There’s no "shhhhh" in this part of the library. Here kids grab a guitar to sing, or hop on an electronic keyboard to make music. They watch YouTube videos or update their Facebook status. They play the Xbox or hang out in the bean bag chairs, chilling with friends.
Welcome to YouMedia Miami at North Dade Regional Library.
Targeted to kids age 14 to 19 and free to enter with a library card, YouMedia opened Jan. 3. It is located in 1,600 square feet of remodeled space – the old serial reading room – at the library, 2455 NW 183rd St., Miami.
IF YOU GOThe YouMedia Miami lab is open Monday, Thursday and Friday from 2:30 to 5 p.m.; Tuesday and Wednesday from 2:30 to 8 p.m.; and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information, call 305-474-3033 or 305-625-6424.
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The space has been soundproofed and repainted, and new lighting and wiring have been added. There are 10 MacBook Pro laptops and six iMac desktops, digital video cameras, audio keyboards and microphones. There are two Xbox gaming systems and one Playstation 3. There are board games, guitars and chess sets.
"It’s a hangout, messing around and geeking out" space, said Sabine Dantus, YouMedia librarian. "We’re letting kids take their talent and express themselves however they want to do it."
Funded by an $805,755 grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation’s Library Initiative, the youth lab is modeled after YouMedia Chicago, which opened in 2009 in a Chicago public library branch. Other YouMedia labs are planned around the country.
The lab offers workshops on topics such as filmmaking, music production and non-tech skills such as creative writing and poetry. Books also are still part of the mix. The library’s collection has been reconfigured to put the Young Adult selection right outside the lab’s front door, and includes books on graphic design, blogging and digital photography.
"It’s not only a place where they can learn," Dantus said. "It’s a safe place for them to hang out."
Kids come by after school or later in the evening, after they do their homework, she said. While they’re there, they look at YouTube videos or Facebook, play video games or checkers. For individual and after-hours projects, kids can check out equipment such as a Sony Bloggie Duo camcorder or Canon PowerShot digital camera to take home for their own projects.
"They have a library card, so we already have a system in place for checking out materials," Dantus said.
Inquiring moms want to know:
Why go digital?
These days, eBooks are common and kids are comfortable using smartphones, iPads and Kindles to access information, Dantus said.
"If the library doesn't supply information in a digital format, we’re going to lose that generation in the future," she said. "If you build digital literacy skills from the library, then they will always use the library as a resource."
Dantus said it’s common now for libraries and museums around the country to shift to digital information. "If you’re not positioning yourself as a provider of digital info, then you will lose young audiences," she said.
Aren’t libraries obsolete anyway?
"People say libraries are dead, but if we adapt, then we can continue to survive with a new generation," Dantus said. "The library has more than just books, it’s a source of all types of information, in all types of formats.
"It’s the future. If your kids don’t have those digital skills, they’re behind," she said.
Why video games?
"Some parents may say, 'Why do you have video games in the library?' " Dantus said. "But there are merits."
Games on the Xbox teach team-building skills and perseverance; games using Kinect, a sensor that tracks your movements, can be used to improve coordination through archery, an obstacle course or dance, she said.
Dantus said that in YouMedia Miami, staff tried to pick out games that kids would like but had some redeeming educational value. There are no "mature" rated games, she said.
"We have to have a hook, a place where they can hang out. While they’re here, they have access to all this technology they can learn on," Dantus said. "If this was only an extension of school, it’s not going to be as popular."
What skills is this teaching my child?
The idea behind YouMedia Miami is to teach teens to tell multimedia stories about themselves and their communities. In addition to basic digital literacy skills, the lab will offer workshops on topics such as visual connections, in which students use technology to express their emotional connections with books, on creating a literacy magazine and basic digital music production.
Do you monitor the kids while they’re online?
"There is no filtering or monitoring software, but we watch what they are doing," Dantus said. "I tend to hand out with them and watch what they are doing, read what they’re writing."
To participate in the lab, youths must sign and agree to abide by the rules, which include no cursing, no pornography and no cyberbullying, among others.