Innovative Library: YouMedia – Chicago Public Library
by Janet Nelson
YouMedia – Chicago Public Library
With the launch of the “Digitial Learning and Media” initiative, the MacArthur Foundation initially funded the Digital Youth Network in 2006 and then approached the Chicago Public Library with the idea of developing an incubator within the library to encourage learning, collaboration and digital creativity. Understanding the research indicating that the introduction of digital media was changing the way young adults learn, Chicago Public Library (CPL) looked at this as an opportunity to connect teens with books, media, mentors and institutions throughout the city when they envisioned YouMedia.
Collaborating with numerous partners for everything from funding to design to programming and more, they were able to develop a first-of-its-kind concept that goes well beyond the space as it incorporates mentors, interest-based learning and research. The facility opened in 2009 and has continued to evolve over the past several years. The dynamic space was designed to inspire collaboration and creativity with a division of space based on the research of Mimi Ito and her associates who developed concepts around “Hanging out, messing around and geeking out”. Mentors help in the process of developing the interests and skills of each teen working with books, computers, digital equipment and a variety or media creation tools and software. Students work in teams on some projects and individually on others.
Recognized as an effective, “game-changing” program, YouMedia sees as many as 400-500 kids a week who come to spend time pursuing a variety of activities. This concept is being rolled out to up to 30 other learning labs by 2014, funded in part through a partnership between the MacArthur Foundation and the Institute of Museum & Library Sciences (IMLS). As this concept has developed, it has also served to place the library at the center of an “educational ecosystem” that connects organizations throughout the community and employs the vast talents and resources afforded by truly working together to enhance learning opportunities.