Hennepin County Medical Center - Local 977

Libraries Create Better Ideas to Serve Their Communities

Local 1842’s Alaina Kozma hands out an iPad during a Createch session at the Arlington Hills library.

Innovative programs for teens are doing more than help St. Paul library branches become stronger parts of their communities. They’re showing:

  • How to use public resources more effectively
  • How public libraries remain vital beyond the era of books
  • How public and private agencies are working together to close opportunity gaps in society
  • How front-line public workers can create success if they get the freedom and support to do so

“I don’t think libraries were ever about being warehouses of books,” says Janos McGhie. “Libraries exist for the community.”  McGhie, a Local 1842 member, is coordinator for Createch, one of the leading examples of cutting-edge programming.

Bridging the digital divide

Createch is a weekly program at four St. Paul libraries. It gives tweens and teens a huge range of opportunities to play, create, and learn – “using technology to do something expressive,” in the words of Alaina Kozma, a Local 1842 member who oversees Createch at the Arlington Hills branch.

The libraries set aside a dedicated time and space for teens to shoot video or still photography; record and edit musical clips on laptop computers; play video, Wii and X-Box games; surf the internet; or just hang out. Not all activities rely on technology – the kids can also write poetry or learn to sew, for example – but access to technology and a space of their own are key, Kozma says.

“We want to be a space where people can come and learn about all the media available to them.” That’s especially important for kids who don’t have internet access, computers, tablets, or sophisticated software at home, she says. “The information landscape has completely changed. It’s not just about receiving information, but taking it and sharing it.

“That is an opportunity that is readily available for some people – but for other people, not so much.”

The evolution of libraries

McGhie believes that providing the opportunity to dabble with technology is a big piece of libraries’ future. In the past – when libraries expanded from books to movies, music, story times, guest speakers, classes, concerts, computers, and internet, he says – it was always about providing resources that community members could not easily obtain on their own.

He thinks the next evolution is to provide “maker space.” That means letting people sample high-end software, hardware, and other creative tools.

In fact, Kozma says, when the new Arlington Hills building opens in April, it will have its own technology room. That might include a dedicated computer connected to 3D printers in a lab at nearby Johnson High School.

Flexibility leads to success

Createch grew out of an occasional program run by the Science Museum of Minnesota. The original focus – computer animation – didn’t go over so well. But with the more expansive and flexible structure fostered by McGhie, Kozma, and others, the partnership expanded to include the museum, libraries, St. Paul parks, and SPNN, the public-access cable channel that specializes in teaching audio and video skills.

“It’s really important to be nimble,” Kozma says. “That’s kind of hard for a government organization.”

Getting started is “vastly easier than you think it is,” McGhie says. “It was just a matter of finding willing staff and having support of our superiors to do it.” And the numbers speak for themselves, he says.

Arlington Hills routinely attracts 30 participants – mostly on the younger end of the teen spectrum – while Rice Street typically attracts 40. “For a teen program at a library, we’re usually thrilled if there’s five,” McGhie says. “It’s been phenomenal.”

Kao Choua Vue, youth projects coordinator with SPNN, helps a Createch participant write a song using Garage Band software.

The whole project is part of larger, cooperative line-up of after-school youth activities that link St. Paul’s public schools, parks, and libraries. Activities are coordinated and publicized by the school district’s Sprockets website.

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