill within this area, looking at the specific indicators and viewing the accompanying YALSA webinar as a team professional development activity. Project Outcome surveys of the teens attending programs showed that more teens learned about library programs from personal interactions with staff than any other marketing method. This showed the library that they were making progress at building positive interactions with teens and reinforced the importance of continued effort toward cultivating warm and respectful relationships with their teen library users.
This pilot showed that engaging teens in programs can be hit-or-miss and requires flexibility and the willingness to let go of control. During the project period of Studio Rhode, the teen time shifted from informal board and video games, toward formal programs using the new equipment. The library saw a drop in attendance along with the introduction of formal programs—from a peak of twenty-four students in casual sessions to a peak of twelve in formal programs. Despite the dip in attendance, Project Outcome surveys showed that the overwhelming majority of teens participating in formal programs felt they had learned something and increased their confidence using digital creation tools, and comments showed that they found their learning experiences meaningful and fun, while also appreciating the social aspect of the programs. Changes in attendance may also reflect changes in the seasons/school year: Formal programs were not held until summer and so that likely had an effect on attendance. Library staff also learned that children are eager for similar technology programs, as younger children in the library jealously watched the Teen Space on Wheels disappear into the multi-purpose room and asked if they could also engage. As a result, the library began offering Kids Tech Time using the Teen Space on Wheels equipment.
Moving forward, the library will remain flexible and continue the learnings that have developed throughout the project. The library appreciated how easy it was to use Project Outcome, and intends to continue using it and other data collection methods to help inform their service with teens. Empowering teens to take ownership of their learning experiences within the library and contribute to decision making will be an ongoing part of the Teen Space on Wheels. They will be looking at incorporating a mix of informal gaming and social experiences and formal technology programs as well as looking at expanding their Kids Tech Time offerings that began as a result of demand of children seeing the teen programming and wanting some for their own.