Our nation’s libraries are in a crisis. Massive budget cuts and lack of support have led to libraries in several states closing their doors. Those that manage to remain open struggle to retain relevance in a society who’s main forms of information are increasingly digital in nature. So it’s no surprise that many libraries are working to implement programs that use new technology to appeal to a new generation of readers. One particularly successful program is making headlines in USA Today this week: Chicago’s YOUmedia — a Digital Library Space for Teens.
Once a storage space in Chicago’s Harold Washington Library Center, YOUmedia is packed with all of the latest digital media–laptop computers, music keyboards, recording equipment, video cameras and gaming consoles. “When people see it they’re completely gobsmacked,” says Mary Dempsey, library commissioner. Perhaps the most surprising feature of all is the amount of students that can be found in the space. Talking, playing video games, and composing music–the students here are actively engaging and creating. Gone are the days of hushed studying in the stacks. If YOUmedia is any indication, the library of the future is loud!
Funded in part by the MacArthur Foundation, YOUmedia sprang out of research on children’s literacy and how it is affected by digital media. The research and the ongoing success of YOUmedia have proven that new forms of media are changing the definition of literacy as we know it.
“We are in one of these rare moments in time where what it means to be literate today, what it meant for us, is going to be different from what it means to be literate for our kids,” Nichole Pinkard, who first envisioned the space, told USAToday. “Just as schools have always pushed teens to read critically and pick apart authors’ arguments, she says, educators must now teach kids how to consume media critically and, ideally, to produce it.”
The center has become so popular that the library plans to replicate it city-wide. Soon, new media centers like YOUmedia could be popping up in libraries all over the country. Could such centers help to close the digital gap by providing access to media tools that might be otherwise out of reach for low income teens? Would you like to see a new media center in your neighborhood’s library? Tell us what you think!