A middle school student uses an afterschool class to create music and videos. A mother brings her child to explore using an iPad. Dozens use the free WiFi.
Oh, and there are books you can check out too.
Those are just a few of the things you can find residents doing at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh’s South Side branch, which has begun to offer several interactive classes that integrate classic library resources with technology.
“We’re not a place where you’re going to get shushed,” said Suzy Waldo, library manager. “We have kids come in and do puzzles and play on computers and have games. It’s not just books anymore.”
Beyond the classes, the library also offers several free online resources including magazine and book downloads and interactive homework help. These changes are all part of a move to become more of a community center rather than just a library.
“A lot of people still have that old-fashioned view of the library,” Ms. Waldo said. “They don’t realize that we have movies and we have best-selling feature films now and we have best-selling books. We have downloadable material.”
The mix of new technology draws in some teens to take part in an after-school program called “The Labs,” which is an interactive class where students in grades 6-12 can do video editing, photography, music and graphic design work. The program has been in place for about a year and mentors with the program say they have seen a lot of teens attending.
“The mentor relationship is really key,” said Molly Dickerson, mentor for The Labs. “And even for teens who already pursue some of the activities that we provide in our workshops on their own time, there’s still an extra benefit to them being with us and having a mentor-mentee relationship.”
Students can use computer programs such as Illustrator, Photoshop and other video editing software to create projects for school or personal use.
Philippa Zang, an eighth-grade student at Pittsburgh Creative and Performing Arts School, Downtown, has been coming to The Labs for about a year and said she enjoys the program because she gets to use equipment and programs she wouldn’t normally access.
“The more I know about that kind of stuff, the more I can use it at school,” she said.
Philippa created a music video earlier in the year and was able to learn how to use a green screen to make computer-generated scenes, how to make beats on a keyboard and how to edit music.
Nicole Antonuccio, also a mentor with The Labs, said some students enjoy coming to the class just for the interaction with the mentors and don’t have much experience using the computer programs that are offered. Others have a higher skill set.
“They will either use the resources for their own personal development or they’ll come in with an interest,” she said.
The library has started another grant-funded program that integrates iPads into the regular story time for kids ages 2-5 through the program Tech Storytime and iPad Adventures.
“I think that when incorporated intentionally into children’s programming, iPad technology can be a very effective tool to enhance early literacy skills,” said Emma Brown, children’s librarian.
Ms. Brown said the library will put an emphasis on active screen time with iPads, which means parents interact and use the educational app along with the children. She also noted the apps are not intended to replace the regular book story time, but to enhance the theme of that day if it is appropriate.
“It is very important to model positive interaction for both parents and children while using this technology,” Ms. Brown said. “Interaction is the main focus when using the iPads. It is through conversation and interaction that the most important learning can occur.”
Kate Norris has been coming to story time with her daughter Rhyan Norris, 2, for about a year and was happy to see the iPads integrated into the normal story time.
“It helps to know how to effectively use technology,” Ms. Norris said. “It’s a constructive way to use it.”
She said parents often feel like they are failing by letting kids use an electronic device, but learning how to use the educational apps effectively takes off some of that pressure.
Ms. Waldo said she believes integrating more technology into the library is helpful, but she doesn’t believe it will ever fully replace having a librarian there to help residents find what they need.
“I think it’s a complement to what we already do,” she said.
Overall the library tries to be a resource to the community whether it is through new technological advances, classes, books or online support, she added.
“Anybody is welcome,” Ms. Waldo said. “You can come in and there’s always something here for anybody. We try to make every library experience unique and good for each individual person.”