By Cody Allen of T.E.C.H. Lab @ Billings Public Library
We wanted to expand the reach of the resources and opportunities offered by the Billings Public Library’s T.E.C.H. Lab to a broader audience by engaging a wider range of library staff members in our work. How could we provide meaningful professional development opportunities while at the same time as bolstering needed staff support for the Lab and its programming?
A major part of our Post-Emergent Library Maker Spaces action research project centered around creating a core team of staff members who would meet twice a month to discuss readings and webinars related to learning labs and S.T.E.A.M. activities. We presented this idea to the collective library staff (Billings has one branch and a fairly small staff for its size) at a morning meeting, and asked for volunteers who were interested in this kind of programming to email us about joining the team. We made it clear that there were stringent expectations for those who joined the team: members would have substantial reading to get through each month and they would have to watch a predetermined webinar on their own time. There was also the time commitment of the actual team meetings. This team would meet twice month, once to discuss the assigned reading and once to discuss the assigned webinar.
Ultimately, our team consisted of three staff members: the teen librarian in charge of the lab, the circulation librarian who was focused on tween programming in the library, and a librarian’s assistant from the Children’s Department. The readings assigned for this team focused on academic research and conceptual ideas behind learning labs, and they sparked substantial discussions for the team. Each meeting was focused on how these ideas could be applied to our library and our respective niches of programming. So far the team has been successful in expanding the reach of the T.E.C.H. Lab beyond its original teen audience, with a team member writing:
”One of the really great things that we have done so far is create our Tech Tower program. This program has allowed kids between the ages of 9 and 12 to utilize equipment from the Tech Lab which is something that they were unable to do before. The kids that came enjoyed experimenting with the equipment as well as working together to figure things out. We are hoping to continue to expand on this and be able to offer it more often. Overall the experience has been great and I’m looking forward to being able to expand our services even more in the future.”
The core team also provided an opportunity to introduce staff to YOUmedia’s Community of Practice (CoP) and the larger national project that the Billings learning lab is a part of. Along with the readings and webinars, the core team was required to join the CoP and read the discussions taking place there. The CoP offers a valuable wealth of resources, and we will start to look more seriously through the site during future meetings of the core team.
The core team was an ideal opportunity to not only engage in relevant professional development, but also to help orient more library staff members to the concepts underpinning the lab. We ended up having more staff members available to help out in the lab and assist the teen librarian as needed. We also discovered that the monthly meetings really helped all of the team members stay focused and thinking about bigger-picture issues and ideas. It is very easy to get overwhelmed with small details and day-to-day tasks, so having consistent meetings turned out to be a great way of addressing these kinds of issues. As one of our core team members said:
”This is an amazing project to be a part of, not just because we get to do programs and travel to places like San Francisco, but because we have been able to touch so many lives and to spread the excitement of what lay ahead for all of these children – to show them the possibilities of a future with their stamp somewhere in that world.”