Rochester Public Library, in collaboration with Nazareth College and ArtPeace Inc., will receive one of 12 grants from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation to design a Learning Lab, a new space where young people can connect with mentors and peers, as well as create new media and traditional materials to pursue their interests more deeply and connect these new skills to academics, career, and civic engagement. Inspired by YOUmedia, a teen space at the Chicago Public Library, and innovations in science and technology centers, these labs will help young people move beyond being content consumers and into becoming content creators.
The 12 winners—five museums and seven libraries—will receive a total of $1.2 million in planning grants to plan and design the labs. Rochester Public Library will receive $100,000 for the development of its learning lab, called Cypher Productions @ Teen Central. The grant is part of a second round of winners in a national competition to create 21st-century labs in museums and libraries around the country.
Nazareth College’s Assistant Professor in Adolescence Education Brian Bailey ’01G, Ph.D., was the driving force behind the grant and sees the importance of the learning lab at the library.
“As literacy changes rapidly with new technologies, it is imperative that Rochester youth have more opportunities to compose, design, and distribute with digital media arts,” says Bailey. “Many have an interest in expressing themselves by creating short films, music videos, slam poetry, and animation. Cypher Productions @ Teen Central is a unique space in the Rochester Public Library for adolescents to participate in these 21st-century literacy practices, and Nazareth College is proud to be part of it.”
Each new Learning Lab will be designed to facilitate a research-based education model known as connected learning—one that promotes discovery, creativity, critical thinking, and real-world learning through activities and experiences that bring together academics and young people’s interests, often facilitated by digital and traditional media. The winning institutions will match the funds from the competition and partner with local educational, cultural, and civic organizations to build a network of learning opportunities for young people. Cypher Productions @ Teen Central will bring in professional filmmakers, media artists, musicians, and animators to teach workshops, allowing underprivileged youth to learn more about video and animation production, culminating in a Teen Film Festival.
“I am thrilled that Rochester Public Library was recognized by the IMLS and MacArthur Foundation as a site worthy of creating an innovative Learning Lab,” says Patricia Uttaro, director of the Rochester Public Library and Monroe County Library System. “This grant will help the library continue as a key player in helping underserved youth in our community improve their literacy and enhance their creative learning, while highlighting the downtown library as a safe, mentored, caring, and productive place. The equipment, programs, and partnerships that this grant enables will be transformative for many young lives.”
Each of the winning institutions will match funds from the competition and is developing partnerships with local educational, cultural, civic, and business organizations to expand the resources available to build a network of learning opportunities for young people. Rochester Public Library’s primary partners in this project are Nazareth College (providing academic grounding and youth film festival expertise), ArtPeace (supplying area media artists and filmmaker consultants), and the Friends & Foundation of Rochester Public Library (handling finances and reporting).
These new grantees join 12 additional communities also planning new learning centers in libraries and museums as a part of the Learning Labs in Libraries and Museums project. The initiative was first announced in September 2010 in response to President Obama’s “Educate to Innovate” campaign, an effort to foster cross-sector collaboration to improve America’s students’ participation and performance in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).
Since then, MacArthur and IMLS have committed to invest $4 million to support knowledge-sharing activities for museums and libraries nationwide, and work together to create new Learning Labs across the nation. “Digital media are revolutionizing the way young people learn, socialize, and engage in civic life,” says Julia Stasch, vice president of U.S. Programs for the MacArthur Foundation. “These innovative labs are designed to provide today’s youth with the space, relationships, and resources to connect their social worlds and interests with academics, and to better prepare them for success in the 21st century.”
“Because of the expertise and content we have to offer, museums and libraries are uniquely positioned to offer young people meaningful learning experiences that link to science, art, and technology,” says Susan Hildreth, director of the Institute of Museum and Library Services. “With caring mentors and skilled professionals on staff to guide teens in their exploration, Learning Labs help youth express themselves and hone their skills in a safe environment.”
Urban Libraries Council (ULC) and the Association of Science-Technology Centers (ASTC) will continue to manage and guide the Learning Lab grantee community to ensure that each new space embodies best practice principles, based on research and evidence in the field of youth digital learning, to help young people gain 21st-century skills and an effective STEM education.
The 12 recipients of this round of grants were selected out of a pool of 105 applicants from 33 states and one territory. Applications were evaluated by professionals with relevant expertise in digital media and learning, as well as museum and library management. Winners will participate—in-person and online—in a community of practice that will provide technical assistance, networking, and cross-project learning.