The Library: The New Hub for Digital Innovators?

The Library: The New Hub for Digital Innovators? 1If you haven’t noticed, our millennial and post-millennial generations are seeing themselves become more and more inseparable from their digital selves. Whether it be a picture they take “for the Insta,” or a video they record “for the Snap,” the phenomenon seems to dominate every social conversation and casual outing. We love getting involved in the Twittersphere and have fallen for the “hashtagging” culture; we love uploading live videos on Instagram. I’m guilty of being the same way. Whenever I’m on vacation, especially, I can’t help but publish every minute of the day on my Snapchat or tweet some off-the-wall comment I overhear.

Just last week, I took a mini-vacation to the bustling city of Portland, Oregon. My first stop on my itinerary was to hunt for a good book at Downtown Portland’s famous Powell’s City of Books.

Now, what was the very first thing I had done when I stepped foot in the massive four-story, used book store? I immediately whipped out a phone to take a picture to share on Instagram. Then, I took another picture to post on Facebook. Then, I doubled back to where I took my first picture and posted a panoramic-type video on my Snapchat. I spent a good 30 minutes just looking for good photo spots, stopping to edit, and posting picture after picture on virtually all my social media platforms. Eventually, I looked up from my phone. As I finally took in the image before me – the mountain of books that surrounded me – a realization suddenly hit me. There I was, standing in a massive building full of books and wonders (everything I could ever want!), and the first thing I did was look for good lighting, pose for the camera, and exclaim “do it for the ‘gram!”

The funny thing is, I saw so many other people the same age as me doing the exact same the thing, all casually Snapchatting book covers and checking their Goodreads app for a good book recommendation.

I’ll be the first to admit it: this digital age has led to a new generation of tech-obsessed kids like me with a knack for publishing their lives instantaneously and having their noses on their phones at all hours of the day. It isn’t something we can help – unless you take our phones away from us, of course.

But while the older generation likes to quickly sneer at our generation for the oversaturation of technology, I would argue and say that it has made us more unique and well-equipped for our changing world.

Look at it this way: after my 30 minute social media run, I spent the next 2 hours successfully navigating through the bookstore using the map I looked up on my phone. I found the exact books I was most interested in through the Goodreads app I had downloaded earlier that day. I was able to price check the books I had picked up against other books sold online on Amazon. I was also able to take pictures of book covers and save them in my camera roll in order to catalogue all the books I would check out later so I wouldn’t forget.

Each generation comes with its challenges, and while our parents like to focus on the negative (“Enjoy the experience instead of being on your phone!” is the usual mantra), there’s something kind of amazing about our love for all things tech. After all, I wouldn’t have been able to navigate as efficiently through that massive bookstore without the help of the apps on my handy iPhone.

If you sit back and think about it, amazing feats are being accomplished by our fledgling generation through advanced tech. It isn’t just our ability to efficiently navigate through dauntingly massive bookstores like Powell’s; technology has enhanced our overall way of living. The ease in which we can use devices such as our smartphones in such a quick, unbothered fashion has made us naturally more creative, daring, and lovers of constantly innovating the way in which we officiate our lives. In a broader sense; it’s made us more equipped to edit multimedia on the fly, more likely to be able to understand the language of computers (coding!), and able to effectively use online media outlets to broadcast our voices to millions. It has made us more adaptable – unafraid amidst the constantly changing face of our tech-integrated society.

Here are a few of the accomplished few of our tech-savvy generation: at the age of 15, a young coder by the name of Nick D’Aloisio created the iOS based app Trimit which –  through a complicated algorithm – is able to summarize content from a variety of your social media platforms into one nifty, scrollable dashboard. Tanmay Bashki, who released his first iOS app at 12 years old targeted towards teaching multiplication tables to kids, serves as a keynote speaker for the likes of Apple, Walmart, and IBM and creates coding tutorials on YouTube on the side.

Alongside these young coding prodigies, original “YouTube stars” (otherwise known as original content creators) continue to dominate media platforms and are making serious bank while doing so. Forbes reports that in 2016, the top 12 YouTube celebs earned a combined total of $70.5 million during the past year. The top spot was occupied by no other than the most recognizable username on the internet-sphere: “PewdiePie,” the darling of the gaming world within YouTube, who has garnered a whopping 50 million subscribers through video game commentating. Other famous YouTubers who make a living out of content creation include the likes of LGBT activists and vlogger Tyler Oakley, and comedians like Miranda Singh.

So, yes, our love of publishing our daily actions at every hour and second of the day on Facebook may look like somewhat of a vice. But when we also look at the alternative ways in which we channel our digital prowess to things like content creation and raw coding, I like to say it is our one-of-a-kind, irreplaceable virtue.

So, what does this have to do with the library? Well, unbeknownst maybe to some in our community, a small group of kids are being taught the same kind of skills – from coding to original content creation – in our very own library. With the changing face of our high tech generation, the library is seeing itself meld to accommodate to these budding groups of young kids and their teen mentors who have a knack for innovation and creation – all through a computer screen.

I was able to sit down and have a chat with Monica, a local educator for independent learners who holds monthly multimedia-based classes at the local Pleasant Hill Library. She brings much to the table when it comes to encouraging local kids to get in touch with their inner digital native. Monica offers what she likes to call an “alternative to structured curriculum,” allowing students to break barriers to truly pursue independent innovation. Her monthly Ingenuity Lab is held at the Pleasant Hill Library on Friday mornings, and they’re made up of kids of all ages mentored by what she calls her “Indie Innovators.” These Indie Innovators are students at a local high school who mentor younger, homeschooled kids and their families on things such as building small robots through Minestorm kits, working on circuitry boards, and creating short animated skits through simple coding programs such as SCRATCH – which is touted as a visual code editor (think JavaScript coding for beginners) for young people looking to dip their feet in the complicated world of basic programming and animating.

“We give more opportunity for a lot more exploration. Especially for elementary age kids; school for them is very structured,” Monica remarked. “The kind of things we’re bringing is a challenge. Practical, hands-on lessons like ‘how sturdy can you make a bridge.’ They get to set parameters for themselves, and it allows for exploration and problem solving.”

What I found particularly remarkable was the use of what Monica lovingly called “Cubelets”, which are seeming unremarkable at first sight, but they are superbly interactive blocks that click together magnetically in order to form functional robots. With each Cubelet having a unique function – such as wheels, batteries, and flashing lights – kids as young as 3 to 4 could create single-action robots, and older kids could create immensely complicated ones that move with distinct purpose. All you needed to bring to the table is an imaginative mind and willing hands.

I also got to sit down and attend their end-of-the-year party at the park. Amidst all the pizza and Nerf guns strewn about, I was able to get a couple words from Monica’s teenage Indie Innovators themselves on the impact of the program on their own lives.

“I’m really into art and drawing,“ one girl had remarked, “I was able to do stuff with digital art using a drawing tablet.”

“My favorite thing [about the class] was filming and editing short films,” another remarked. “And plus, I like being able to teach younger kids – it’s fun to see their creativity because they have no limits.”

Others remarked that the highlight of their class was “creating original projects”; others remarked on the “variety” of platforms to experiment on, and most highlighted the ability to “make whatever you want” under Monica’s guidance that allowed for “room for creativity – you can do your own thing!”

One comment that stood out to me especially came from a girl who acknowledged the importance of harnessing such skills at a young age: “I learned how to use computers a lot, as well as edit videos and do basic animation. You wouldn’t know but a 1 minute PSA can take hours of editing. We’re living in an era of the Internet, so it’s really important to know those things by heart.”

The older generations – our parents – know what it’s like to not live without a gadget in their hand that’s able to tell them the weather in half a second flat. But our generation? We don’t know life without one. Her students exemplified that attitude: in all my conversations, all of them mentioned that being digitally apt was not just a desirable skill, but a necessary skill of survival for their futures.

While, yes, the library still has the traditional responsibility to make information and physical books accessible (and remains a safe haven for paperbook loving traditionalists such as me), it now also has this new responsibility to foster our young people’s digital literacy by continually evolving to incorporate programs that encourage innovation through the computer screen. Monica’s multimedia-based program is just one of many programs to be exemplified!

The more we acknowledge the fact that the library has a role in this new age of content creators, app creation, and digital innovation – the more the library becomes an integral facet to bringing this generation to its fullest potential so that that they can succeed in a tech-dependent future! It all starts here – in community hubs where young kids are able to harness their skills early, and recognize the wonders of coding through simple lines of HTML, or how to skillfully upload a YouTube video. Though a seemingly intangible feat to an older generation, fostering our digital lives are important for our futures in the modern, tech-savvy workplace.

What I’m saying is: we can have our cake and eat it too. The library can nourish our love for well-worn books while at the same time encouraging exploration and independent-thinking through digital platforms. One doesn’t have to be without the other. I can hold a book in one hand and post a picture with the other – it’s one of the many traits that make our generation unconventional yet undeniably unique.