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At One Ohio Library, Shared Learning Spaces Shed Light on How Children Learn

March 10, 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 Josephine Nolfi
Public Library of Youngstown and Mahoning County

In September 2015, The Public Library of Youngstown and Mahoning County (PLYMC) opened a grant-funded interactive learning space in the main library as part of a partnership with OH WOW! The Roger and Gloria Jones Children’s Center for Science and Technology to develop complementary activities and spaces.

Grandparent and child participating in library activity
Hands on activities at Public Library of Youngstown and Mahoning County invite multi-generation bonding.

So for example, as part of the project, kids can visit OH WOW! and play a piece of music on a PVC pipe organ. They can continue that experience at the library, where they can compose and edit an original piece of music using software.

As PLYMC, we opened a learning space on the open floor of the Main Library for our shared space, partly because we’d heard adults in community conversations complain about middle school students being “disrespectful.”  We hoped that by seeing kids working together with adults in a learning environment, we could start to change this perception.  Of the 346 kids who registered, 133 were in grades 4-8. Sometimes kids in this age group came with family members, but more often they came with day camps or other groups.  While they were there, the kids had fun playing a computer game using water-conducted Makey Makey controls; watching the 3-D printer; and making their own movie.  But nothing beat flying the drone--everyone loved it. We made flying the drone a summer reading club activity, too, and we had parents tell us that middle school kids begged to go to the Main Library!

As children completed the various tasks and activities at the library or at our museum partner, they were able to earn online badges. Those stackable online badges were created to track the progress of participants as they moved through the various learning spaces.

Teen flying drone with remote control
At the Public Library of Youngstown and Mahoning County, flying the drone was the most popular activity.

We learned several things. First, even though they were trained in how to do the activities the kids had to complete, librarians would have liked to know more about the science behind the activity.  There was a learning curve that was easier for some library staff than for others. Secondly, we learned that this kind of space needs to be well-staffed.  Helping the kids takes time, and to do it right, someone has to be there to answer the questions. Staff covering the public service desk can’t do both.

Another important thing we learned is that online badging doesn’t appeal to kids as an incentive. They loved their paper logs because they could show people how much they had accomplished, and they were more interested in inexpensive incentives than online badges.

As part of the grant, we hired professional evaluators to give us feedback, and we developed a white paper that describes lessons learned and project outcomes and evaluation.  We encourage everyone to visit our project webpage to read more about the grant and see pictures of some of the activities.

About the Author
Josephine Nolfi is the Director of Youth Services and Programming for the Public Library of Youngstown and Mahoning County and was the project manager for YOLO: The Youngstown Ohio Learning Opportunities Grant.  She can be reached at

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