PLAYBACK: Libraries as Spaces for Collaboration, Critical Thinking and Comics


10.22.11 | In this week’s PLAYBACK, we look at the changing role of libraries in both academic and community settings. Plus, librarians at Comic Con and a new book that aims to teach kids computer programming. It’s fiction, and it looks good.

Libraries Go High Tech: To prepare students for a rapidly changing job market, universities around the world are bringing in the latest digital media tools and technologies.

“At Canada’s University of Calgary,” writes Kelsey Sheehy in U.S. News, “that means installing gaming consoles, DJ booths, wall-sized touch screens, and a digital video globe at the newly opened Taylor Family Digital Library.” The story continues:

“Who does work just by pencil and paper anymore?” asks [library technology officer Shawna] Sadler. “It’s all digital. We want to make sure our students have access to these new forms of expression.” Each digital element at this cutting–edge library is designed for both fun and academics, Sadler says.

A history student interested in video games can analyze scenes from the library’s contemporary and retro game collection for instance, then use that expertise to design historically accurate scenes for the gaming industry, Sadler says.

Installation of the gaming rooms and DJ booths won’t be complete until January, but students are already using touch screen tables to pull molecules apart and studying weather patterns on the digital globe. They are also filling up collaboration rooms outfitted with group sharing software.

“A library is no longer a place you go to read,” says Jagmeet Sekhon, a political science and commerce student, who uses the new library several times a week for solo work and group projects. “These collaboration rooms are a reflection of what’s really out there in the real world,” Sekhon adds.

YOUmedia: Making Digital Media Accessible: Speaking of collaboration rooms ... “Jobs in journalism, entertainment, science, education, medicine, and business — they’re all starting to depend on interactive media,” Nichole Pinkard, a visiting associate professor in Depaul University’s College of Computing and Digital Media, said recently. “How will children from poor communities be able to compete in the future?”

Pinkard years ago answered her own question by coming up with the idea for YOUmedia, a digital library space for teens based at the Harold Washington Library Center in Chicago. 

YOUmedia was featured recently in USA Today and at, in addition to DePaul’s student newspaper. Liz Dwyer of GOOD writes:

While all the technology and resources are great, what makes the space truly work is that the teens aren’t left to their own devices once they walk through the doors. Exploring individual interests is encouraged, but YOUmedia is staffed by mentors from the Digital Youth Network and by experienced librarians who run structured workshops and projects to help students build their critical thinking skills and creativity.

Spotlight has produced a number of StudentSpeak videos capturing the work of both students and mentors at YOUmedia. In this webisode, teens take part in a Hackasaurus programming workshop, and here they remix themes and ideas in Neil Gaiman’s book “Neverwhere.”

Learn more about YOUmedia’s expansion, in Chicago and around the country.

Looking Online for Young Adult Literature: Joyce Valenza, a technology writer and teacher-librarian at Springfield Township High School, asked her practicum student, Chrissy Sirianni, to create a YA Lit Guide, based on Valenza’s own BookLeads wiki.

“My goal for this site is to give teens a space to explore the world of YA literature in an entertaining and unique way,” Sirianni wrote in a reflection on her creation. “I want to connect them to what they’re reading by curating resources like blogs, fan sites and author websites and interviews. Twitter and RSS feeds scattered across the pages keep the site dynamic.”

Sirianni also included a tab titled “Are You a Writer?” that includes links to zines, writing contests and poems by teens. LibGuides are maintained by the Pennsylvania Department of Education.

Librarians at Comic Con: Writing at School Library Journal, Rocco Staino reports on the enthusiasm of librarians at the 2011 New York Comic Con held earlier this month. Slideshows are included.

The effect of digital comics on traditional comics and graphic novels was a hot topic, as was gaming, including the difficulties libraries face in acquiring and developing video game collections. There was also discussion of teens and bullying—including a program titled “It Gets Better (With Comics)—and making comics with positive representations of LGBT characters more widely available to teens.

Plus: Check out this post on North America’s first graphic novel store for kids. The store is called Little Island Comics, and it may even be the first in the galaxy.

Teaching Kids Computer Science Through Fiction: In what may be my favorite find this week, Lauren Barack reports on “Lauren Ipsum,” a new book for kids that aims to teach them about computer programming. Sound exciting? It is. From the book description:

Lauren Ipsum is lost in Userland. She knows where she is, or where she’s going, but maybe not at the same time. The only way out is through Jargon-infested swamps, gates guarded by perfect logic, and the perils of breakfast time at the Philosopher’s Diner. With only her wits and the help of a chameleon named Xor, Laurie has to map her own way home.

Author Carlos Bueno, a Facebook programmer, developed “Lauren Ipsum” with his wife, illustrator Ytaelena López. I started reading Chapter Zero, titled “Mostly Lost,” and laughed out loud at the description of the creatures chasing Lauren:

“It’s just a bunch of Jargon,” he said. “Hold still and stay calm.” He cupped his hands to his mouth.

“STANI!” he shouted at them.

All of the Jargon froze, their ears a-quiver.


And just like that, they were gone.

Laurie collapsed against a tree. “Th-thank you,” she said.

“Sure thing, miss. Just rest here a while,” the man said. He dropped his pack with a loud jangle, then sat on top of it.“What’s a Jargon?” she asked once she’d caught her breath.

“Jargon live in the swamps. They feed on attention. If they can’t get that, they’ll settle for fear and confusion.”

“But the first one was so friendly! I just talked to it a little and it started following me.”

“That’s how it starts,” he said. “A little Jargon doesn’t look like much. Some people even keep them as pets. But they form packs, and they are very dangerous.”

I’m looking forward to reading it all, and I hope Lauren remains a character for girls to admire (see my earlier post on efforts to encourage girls to go into STEM fields). The 160-page book will be available in December in paperback and on Kindle and iPad. Bueno has already surpassed his fundraising goal on Kickstarter, but you can still kick in something to ensure translations—and pick up an early copy as a bonus.

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