Saturday, July 16, 2011

At Tacoma Public Library, a new digital lab offers space where teens can create, learn

Just beyond the main checkout counter, in a soundproof room covered in gray egg carton foam, the future of the Tacoma Public Library is spilling out in graphics, text, video and sound.
by: Lewis Kamb

LUI KIT WONG Staff photographer
Aarron Johnson, 15, foreground, assists
Jacob Minor, 14, on a video at the digital media
lab in the downtown Tacoma Public Library on June 3.
Just beyond the main checkout counter, in a soundproof room covered in gray egg carton foam, the future of the Tacoma Public Library is spilling out in graphics, text, video and sound.

It can be found in the computer-aided fashion animations of 18-year-old Anna Slunaker, and in the video game-inspired “mockumentary” filmmaking of Christian Bowser, 15, and Andy Beattie, 19.

And it’s there in 16-year-old Ullysses Mosely’s rap lyrics, which he plans to set to beats with the help of Jacob Minor, a 14-year-old producer-in-the-making.

“I’m not necessarily looking to become a rap star, but I like music and poetry,” said Mosely, explaining how the digital smorgasbord around him is impacting his life. “All this stuff really just helps me kind of explore what interests me.”

“This stuff” is a new array of high-powered computers and state-of-the-art software, collectively known as StoryLab – the Tacoma Public Library’s new digital media center for teens. Funded by a three-year $150,000 grant from the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation with matching funds from the library, StoryLab is believed to be only the third digital media center in the nation now provided by a public library, library officials say.

“This really speaks to the way libraries are changing,” said Susan Odencrantz, the city’s library director. “More and more, there’s a movement toward digital literacy and uploading content. This just lets us take it to the next level to serve people with more modern tools and training opportunities.”

City library officials submitted the idea for StoryLab to the Allen foundation under a broad new grant initiative focused on “strengthening the role that libraries and librarians play in connecting people to information and ideas,” the foundation’s web site says. In response, Tacoma landed the foundation’s largest award among seven grant recipients named under the inaugural program.

Money from the Microsoft co-founder’s charity helped cover the library’s purchase of – ironically – five Apple iMacs, replete with expanded memory, oversized monitors, video cards and speakers. It also covered purchase of a new laptop, digital camcorders and a variety of other equipment and multimedia software to help library visitors make movies, produce music, design web sites, edit photography, create illustrations and generally tell stories using digital technology.

Staffed with a digital media specialist who helps guide and train patrons on the use of the new equipment, StoryLab is open to teens from 13 to 19 years old on afternoon weekdays after 2 p.m.

For now, library officials are limiting use of the new media lab to teens, partly as a way to foster a relationship with younger library patrons. The hope is that the library eventually will expand the program to others.

“But we’ll have to find the money to do that,” library spokesman David Domkoski said.

In the meantime, the new lab is a natural fit with the student crowd, said teen services librarian Sara Sunshine Paschal.

“With the way kids have to function in society today, they have to be digitally literate,” Paschal said. “Now, we can encourage that by giving them the ability to explore their own stories and own interests.”

Since it opened in April, teens have used StoryLab for a variety of group and individual projects, Paschal said. They collaborated to write scripts, perform skits and edit the podcast, “A Tacoma Home Companion” – a riff off the popular National Public Radio show hosted by Garrison Keillor. One girl read and researched the book, “The Boy Who Harnessed The Wind,” then utilized media lab equipment to record and edit an interview with the author, William Kamkwamba, for a podcast.

StoryLab patrons are posting their work on the library’s Facebook page, Domkoski said. A newly established web site,, will also eventually showcase their projects, he said.

The first few months largely have been an orientation, during which teens have learned to use the equipment and software, library officials said.

“But his is just the tip of the iceberg,” said Jerome Myers, manager of the city’s main library.

Library officials soon plan to introduce more formal training courses, workshops and seminars taught by professional media experts and volunteer mentors. One class will teach patrons how to check out and download eBooks and other digital library materials. Another plans to teach teens the dos and don’ts of online copyright issues.

Digital technology won’t necessarily replace books or other traditional library materials, library officials noted, but it will play a more prominent role in the library’s services and collections. As it does, the library plans to provide more tools and training opportunities, they said.

In the meantime, StoryLab’s teen users say they’re learning fast and furiously.

On a recent afternoon, Slunaker, who just graduated from Tacoma School of the Arts, used one of the souped-up iMacs to draw digital animations for a graphic comic book she’s creating about Japanese fashion. The skills she’s learning now are ones she’ll use when pursuing a college degree and an eventual career in fashion design, she said.

“You can learn how to do a lot of cool things here that will help you later on,” Slunaker said. “Plus, it’s just a lot of fun.”

from: News Tribune

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