I absolutely loved Jill Stover’s post about the library as a lab for creative exploration (by the way, if you don’t read her blog, subscribe! It’s a gem!):

This “community creativity lab” is where where I see libraries’ future and competitive advantage. I can’t think of any other free, publicly-accessible place (except perhaps for museums, which we should be partnering with), where people can come together for purposes of serious play and creative enterprise. Unlike other “third places” like Starbucks that attempt to be a home-away-from-home space, libraries are much more. They are where old and new knowledge are explored, created, and re-envisioned. Our duty is to recognize and facilitate the many varied creative pursuits of our patrons and give them the value-added spaces, resources, expertise, and community engagement to explore them in greater depth. Gaming represents one avenue for libraries to look into, but there are many others as well.

Yes, there are many others! My March column for American Libraries was all about the idea of the library as a lab for creative exploration using podcasting. I was told that my columns were going to be made available on the AL site since before I wrote my first article, but it still hasn’t happened, so I’m going to publish it here since I’m allowed to do that after three months.

An Outlet for Creativity

Plugging in with teen-centered podcasting

Over the past few years, there has been an online revolution in user-generated content. It is now quite easy for individuals to share their work on the Web—whether text, photographs, audio, or video. A podcast—a syndicated audio broadcast that can be played on an MP3 player or computer—lets people create their own broadcast-quality radio shows using tools freely available online.

Some libraries are starting to use podcasting to empower teen patrons and encourage their creative expression—among them Cheshire (Conn.) Public Library, which hired Sarah Morgan as youth librarian in 2005 to engage the teen population in that small community. Late that same year, a group of adolescents approached Morgan about starting a literary magazine. Being a fan of radio, Morgan suggested that perhaps they could create a podcast instead—an idea the teens embraced enthusiastically.

With the library’s help, the group launched the Cheshire Public Library Podcast (www.cheshirelib.org/teens/cplpodcast.htm) in January 2006, which features news, commentary, book and music reviews, and contributions from musicians and young writers. In many episodes, Morgan interviews teens about books and websites they enjoy. The podcasts are engaging, creative, and quite professional in quality; the audio editing style of some segments reminds me a bit of NPR’s This American Life.

To attract more contributors, Morgan has promoted the podcast community-wide, particularly at the local high school, and has distributed sample CDs at teen-oriented venues. She also encourages CPL podcasters to recruit new contributors. Word of mouth has been most successful, probably because young people are more inclined to trust peers who recommend a library program than an adult.

Sound ownership
Morgan attributes the staying power of the Cheshire podcast to her participants’ sense of ownership in the project. “The teens on the editorial board revel in their creative control. Although I am often tempted to rule with an iron hand, I know that it would spell doom for the project,” she says.

This point cannot be stressed enough. The keys to developing successful creative technology programs are trusting the patrons and giving them control over the product. It’s that sense of ownership that keeps adolescents coming back.

Other libraries are also working to engage teens in creative web-based endeavors. At the Pima County (Ariz.) Public Library, teens wrote and produced movie-style trailers of their favorite books with the help of a local television station. Denver Public Library recently sponsored a contest where teens would create videos on YouTube about how they had fun at the library, with the winner receiving an MP3 player. These programs get young people engaged in a creative endeavor that also yields marketing materials.

Podcasts are inexpensive to produce and merely require the purchase of a USB microphone and perhaps a digital audio recorder for interviews conducted away from a computer. Many podcasters use free and open-source applications to edit the audio, and there are even sites that will host podcasts for free.

CPL is truly positioning itself in the community as a creative-content lab for teens. By displaying the product of the group’s work online, peers can look at what was created and decide whether it’s something they’d like to take part in. The podcast project positions CPL as a tech-savvy institution interested in providing fun, creative, and “cool” activities for teens.

Annotated bibliography

Cheshire Public Library’s Teen Page
This part of the Cheshire Public Library Website provides library news and links to the teen book blog and the podcasts.

Podcasting – Library Success: A Best Practices Wiki
This page provides a list of libraries that are podcasting. Most of these podcasts are created by librarians to disseminate news and information.

A Beginner’s Guide to Podcasting: Part 2 – A Creator’s Guide
This is an archived presentation by Greg Schwartz for the SirsiDynix institute. The second part covers why a library might want to create a podcast and how to create one.

Library Podcasting Resources
This page offers links to articles, presentations and more about podcasting in libraries.

Alternative Teen Services Blog
This blog provides some really interesting ideas and examples for libraries looking to think outside the box with their teen programming.

This blog, from the Young Adult Library Services Association, offers lots of timely information about what other libraries are doing to provide services to teens.

Denver Public Library YouTube Contest
This contest asked teens to create a video about how they have fun at the library and post it on the popular video sharing site YouTube (http://www.youtube.com/). The winner received an MP3 player.

Pima County Public Library Teen Trailers
Here you can watch the movie trailers the teens wrote and starred in to promote literacy.

Tucson-Pima Public Library Spotlight
YALSA highlighted the project at the Pima County Public Library (formerly called Tucson-Pima) in an interview with the librarian and teens who created the library literacy campaign.