Pima County Public Library (PCPL) announced that it will receive one of 12 grants from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation to design a Learning Lab, a new space where young people can connect with mentors and peers, as well as new media and traditional materials to pursue their interests more deeply and connect these new skills to academics, career, and civic engagement. Inspired by YOUmedia, a teen space at the Chicago Public Library, and innovations in science and technology centers, these labs will help young people move beyond consuming content to making and creating it.


The 12 winners—five museums and seven libraries—will receive a total of $1.2 million in planning grants to plan and design the labs. The grant is part of a second round of winners in a national competition to create 21st century labs in museums and libraries around the country.


PCPL will receive $100,000 to plan three unique media spaces to serve middle and high school youth throughout Pima County. The library plans to address the diverse needs of youth through a mobile media lab, a youth media space in downtown Tucson, and an online community. The planning process – which is slated to take 18 months – will bring together a leadership team of partners with a deep history of youth media programming along with established teen groups that already meet at the library.


“It’s a great source of pride for Pima County Public Library to be among the 24 communities selected nationwide to plan these new labs,” said Ramón Valadez, District 2 Supervisor and Chairman of the Pima County Board of Supervisors. “We’re set to revolutionize how young people learn and participate, and our library system is leading the way.”


“Thanks to this grant, we’re going to create something that the youth in our urban, suburban, and rural communities really need and want,” said PCPL Executive Director Melinda Cervantes. “We’re looking forward to working with a dynamic mix of partners, including Access Tucson, Josh Schachter Photography, the University of Arizona Computer Science Department, and the library’s Youth Design Team.”


Each Learning Lab will be designed to facilitate a research-based education model known as connected learning – one that promotes discovery, creativity, critical thinking and real-world learning through activities and experiences that bring together academics and young people’s interests, often facilitated by digital and traditional media. The winning institutions will match the funds from the competition and partner with local educational, cultural, and civic organizations to build a network of learning opportunities for young people.


“Pima County doesn’t currently have a space for youth to connect and share their experiences through digital media arts. We want to provide the space and support for youth to express their voices,” explained Jennifer Nichols, Senior Librarian at the Joel D. Valdez Main Library and Project Manager for the Learning Labs grant. “We’re going to fill that gap with three unique spaces from which youth can reach out to the whole community.”


“Digital media are revolutionizing the way young people learn, socialize, and engage in civic life,” said Julia Stasch, Vice President of U.S. Programs for the MacArthur Foundation. “These innovative labs are designed to provide today’s youth with the space, relationships, and resources to connect their social worlds and interests with academics, and to better prepare them for success in the 21st century.”


“Because of the expertise and content we have to offer, museums and libraries are uniquely positioned to offer young people meaningful learning experiences that link to science, art, and technology,” said Susan Hildreth, Director of the Institute of Museum and Library Services. “With caring mentors and skilled professionals on staff to guide teens in their exploration, Learning Labs help youth express themselves and hone their skills in a safe environment.”


Along with Tucson, AZ, the new Learning Labs are planned for: Dallas, TX; Madison, WI; Rochester, NY; Oakland, CA; Billings, MT; Poughkeepsie, NY; Richmond, VA; Tuscaloosa, AL; Pittsburgh, PA; Lynn, MA; and Las Vegas, NV.


These new grantees join 12 additional communities also planning new learning centers in libraries and museums as a part of the Learning Labs in Libraries and Museums project. The initiative was first announced in September 2010 in response to President Obama's "Educate to Innovate" campaign, an effort to foster cross-sector collaboration to improve America's students' participation and performance in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). Since then, MacArthur and IMLS have committed to invest $4 million to support knowledge-sharing activities for museums and libraries nationwide, and work together to create new Learning Labs across the nation.


Urban Libraries Council (ULC) and the Association of Science-Technology Centers (ASTC) will continue to manage and guide the Learning Lab grantee community to ensure that each new space embodies best practice principles, based on research and evidence in the field of youth digital learning, to help young people gain 21st century skills and an effective STEM education.


The 12 recipients of this round of grants were selected out of a pool of 105 applicants from 33 states and one territory. Applications were evaluated by professionals with relevant expertise in digital media and learning, as well as museum and library management. Winners will participate—in-person and online—in a community of practice that will provide technical assistance, networking, and cross-project learning. To learn more about the Learning Labs Project, visit www.imls.gov or Youmedia.org.

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