City expanding library program connecting teens, technology

BY FRAN SPIELMAN City Hall Reporter

February 20, 2014 1:28PM

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Updated: March 22, 2014 6:25AM

A popular program that connects teenagers to technology will be expanded to six more Chicago Public libraries — with “pop-up” programs at a dozen more — thanks to a $2.5 million expansion unveiled Thursday.

Four months after offering online tutoring to struggling students with library cards, Mayor Rahm Emanuel is using a dramatic expansion of the so-called “YOUmedia” program to continue, what he calls the “reinvention” of Chicago public libraries.

A $2 million grant from the MacArthur Foundation and $500,000 more set aside in the mayor’s 2014 budget will allow the city to offer “digital skill development” programs to teens this summer at the Albany Park, Back of the Yards, Hall and Legler branch libraries and at the Woodson and Sulzer regional libraries.

The city will also offer a dozen “pop-up” YOUmedia programs at branch libraries across the city that will give local teens a one- or two-day taste of hands-on experience with the latest technology.

YOUmedia is currently confined to five Chicago libraries. The program serves more than 1,500 teenagers, half of whom are African-American boys living in at-risk neighborhoods.

The average participant comes from five miles away for mentoring and workshops in digital media production — from music, real and animated videos to photography and graphic design. The YOUmedia center at the Harold Washington Library even has its own in-house recording studio featuring keyboards, turntables, and a mixing board.

Emanuel announced the dramatic expansion — and the decision to create a first-ever Teen Services Department with 26 librarians dedicated to serving young people — during a news conference Thursday at the Humboldt Park Library, 1605 N. Troy.

“Eleven libraries throughout the system will have this type of teen center that allows you to re-invent the library system,” said Emanuel, who targeted Chicago libraries for 50 percent of the layoffs in his first budget.

“When we grew up, we would go to the card catalogue. You guys get on a computer. You don’t just look at a book. You search information. You are designing things. You are creating. And the currency that you use in this library is your curiosity. It’s not just about bricks and mortar. It’s also to allow you, because of the technology, to go beyond the bricks and mortar and take information from anywhere in the world and bring it to you and anything you design to bring it to the world.”

The mayor said his ultimate goal is to have teens racing to the library when school is dismissed.

“The library is where you want to be because it’s cool. That’s what we’re doing. We’re creating something that’s cool. You can get homework help if you want it or you can design something. This is a whole new way of thinking of the neighborhood library,” he said.

“We made tough cuts, tough reforms. But, we [also] put more resources so kids . . . have an opportunity to see a library as a cool place to go to actually invent and create. Not just coming to write your paper for the end of the term, which you have to do, too. You don’t get a pass on that.”

Chicago built 59 new libraries during the 22-year reign of former Mayor Richard M. Daley.

The building binge came to a crashing halt when Emanuel took office. The library cuts were so great, they prompted the January 2012 resignation of longtime library commissioner Mary Dempsey.

Since then, a German university has anointed the Chicago Public Library system the best in the nation and the third-best in the world.


Twitter: @fspielman

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