Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Hip, Loud, and Sociable? A New Wave of "Library Labs"

December 15, 2011

Cultural anthropologist Mimi Ito calls the Chicago Public Library’s pioneering teen learning space, YOUmedia, "loud, sociable, and hip—but it's still all about the public mission of the library to serve as a point of access to culture, information, and the media of the day, staffed by smart guides to knowledge and literacy."

She should know – her research helped inform the program where teens can “geek out” consuming and creating information and new media.

It’s also a program which has inspired a new wave of “21st Century Learning Labs” funded in partnership by The Institute of Museum and Library Services and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

First some background. Last year President Obama announced the Educate to Innovate Campaign which challenged the public and private sectors to work together to create new learning opportunities for young people in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

 The response from the library field was resounding.

 Public libraries are part of the solution

The Institute of Museum and Library Services has partnered to launch a new initiative, inspired by YOUmedia, to build a network of innovative learning labs in museums and libraries around the country. To foster this initiative, we’ve recently made new grants to eight libraries and four museums who will work to develop new media learning labs in partnership with their communities.

How will this help teens?

As a nation, we face big challenges preparing the teens of today for success in a competitive global society. More than ever before, public libraries in communities around the country are helping to transform the lives of young people.

Libraries still provide the kind of services that people have been using for decades: they offer comfortable spaces to learn, help people research important issues, and they loan books and music. But libraries are also high-tech hubs where a third of Americans—including millions of teens—go regularly to goonline, ask for guidance about how to use technology, and take classes that help them prepare for success in today’s digital world.

Like YOUmedia, the new labs will empower teens to use and create digital and traditional media, in partnership with mentors and peers, to explore their interest and passions in ways that promote creativity, critical thinking, and hands-on learning. These are skills we know are vital to helping young Americans succeed in school and life, and become the workforce of tomorrow.

Innovation is happening in libraries everywhere. What is your library doing to help young people learn in new ways?  

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