Libraries and Museums- A Perfect Partnering

Photo credit: Tim Arruda

Photo credit: Tim Arruda

Photo credit: Tim Arruda

Photo credit: Tim Arruda

Libraries and museums share similar DNA; public institutions holding artifacts of human knowledge and creations.  In fact, many MLIS programs cover both library science and museum studies since both are in the business of information just in different formats. So it is no surprise that our museums can be great allies for the work we do with our students. Museums with their troves of primary sources can expand a student’s understanding of history in an engaging, multi-disciplinary way. Librarians can show concepts of scholarship, documentation, archiving, and displaying information through museum experiences. I recently had the opportunity to help organize a museum field experience in collaboration with the social justice studies of our upper school teachers.

The field trip experience was a collaboration between the Florida Holocaust Museum and artist Ya La’ford, who uses installation murals as a creative space to hold storytelling events. In the museum, students saw photographs, artifacts and documents about both the Holocaust in Europe and the Civil Rights movement in America. In addition to The Florida Holocaust Museum permanent collection, they viewed the special exhibits “This Light of Ours: Activist Photographers of the Civil Rights Movement” and “Beaches, Benches and Boycotts: The Civil Rights Movement in Tampa Bay”.

Students headed to the mural site, the tunnel adjacent to Tropicana Field which travels under First Avenue, for “Blue Sunnel”, a storytelling series featuring a panel of speakers focused on gratitude, creativity and perseverance. The panelists were Holocaust survivor Jerry Rawicki, artist and philanthropist Beth Morean, and City Council member Amy Foster – all organized by artist Ya La’ford. The site itself is a transformative 85-foot, blue lighted tunnel, wrapped floor to ceiling in hand painted geometric lines paralleling the rise and fall of the sun on St. Petersburg. Students see what the artifacts and photographs mean when there is a person to give a first-hand experience about it. Image, narrative and conversation converge in a new context for the students.

Back at school students followed up with reading and discussions. This type of educational experience lets student see librarians in another light as a person that can connect them to people and places in their community. They can see that research and documentation can take a creative shape that impacts their community and larger world. I also found that students were seeking out more books and information about both time periods because the multi-layered presentation piqued their curiosity to learn more. One of the English teachers shared that some students want to collect donations and write thank you letters so that these stories are continued to be told. The whole experience reminded me of the poignant resources we all have in our communities and how we can build partnerships to broaden learning resources beyond our shelves. Even if we cannot all attend a field trip it made me think about how the librarian can facilitate learning liaisons like these.

Museums as learning media ideas:

  • Find out what museum field trips your school might already do and share resources or offer a mini-lesson as either formative or summative learning experiences connected to the event.
  • Volunteer as a chaperone for school field trips.
  • Investigate local museums and following their social media for changing exhibits that correlate with your school’s curriculum to share with your staff.
  • Consider virtual field trips if you are not able leave your library- share with your art and social studies teachers the Google Cultural Institute which aggregates collections from museums, cultural centers and libraries from around the world. The Smithsonian Museum has educator resources and Smithsonian X 3D captures artifacts in 3D form.

Creative Loafing published a recent article about the event- if you would like to see more details-

Inviting Creative Experts to the Library Mix

Librarians are always connectors. We see the intersections of subjects in the curriculum. So now that many of our schools are fully immersed in project-based learning, STEM to STEAM, Guided Inquiry, Design Thinking etc. we can take our role of finding authors and add a new spin to finding subject experts. This is a way to add curricular support to the kinds of programming that are happening in schools adopting creative commons, makerspaces, and design labs…

I was inspired by the Libraries as Incubator Project (LAIP) that guest-presented at our AISL Convention last spring; They highlighted library programs that bring artists, musicians, dancers to integrate with the collection and space of the library. I have begun to invite experts to work with teachers and students on the projects they are undertaking. Teachers have appreciated this addition to our collaborative relationship because it is often too time intensive for them to add this element to their courses. I have noticed the student engagement increases when they get to see someone share the real-world examples to the topics that are studying. Here are some of the experts I found in our creative city.

One of the first speakers I brought to our school was industrial designer to share about his profession and the creative things he has made. I choose him because at the time we were promoting our Makerspace. Chris Barrs of O8O Studio shared about the design process and showed the iterations of many of his products. I choose him specifically because I had learned about the NASA’s first 3D print in space challenge for students and knew that Mr. Barrs had designed for NASA when he was a student in college. Read more about his presentation here

The next speaker I invited to our school helped the second phase of our makerspace programming: curricular connections. Jon-Paul Taylor is part of the St. Pete Makers organization in St. Petersburg. When I learned from the technology teacher and art teacher in middle school that the students were designing games for their Spanish class I saw the opportunity to bring in a person with a passion for game design history and making. Mr. Taylor was a perfect match because not only does he understand coding for game design he also builds arcade style consoles to play the games on. This mirrored the work student were doing because they were coding in technology class and creating cardboard consoles in art class. See him sharing with our students here.

Earlier this year I had the opportunity to bring experts to the school related to a city-wide cultural event in our community- the SHINE Mural Festival. This was the most ambitious iteration of engaging local experts with our students. I had learned about this event at the end of last year and shared with the art teachers on campus. The middle school art teacher was excited to get involved with this city event and made a point to start her art classes with mural and street art concepts at the beginning of this year. Since international, national, and local mural artists were painting the town we took the students on a field trip to Bloom Art Center, an art studio covered in murals by our local mural artists. After the festival, mural artists visited our middle school art studio to help the students design a new mural for our school and brought an art car along for more examples of street art in our community. See more details here and here

In combination with procuring experts I make a point to pull books and materials from our collection to show our holdings in a new light. This way both traditional functions of the library and progressive educational trends are represented in the programming.

Some tips I have learned through the experience-

  • Often finding experts in community is a frugal route as very often they are willing to share free of charge or for a smaller compensation than an author.
  • Have informal conversations with your teachers to see what they are working on and offer to bring outsiders in.
  • Tap into your own personal interests and organizations that you are a part of- I joined with the St. Pete Makers to grow my own skills and now I know experts in several maker fields.
  • Volunteer outside of you school- I met local artists this summer when I volunteered to help with the educational side of a local arts programs.
  • Talk with your alumni departments as they have farther reaching contacts with experts across many fields and with a vested interest in your school.

Finally, I still look for authors to promote a love of reading, but I have enjoyed adding subject experts to the mix too. These are just some of my thoughts. I would love to hear if others have also brought in experts for the programs at their schools.


Design Thinking in the Library

The onset of the internet ushered in us into the Information Age. Now the with access to unlimited information, video tutorials combined with new personal fabrication machines (3D printers  and laser cutters) we are now entering the Innovation Age. Co-working facilities, fab labs and makerspaces are popping up in cities all over offering a place to create and collaborate to spark new businesses and industries. Our libraries can parallel this real-world trend by assisting and promoting a framework of creative thinking through the design thinking model with or without a dedicated makerspace.

As the focus on creativity and innovation in education increases, libraries can bring design-thinking into their programs. Librarians can implement design thinking into their programming to advance creative thinking alongside the critical thinking for our schools supporting the pedagogy and curriculum of project-based learning and STEM/STEAM initiatives of recent years. Fast Company defines it as, “the methodology commonly referred to as design thinking is a proven and repeatable problem-solving protocol that any business, or profession can employ to achieve extraordinary results.*” There are different variations of the design thinking model, but generally in falls into 5 categories:


  1. Discovering or Defining a problem
  2. Ideating or Brainstorming approaches
  3. Prototyping and Tinkering
  4. Test, Analyze and Refine
  5. Feedback loop and User-Studies

The transition to adding a design-thinking approach should be easy for librarians as we have taught research frameworks like “The Big 6” and “Guided Inquiry” and other methods to simplify and organize the complex processes of research.  Now librarians can help teachers experiment with the design process for their next creative project with students. An easy entry point with the curriculum would be outreach to capstone programs and project-based learning. Offer sessions on each step of the process as students work through their design problems. Employ the same questioning skills you used with the reference interview in traditional research, but with the new focus of looking at the form and function of what the student trying to achieve. An added benefit of incorporating design thinking in your regular programming is that there is organic, on-the-spot research, so you can continue to reinforce research skills. Additionally, the librarian can help the teacher focus on documentation throughout the creative process by referring to Leonardo Da Vinci’s notebooks and others as examples. The documentation is not formal like MLA or APA, etc, but it underpins the necessary skills of documenting the progress of a major work. Take it a step further by suggesting students create an “Instructable” in which they share the steps of their creative process in a public forum in which effective documentation is a core competency.

The library with the access to all disciplines of knowledge is a great place to incorporate creative thinking processes. Modeling design thinking in your program can invigorate your teaching practice as an added tool in your teaching toolbox.  Offering your skills and time as a teaching-partner on PBL teams within your school makes you a linchpin in your organization. Have fun and enjoy the creative process with your patrons by offering design challenges in your library alongside reading initiatives. If you are looking for more about design thinking the following resources can help you dive deeper into design.


Design Thinking Comes to Independent Schools by Peter Gow

Recasting Teachers and Students as Designers by Mindshift

Iterating and Ideating: Teachers Think Like Designer by Tina Barseghian

Putting Power In the Hands of Kids Through Design Thinking by Tina Barseghian

What Does ‘Design Thinking’ Look Like in School? by Katrina Schwartz

Design Thinking for Educators by IDEO

Scaffolding Creativity Through Design Thinking by Mindy Ahrens

How to Apply Design Thinking in Class, Step By Step by Mindshift

*Design Thinking…What is That? by Fast Company



Makerspaces Going Mainstream in Libraries

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Many of us have been reading about Makerspaces over the last couple of years as an emerging trend in libraries and school spaces. No longer is it a fringe, underground trend, but it is becoming mainstream with events like the Maker Faire at the Whitehouse, Home Depot selling 3D printers and materials, and general magazines like Newsweek sharing that, “ The Maker Movement Reinvents Education.” Whether your library decides to include a Makerspace or not we all can be a part of the “Maker Movement” and promote what libraries have been doing well for centuries- helping patrons explore their personal interests and gain knowledge on all subjects in all types of media.

Some of us have makerspaces or are currently developing them, so we have a great community to share our experiences. Others of us may have tech centers or innovation labs going into our schools so as librarians we want to provide research and resources on new media in the maker realm. Last year, we ventured into creating a makerspace at the Shorecrest library and we are moving into year two of development. We hope to share what we have learned in the process and elicit your experiences too.

If You Build it, They Will Come, but Now What?

Most of the professional library journals have been writing about what you need in a makerspace and how to design it. So as to not to reinvent the wheel, but 3D print it, I found the following articles to be great guides to help start outfitting and planning a makerspace. The hit list entails 3D printing, laser cutters, CNC machines, micro-controllers, robotic equipment and electronics.

     Makerspaces, Participatory Learning, and Libraries by the Unquiet Librarian

     Manufacturing Makerspaces by American Library Journal

     Geek Out by Greg Landgraf in American Library Journal

     3D-Printers: a revolution headed for your library by Betha Gutsche

     The Making of Makerspaces By Lauren Britton on Digital Shift

     Makerspace Playbook School Edition by Maker Education Initiative

     Why Your Library May Soon Have Laser-Cutters and 3D Printers by Clive Thompson

 3P is More important than 3D- People, Programming, and Process

Of course, 3D printers are grabbing a majority of the attention, and they definitely get people in the door, but the heart of the movement is creating a collaborative environment, guiding creativity with programming and modeling the hands-on- trial and error approach to making. Many students will think a 3D printer is magic and can print anything. But just like the computer or iPad, it starts with human creativity with a purpose that drives real creation and the utility of the equipment. There are limitations too. Some of our earliest requests were for cell phone cases and favorite characters from entertainment, so anticipate your responses for these requests. This new technology is another opportunity to teach original content creation vs copyright. We have developed the policy that states the use of the 3D printer is for learning 3D design and tied to curricular projects. Just like a reference interview we conduct a design file interview, so we know what a student is attempting to print and why. If a student starts with a base design from someone else we remind them to cite their source. Recently, ALA published an early exploration into the implications of 3D printing in the library in the document, “Progress in the Making

Low-tech can be just as powerful and exciting for students as high-tech gadgets for developing creativity; think of Cain’s Arcade and the multiple uses of cardboard. Duct tape and pipe cleaners are good materials for early prototyping in the design process. Additionally, I’d like to stress that you can teach 3D design without a 3D printer. Now there are easy entry-point apps and computer programs for designing objects. Teachers can asks students to illustrate a concept in their classes with through Sketchup or 123D Design without the need to physically print it. For some librarians this could be the advocacy route to take in order to add a 3D printer or makerspace to their library.

Building the Maker Community

As with all library programs and materials, sharing and educating the staff is a major component to integrating into the curriculum. The maker movement is a great opportunity to forge new partnerships with teachers that may not have ventured into the library in awhile.   Tap into current curriculum paradigms- PBL-STEM-STEAM to introduce to your faculty if they are not already on board. I created a Venn diagram to share with my administration team to show how makerspaces support PBL and STEM.  Pull in your tech and art teachers because they tend to be early adopters of innovative projects and have experience teaching in a studio-model, design-thinking process. This outreach process takes the most time to develop, but is the most important to build a maker foundation. Here are some articles that can bolster your support.

     Are School Librarians Part of Your PBL Dream Team? by Suzie Boss

     Project-Based Learning Through a Maker’s Lens by Patrick Waters

Be a Maker-Media-Specialist

Have fun in the creative process yourself. Use sites like Make Magazine and Instructables to try you hand in some fun projects that interests you. Join the larger Maker Movement in your area. Check if your public libraries have opened a makerspace or are in the processing of making one. Look for meetup groups for hackerspaces and makerspaces to build your own skills and find experts to bring to your school. Add design challenges alongside your reading contests to give students a reason to use the makerspace. If you get the opportunity to visit a national or local Maker Faire go see what makers are are creating and see equipment in operation. See or submit creative programming to Makeit@yourlibrary. While libraries have always served as institutions of learning and hubs of collaboration there is new energy from the Maker Movement generating a new community of users in our libraries.