By Cody Allen of T.E.C.H. Lab @ Billings Public Library
Running new and innovative library programming can sometimes feel like a daunting and mystifying task, especially when you feel like you are doing it in isolation. Staff involved with the Billings Public Library’s T.E.C.H. Lab had an opportunity to address this issue by paying a visit to The Mix at the San Francisco Public Library. How can we connect with other YOUmedia Learning Labs to enrich our own practice? How can we utilize this national community to gain context and support for our own work?
In order to orient new staff to the concept and network of YOUmedia learning labs, we sent our core team on a site visit to The Mix at San Francisco Public Library. During this trip the team also visited the California Academy of Sciences (CAS), the Children’s Creativity Museum, and the Bay Area Maker Faire. The opportunity to see how other labs operate, both in their daily programs as well as with their community partners, allowed us to gain perspective about our own programming and community.
CAS is a community partner of The Mix, and during our visit we learned about how these two programs collaborate and how they go about recruiting and building a strong youth-led leadership team. At the Children’s Creativity Museum, we explored different ways of engaging children in slightly structured self-learning, and how to appropriately teach S.T.E.A.M. ideas to young children. The Maker Faire gave us an incredible look into the very core of the maker movement.
The real purpose of the trip, however, was to visit The Mix. We toured the space and spoke with staff about how they structure and run their program. We discussed successes and challenges that we have faced in administering our respective spaces. This experience had a lasting impact – it not only instilled a sense of shared purpose and camaraderie for our staff, but by learning about the culture and audience present at The Mix we had a better idea of what kinds of things our own audience might want and need from our lab. Visiting another program from the YOUmedia Community of Practice (and meeting people who have contributed to discussions we had followed on the site) helped to ground the national project, and to allow our staff to see where we fit in the context of this larger network.
Site visits provide a robust opportunity for learning lab staff to reflect and build upon their practice, while also contributing to their sense of belonging to a national community with shared goals. Meeting with other lab employees and seeing how they work with their youth audiences went a long way in helping us to develop the soft, social skills that are vital to the learning lab project.