November 20, 2014


IMLS Press Contact
Giuliana Bullard

Washington, DC—Twenty-four Learning Labs in libraries and museums across the country are engaging America’s youth in learning settings where they gain skills and following their passions. A new publication, Learning Labs in Libraries and Museums: Transformative Spaces for Teens, describes these innovative teen spaces. The report details the research behind the labs, the practices that support meaningful learning, and the impacts of a movement that grew with support from the Institute of Museum and Library Services and its private partner, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

In 2010, President Obama launched Educate to Innovate, making STEM education a national priority to ensure that America’s youth gain the work skills needed to meet the challenges of a complex global economy. In 2011, IMLS and the MacArthur Foundation responded by launching the Learning Labs in Libraries and Museums program to support the creation of these spaces in libraries and museums and unite these sites in a national network. The Urban Libraries Council and the Association of Science-Technology Centers were partners in the effort.

Through two cycles of national grant competitions, 24 sites in across the country were selected. Each site received $100,000 for the planning and design of their Learning Lab. Direct involvement of teens in the planning and design process is a signature characteristic of the Learning Labs.

Learning Labs are spaces with programming that allow teens to follow their passions and inspire one another. The Learning Labs model includes the critical role of supportive and knowledgeable mentors, and the spaces include a combination of digital media and traditional tools.

These spaces follow the design principles of connected learning—learning that draws on the power of today’s technology to fuse young people’s interests, friendships, and academic achievement with hands-on production, shared purpose, and open networks.

“Walk into any one of these Learning Labs and you’ll find a space where teens are creating, producing, experimenting, and becoming the makers and innovators our times demand,” said Connie Yowell, Director of Education at the MacArthur Foundation. “Through this partnership, IMLS has helped to take an experiment that began in Chicago—the YOUmedia teen learning lab at the Harold Washington Public Library—and spread it nationally. We now have 24 exemplary models of how museums and libraries can serve teens, and provide them with learning opportunities that help prepare them for a 21st Century workforce."

IMLS Director Susan H. Hildreth said, “With these Learning Labs, we are seeing the future of participatory, self-directed learning. They show that connected learning can be deep and impactful for teens and that libraries and museums have an essential role in the new learning ‘ecosystem.’ Learning Labs are not only transforming the lives of students, they are transforming the operations of the museums and libraries that host them.” 

IMLS and the MacArthur Foundation will continue to foster professional development through collaborative work. New digital spaces for this work will include the public website,, hosted by the National Writing Project, and a new online open community site that will launch in 2015.

Learning Labs in Libraries and Museums: Transformative Spaces for Teens and the executive summary are available by download from the IMLS website.

About the Institute of Museum and Library Services
The Institute of Museum and Library Services is the primary source of federal support for the nation’s 123,000 libraries and 35,000 museums. Our mission is to inspire libraries and museums to advance innovation, lifelong learning, and cultural and civic engagement. Our grant making, policy development, and research help libraries and museums deliver valuable services that make it possible for communities and individuals to thrive. To learn more, visit and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.