Magazine article Information Today

Climbing into the Future at Muncie Public Library

Magazine article Information Today

Climbing into the Future at Muncie Public Library

Article excerpt

* Every library innovates in its own way based on its resources, patron demographics, and funding. At the ALA Annual Conference and Exhibition, these projects are celebrated during an awards ceremony. Information Today, Inc. is one of the companies sponsoring an award, and this year, it went to an initiative that promotes gamified STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics) learning for young patrons.

The ALA/Information Today, Inc. Library of the Future Award of $1,500 and a citation is presented to an individual library, consortium, group, or support organization that plans, develops, and applies a patron-training program that explores IT in a library setting. Congratulations are in order to 2017 winner Muncie Public Library (MPL; munciepubliclibrary .org) in Indiana, and Akilah Nosakhere (director), Rebecca Parker (technology coordinator), and Stuart Cotton and Daniel Allen (digital mentors), who were at ALA to accept the award.

Reaching the Peak of STEAM Achievement

MPL's Digital Climbers program, part of the library's Connection Corner and Maker Loft makerspaces, encourages patrons age 8 and older to interact with the tools there--including 3D design apps, Snap Circuits, Adobe Photoshop, and the Osmo game system--in a self-guided way to challenge themselves, improve their skills in the STEAM fields, and earn rewards for each task they complete.

As of the ALA conference, there were 185 kids signed up at Connection Corner and more than 250 signed up at Maker Loft. "While we have hundreds of kids signed up at any given time, and the program does get pretty busy, it's more manageable than it sounds. Many kids who sign up are only occasional users. Our active users, who participate on a daily or weekly basis, usually range between 20-50 kids at each location. That's a lot of plates to spin at once, but the amazing Digital Mentors and staff at both makerspace locations handle it with aplomb," says Parker.

Patrons work independently to earn badges and points to work toward intermediate, advanced, or expert levels. As they progress, they "climb" a floor-to-ceiling mountain posted on the wall of each makerspace location, where MPL's digital mentors track their advancement by displaying their names and badges. They can redeem the points they earn from completing challenges for snacks and prizes, such as the opportunity to create an item on the 3D printer for free or play NBA 2K16 on the gaming PC.

There are designated times for tracking Digital Climbers' points and challenges at both locations. Connection Corner's program takes place 3 days a week, but patrons can work independently at other times. Digital mentors like to help participants get started on a challenge, but then they step back and observe, roaming the room in case anyone has questions. Since the tasks are self-directed, kids can pick and choose which activities interest them. "Too often kids come into the library to check out our tech, but don't actually give it a chance or spend any time challenging themselves to learn it more deeply. This program gives them the impetus to do that," says Parker.

She and her team add new challenges and incentives frequently, and they foster mentoring relationships with the participants so they can feel comfortable pushing them to try new tasks. Parker enjoys challenges that give her oneon-one time with the kids. …

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