LSTA Stories: Teen Tech Learning Lab 1

This post is part of a series of posts highlighting ongoing or recently completed LSTA grant projects in NC. Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) monies are federal funds from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, distributed by population via the federal Grants to States program. The  State Library of North Carolina uses a portion of these funds to award competitive grants to eligible North Carolina libraries.

This is a guest post by Faith Burns.

Grant Category: Project Literacy & Lifelong Learning Grant

For the 2015 – 2016 LSTA grant cycle, the Durham County Library was awarded a Project Literacy & dcl_logoLifelong Learning Grant to fund the “Teen Tech Learning Lab – Where Science and Imagination Collide!” focused at the Main Library.

The Lab offers teens, tweens, and young adults extended school day programs as well as full days of programming on Saturdays devoted to reinforcing STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math) topics. The Lab emphasizes the importance of Maker activities, and structured, hands on-projects and real life scenarios utilizing resources and technology in a library setting.

The idea for the Teen Tech Learning Lab was created by former Teen Librarian (now adult services manager) Placedia Nance, and the lab/grant was implemented and has evolved under the leadership of Main’s Teen Librarian and LSTA Project Coordinator, Faith Burns.   The Main Library has a diverse group of tweens, teens, and young adults that it serves, many of whom are from traditionally under served and underrepresented groups. Through informal conversations with teens, parents, and others, DCL staff discovered that few of the young people who regularly come to the library participated in organized academic enrichment. Furthermore, many did not have access to computers and technology at home. Thus, the Teen Tech Learning Lab was born! The Lab connects these students not just to technology, but also to experts and careers in STEAM fields, but it also provides a safe and nurturing place for academic exploration and discovery.

As a part of the Lab, the Library has been able to partner with Aisymmetry, LLC, led by Cisco Engineer Rene Daughtry to provide Lego Mindstorm Robotics clubs at Main and East Regional Libraries. In the robotics programs, students have learned the importance of specificity in coding and working as a team to accomplish a goal. We have also had the opportunity to partner with SplatSpace, a HackerSpace in Durham, NC to offer a program titled “Game On @ the Library”. For this program, students met every Thursday evening Dec. 2015 – Feb. 2016 and learned Scratch Programming with SplatSpace personnel. The grant is also providing for Mad Science to hold every Friday programs, and to visit each library branch in June. Young people are getting the opportunity to express themselves through art, while also learning about 3D printing and 3D design.

The programs mentioned above are only a few that are being offered – we have programming every day! The grant is providing tutors for our growing tutoring program; teens at the library are being empowered to tutor elementary students. The pairs meet once a week for an hour, either on a Monday or Wednesday! We currently have approximately 40 students in the program, and another 40 on the wait list! Teens are having the opportunity to expand their leadership abilities, as well as their confidence in their teaching and communication skills.

Excitement over lab programming has also helped in propelling the MakerSpace project at Durham County Library. The grant is allowing local artist and Exploris teacher Claudia Corletto to work with the teens to create a one of a kind mural on the MakerSpace floor. The teens are also having the opportunity to work with students from the Durham Art Institute’s LEAD program to design and paint a mural in the Café area on the first floor of the library. No matter what a teen’s interests be it painting, or coding, or robotics – the Teen Tech Learning Lab allows them to explore their passions and creativity.

The best part of the Lab has been able to see the transitions in the young people as they engage with technology, and also the world around them, in different ways. I’m watching as my students transition from consumers of technology and art into creators and innovators. They are discovering that they have the power to change things to solve problems or make life better – they are becoming true engineers and problem solvers! They are learning about new careers and life paths, and experiencing technology they would not have access to otherwise. The Teen Tech Learning Lab has allowed the teens in the library to become critically engaged in the world around them – and to change it for the better.

There is a blog post from Jeff Crews of SplatSpace that captures the beauty of this transition – not just for the students, but for the staff and grant community partners that are being able to witness it! Check it out at: I think the blog post also captures the way this grant is benefiting our community partners and staff. We’re engaging with the teens to teach them life and career skills – and they are helping us better interact with the world around us, and teaching us how to transition our practice to incorporate new and changing technologies and ideas in libraries.

The Teen Tech Learning Lab has a full schedule coming up! In addition to partnering with Mad Science, we are excited to host programs provided by the Museum of Life and Science, the NC Museum of Natural Science, and Recyclique, among others! We will be hosting Wednesday Teen Maker Days – where we will be 3D printing, and exploring virtual reality with Google Cardboard. And these are just to name a few!

If I had any advice to anyone trying to start a program like the lab, it would be to really know your teens. What do they like? What are they interested in? Once you have that relationship of mutual respect established with your teens, they will be more likely to try different types of programs – even if they’ve never heard of them before! (that’s how many of my teens went into my Scratch program!). And finally, I think my biggest piece of advice would be – don’t be afraid to not be the expert. With many of the programs I’m leading or scheduling – I don’t know much about the technology! I’m not an expert in Lego Mindstorms coding, nor in anything else! But I’m learning! And, the beauty of it is, that my limited knowledge is allowing many of my students to become the expert. They teach me! I can’t think of a more empowering way I can encourage my teenagers.

Feel free to contact me at Faith Burns, Teen Librarian, Durham County Library. 919-560-0122 or

One comment on “LSTA Stories: Teen Tech Learning Lab

  1. Reply Joyce Chapman Mar 28,2016 8:34 am

    What a great project!

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