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Kitsap Regional Library Leverages Youth Voices to Support Sustainable STEM Learning

March 9, 2017

Editor’s Note: In honor of Teen Tech Week 2017, IMLS is spotlighting in a series of blogs five recent projects that we’ve supported which demonstrate how libraries are leveraging technology in service of teens across the nation.

By Shannon Peterson
Kitsap Regional Library

In 2015, Kitsap Regional Library received an IMLS National Leadership Grant for Libraries to support the Make Do Share project. Building upon success and lessons learned from previous youth and technology initiatives, the goal of Make Do Share is to ensure that Youth Librarians are confident and empowered to successfully facilitate sustainable STEM learning in libraries.

STEM initiative words on 12 post-it notes
Components of successful learning environments as identified by KRL Youth Librarians

In order to achieve this goal, we created a guide comprised of two elements:

  • The STEM Library Road Map supports the learning and planning necessary to begin a STEM initiative.
  • The STEM Library Playbook outlines sample program types and activities.

Foundational to this process is an element called Practice, in which the library works closely with youth interns (ages 16-25) to build 21st century skills via an online badging system while developing a project that leverages personal interests and supports ongoing youth STEM initiatives.

STEM kids and instructor drawing on paper
A librarian works with youth to design a marble maze.

Involving youth in such a substantial way has changed our work in ways that we never could have predicted. We’ve been able to expand community connections, strengthen peer learning, and create more authentic programs. Even more importantly however, engaging youth interns has helped us to shed our role as “expert” in the youth learning process. By empowering interns to design programs and resources with us we’ve become active co-learners, strengthening the same 21st century skills that we’re helping interns to support. We’ve learned to adapt to diverse perspectives, to collaborate on the planning process, and to engage in critical thinking in order to come to solutions.

Make. Do. Share. infographic
21st Century Skills graphic from Make Do Share: Sustainable STEM Programming for and with Youth in Public Libraries. Enlarge image.

In an article in Young Adult Library Services, YALSA’s quarterly journal, intern Shelby Barnes described the partnership that she experienced with our staff during her internship:

It was quite a shift for me when I became the intern. Instead of asking other people what they wanted me to do, people were asking me what I wanted to work on. I may have given my mentor, Megan, the “Deer in Headlights” look a few times, when she asked me this,  but thankfully she always knew what I needed, whether it was more probing questions to get my brain going or for her to jump in and take control for a moment. Whenever my brain decided to hang up its, “Out to Lunch” sign I knew I could count on Megan to be understanding and laugh off my mistakes with me… For me, Megan isn’t just any boss; she’s a co-worker, friend, role model, supporter, fellow nerd, and many other things rolled into one. I have an overwhelming amount of respect for Megan and I know that she respects me too, which I believe is the basis of what makes our relationship work so well. I couldn’t have asked for a better boss and I couldn’t have asked for a better place to work.

Afterschool STEM kid's club
Intern Shelby Barnes facilitating a STEM Pop-Up lab at an afterschool club.

The next step for us will be to transition to the “Share” phase of this project, in which we will partner with small and rural libraries in Washington, Oklahoma and Pennsylvania to develop similar community based STEM initiatives. We very much look forward to the opportunity to coach others on what we’ve learned over and to improve our own work along the way.

Shannon Peterson

About the Author

Shannon Peterson is the Youth Services Manager at Kitsap Regional Library and coordinates system-wide initiatives related to early learning, STEM, and college and career readiness. Shannon is a Past President of the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) as well as a recipient of the Washington State Library Association’s Visionary Service to Youth Award. Kitsap Regional Library is located in Bremerton, Washington.


National Leadership Grants for Libraries