By Mark King
Cloquet Public Library
Report on a Minnesota Library Association Session, October 2014

Perhaps the most dynamic session I attended was “STEAMy
Programming for Teens” presented by librarians from the Ramsey County
Library system on Wednesday, October 8. “STEAM” is an acronym for the
following subject areas of learning for teens: Science, Technology,
Engineering, Art, and Math. It was my observation that Art was not addressed in
the presentation. Two participating libraries in the Ramsey system have formed
a Tech Team of three librarians who bring technology workshops into high
schools and also hold technology sessions at their libraries.
An example of a program that they do in the schools is
demonstrating how to take apart a computer. An example of a science project
they hold in the libraries is having students make an LED magnet using a coin,
LED light bulb, and duct tape.
The Tech Team librarians talked about “makerspaces”
and the 3-D printer they have and allow teens to use. Weekly workshops they
held have included instruction in digital audio mixing, POD-casting, use of
scanners, digital cameras, and digital voice recorders. The idea is to teach
science through hands-on projects. Materials used in the workshops include such
things as liquid nitrogen.
Funding for such projects requires grant money and staff
working full-time in science/technology collaboration. The library is promoted
as an innovative lab.
I think that many of us attending the session were awed by
what the Tech Team has brought to the schools. Certainly they are on the
forefront of how libraries may need to change to draw teens to the library.
An endeavor like this seems most possible in a large library
with many resources, including staff that can dedicate a great deal of time and
who are also well-versed in technology. It was not a surprise to learn that the
librarians involved had science backgrounds.

It appeared that a large percentage of the teens attending
the library technology workshops were at-risk youth and those from immigrant
families who might otherwise be falling through the cracks in society at large.
It also appeared that the number of teens participating was not large. The
presenters mentioned a figure of 12 teens who followed through in a series of
technology sessions. Given the amount of resources in staff and financing, such
efforts, while inspiring and thought-provoking, may be a bit out of reach for
smaller public libraries.