Robots @ the Library (Winter 2015)

JD Hancock Robot photoIn the latest film iteration of the classic H.G. Wells story, The Time Machine, the main character travels into the future and enters a library staffed by a “reference robot.” That and all the other popular images of robots from films and literature were in the back of my mind when I read Jaina Shaw’s intriguing article in the Winter 2015 issue of YALS, titled, “Libraries are for Making: Robots.”

In the article, we learn about Westport Library’s innovative use of robots, which are not being used to replace human staff, but instead are a creative new tool to attract customers to the library, teach teens programming and provide informal learning experiences.

What I found especially interesting was Shaw’s account of the interactions between the teens who volunteer and the robots they work with. She relates that her teen volunteers, when introduced to Nancy the robot, became frustrated when the robot failed to “jump to it” when commands were given. All those preconceived notions about what a robot can do were challenged by the reality. The teens now have a wonderful opportunity to learn the programming code that commands the robot’s actions. Even more fascinating, to my mind, is the psychology of human interaction with artificial intelligence. Expectations are challenged and learning includes programming, team building, critical thinking, and troubleshooting.

Kudos to the staff of Westport Library for their groundbreaking work in introducing robots to libraries!

Serving Youth Across the Spectrum (Winter 2015)

Kris Hickey’s interview with author Jonathan Friesen in the Winter 2015 YALS really resonated with me. Friesen’ groundbreaking novels have introduced us to characters with multiple personalities, autism, and Tourette Syndrome. As a teen librarian in a public library, I have worked with teens on the spectrum and it can be challenging to engage them in library activities. One young man I met several months ago, who is considered to be on the autism spectrum, joined my teen volunteer group. At first, he was quite reserved and rarely interacted with the other teens. I was worried that he might not feel welcome.

I was pleasantly surprised to watch the other teens chat with him and make him feel part of the group. He enjoyed the activities, even if they presented difficulties for him, and he is now an active member. As I began to get to know this young man, I discovered that he has a keen sense of humor, loves Minecraft, sometimes gets mad at his teacher, and hates being pressured—in other words, your average teen boy. I have learned to just let him be part of the group and not worry about whether he is participating or having difficulties with what we are doing. His mother took me aside one day, and, with tears in her eyes, described how she had looked everywhere for some social activities in the community that would welcome her son. Yes, our group was welcoming, and for that I am very grateful. But even more importantly, both the group and I have been enriched by his presence.

Working with Outcomes: A Worthwhile Challenge

Written by Heidi Andres a Teen Services Librarian with Cuyahoga County Public Library in Northeast Ohio. She received outcome measurement training as a fellow in the Treu-Mart Youth Development Fellowship Program of the Weatherhead School of Management at Case Western Reserve University.

smiley face evaluation by Flickr Creative Commons user BillsophotoAs a librarian involved in the implementation of youth program outcome measures, I was extremely interested in Johannah Genett’s article, “Measuring Outcomes for Teen Technology Programs,” in the Fall 2014 issue of YALS. Reading this article, I was eager to see how another library system (Hennepin County Library) collects outcome measures for youth programs in comparison to my organization, Cuyahoga County Public Library (CCPL).

In the fall of 2012, Cuyahoga County Public Library formed a youth planning team with the mission of creating outcome measures for youth programming across our 27 branches. This team was comprised of CCPL administrative youth staff, three Teen Services librarians, including myself, one Children’s Services librarian, and representatives from an outside youth development organization. Although the three teen staff members had received outcome measurement instruction, learning outcome measurement theory and actually creating and applying the tools proved to be two very different sides of the same coin. Constructing outcomes, indicators, and measurement tools was an eye-opening experience, one which enabled the team to closely examine the library system’s youth programming priorities and goals. The process focused on answering some vital questions: Why do we do what we do? What are our programming strengths, and where can we improve? What kind of impact do we want to have on the young people we serve, and how do we achieve this through the programs we offer? It was our hope that measuring outcomes would not only give us answers to these queries, but also provide staff with insight they could use to develop future youth programs with outcomes in mind.
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Words from a Teen on Serving LGBTQ Youth (Fall 2014)

teen advisory group photo at Vancouver Public LibraryAfter recently reading Dr. Jama Shelton and Dr. Julie Winkelstein’s YALS article (Fall, 2014), Librarians and Social Workers: Working Together for Homeless LGBTQ Youth, I was stunned by the appalling statistic cited in the first line of the article. Although LGBTQ youth make up only 5-7 % of the general youth population, up to 40% of homeless youth are LGBTQ. Many of these homeless youth spend long hours in public libraries. Libraries provide a relatively safe haven and allow them access to much-needed information about social services. But libraries have long struggled with how to handle homeless patrons and these teens fear that they will be stigmatized if they spend an inordinate amount of time in the library. Many of them are over 18 years old, which means, in many libraries, they are no longer eligible for young adult services.

So what can librarians do to address this powerful need? The article by Shelton and Winkelstein cites 11 strategies to help homeless LGBTQ youth. One of the most powerful strategies is to be a visible advocate within our communities for LGBTQ youth. Last year, I volunteered to be part of an initiative in my library to reach out to LGBTQ youth in my community. My first step was to contact the high school GSA (Gay Straight Alliance) to make a connection and offer them the library’s support. Through that first connection, I met Logan Sherman, a high school senior and transgender person. I contacted Logan recently to ask if he could share his experience with homeless LGBTQ youth. Here’s what Logan said:
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Backwards Design: A Goal Oriented Model for Teen Services (Fall 2013)

riding a horse backwards by flickr creative commons user kennymaticIt may seem counterintuitive for a program to be designed “backwards,” but this model for programming focuses on setting goals, including learning objectives and assessments, and then moves to designing the activities that focus on reaching the goals.

Such an intentional programming model is becoming increasingly popular in public libraries, as the emphasis in programming shifts from random recreational programs to programs that promote learning and the goals of the library for young adult services. You may think this takes the fun out of programming. However, using this model, Cuyahoga County Public Library designed a Lego Mindstorms robotics program that was a huge hit with youth in their communities. Legos and robotics are definitely fun!

For more details about this programming model, take a look at “Intentionally Backwards, the Future of Learning in Libraries,” by Sarah Kepple in the Fall edition of YALS.

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