Magazine article Computers in Libraries

ALA/ITI LIBRARY OF THE FUTURE AWARD WINNER: Climbing the Digital Mountain at Muncie Public Library

Magazine article Computers in Libraries

ALA/ITI LIBRARY OF THE FUTURE AWARD WINNER: Climbing the Digital Mountain at Muncie Public Library

Article excerpt

LAST SUMMER, several employees of Muncie Public Library (MPL) registered for the 2017 American Library Association (ALA) conference, packed their bags, requisitioned the library passenger van, and made the trip from Muncie, Ind. (population 68,000), to the bright lights of Chicago. While many MPL employees have attended such conferences in the past, 2017 was special. MPL and its Digital Mentors were at the conference to accept the ALA & Information Today Library of the Future award.

How did this happen? How could a relatively small library system with limited resources capture such an impressive national honor? It all started when the MPL high-tech center, known as Connection Corner, opened a few years earlier. The kids who visited were excited about using the iPads, the MakerBot 3D printers, and the technology games and building sets, such as GoldieBlox and Kano. But the branch manager noticed that kids were just scratching the surface of the lessons to be learned with these resources. He shared his thoughts with incoming employee, Rebecca Parker. Parker, who would soon serve as the branch's new manager, accepted the challenge and worked with other tech-savvy Digital Mentors in the MPL system to create a program for the students. Thus, the Digital Climbers program was born!

What is Digital Climbers? It's a hands-on and self-guided activity program, complete with a binder of activities that challenges students to complete and master the skills to be learned from the technology kits and supplies available at Connection Corner. Digital Climbers would later be added to another MPL branch to further the program's reach. Students can select a project, complete the project successfully, and "climb" the digital mountain of STEAM success. A large mountain range is displayed at each branch location, and students can move their name up the mountain as they attain more skills. They also receive small treats and prizes for each level of accomplishment. "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," Parker, who was then serving as a technology coordinator at MPL, said upon accepting the award. "This program gives them the impetus to do that," she added.

Funding for the supplies and the rewards came from MPL programming funds, along with grants and donations from area organizations. The program was well-received by the students. Nearly 250 kids, ages 8 and up, are now participating.

After Parker and her team of MPL Digital Mentors, including Dan Allen and Stuart Cotton, shared the program at a district conference, other libraries became excited about it and asked how they could implement a similar program. Recognizing that the project would be replicable and customizable for other libraries, the team decided to share it with a much wider audience by nominating the Digital Climbers program for the ALA and Information Today award. The group was honored when the innovative program was selected and Muncie Public Library was named the 2017 Library of the Future.

Parker has since left MPL for a new job challenge, but members of the original Digital Climbers team remain committed to the program and to sharing it with students and other libraries. "Libraries are the peoples university and as such, need to lead their community in both traditional learning and through emerging areas of technology. …

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