A New Take on Library Technology - SILS Students Blend Technology, Connected Learning and the Creative Process in Unique Assignment

March 26, 2014

What do a musical stuffed animal, a rocket ship cape, a shooting star dress and a singing bag have in common? All of these projects – and 11 more equally imaginative ones – were created this semester by students in Casey H. Rawson's class, "Youth and Technology in Libraries" (INLS 534) as part of a midterm assignment focusing on the potential of emerging technologies for helping young library users not only access, but also create and share information.

Rainbow FishIn a growing number of school and public libraries, “technology” now means much more than online catalogs and public Internet access. These libraries are embracing the concept of Connected Learning, a model that leverages the power of technology to create equitable, social and participatory learning experiences at the intersection of young people’s interests, academic achievement and peer culture. In order to provide their young users with this type of experience, some libraries have joined the “Maker Movement” by providing spaces, materials, and/or expertise for users to craft their own tech-infused creations.  In their recently-published Making in the Library Toolkit, the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) summed up the rationale for this shift in library services: “By providing time and space allowing teens to experiment with tools they might not have anywhere else, we are bridging the digital divide, as well as helping teens build the skills they need to be successful in life and careers” (p. 7).

The midterm assignment in INLS 534 encouraged students to explore these new realities for libraries by using the LilyPad Arduino, a microcontroller board designed for wearables and e-textiles, to create whatever they chose. Students were encouraged to take advantage of online resources, including YouTube videos, Arduino forums and social tutorial sites like Instructables. They also contributed to these resources by posting instructions for their projects, including the Arduino code, to the Instructables site (these links are included below). As of March 23, only five days after the assignment due date, these Instructables had collectively racked up over 14,000 views!

To synthesize the “big ideas” of this assignment, students wrote brief response papers focusing on the potential impacts of this technology and others like it for youth and for libraries.

Rawson, the course instructor and developer of the project, described the assignment’s purpose this way:  “New technologies offer so many opportunities for children and teens to develop 21st century literacies. But even the best technologies are useless to youth if they can’t access them or figure out how to use them to their full potential, and this is where librarians can come in. It’s critical that our students experience Connected Learning for themselves, from the learner’s perspective, so they are prepared to create these types of experiences for the children and teens they will work with in their libraries.”

For many students, this assignment was completely unlike any other they had ever experienced. Some students did not self-identify as crafters and most had no coding experience at the beginning of this project. Still, they were all successful in creating innovative products, and several noted the sense of accomplishment and pride they experienced when they first turned on their working pieces.

“This was the most challenging, fun and creative project I’ve ever done! said Dawna Neil second-year SILS Master's student. "It was exhilarating to work on a project that I had complete freedom in designing. I found myself working harder to learn coding and circuitry than I ever imagined I would… and having a blast doing it!”

Jessica Streck Ortolano, another second-year SILS Master’s student, said that “the Lilypad Arduino project tested me at times, but it rewarded me with new found skills, confidence and programming ideas for my future library. Implementing this type of technology with our patrons is key in meeting the future expectations they will face with their careers.”

INLS 534 is a required course for students in the School Library Media program at SILS. The course is also open to any other interested students, including undergraduates. It is offered annually.

Rawson is a doctoral student at SILS and graduated with her Master of Science in Library Science in 2011. She has a Master of Arts in Teaching from the University of Louisville and a Bachelor of Science in Biology from Duke University.  



• Bedtime Board: http://www.instructables.com/id/Bedtime-Board-using-LilyPad-Arduino/
• The Buzzer Glove: http://www.instructables.com/id/The-Buzzer-Glove/
• Child’s Fabric Book: http://www.instructables.com/id/Childs-Fabric-Book-using-LilyPad-Arduino/
• Christmas Sweater with Blinking Lights and Music: http://www.instructables.com/id/Lilypad-Arduino-Christmas-Sweater-with-Blinking-Li/
• e-Reader Case: http://www.instructables.com/id/LilyPad-Arduino-e-Reader-Case/
• Light-Up Critter: http://www.instructables.com/id/Lilypad-Arduino-Light-up-Critter/
• Musical Stuffed Animal: http://www.instructables.com/id/Musical-Stuffed-Animal-with-LilyPad-Arduino/
• Nursery Rhyme Hat: http://www.instructables.com/id/Nursery-Rhyme-Hat/
• Painted Canvas with Music and Lights: http://www.instructables.com/id/LilyPad-Arduino-Painted-Canvas-with-music-and-ligh/
• Rainbow Fish Twinkle Bag: http://www.instructables.com/id/Lilypad-Arduino-Rainbow-Fish-Twinkle-Bag/
• Rocket Ship Cape: http://www.instructables.com/id/Lilypad-Arduino-Rocket-Ship-Cape/
• Shooting Star Dress: http://www.instructables.com/id/How-to-make-a-shooting-star-dress-with-LED-lights/
• Singing Olaf Bag: http://www.instructables.com/id/Singing-Olaf-Bag-Frozen/
• Stuffed Fox Toy: http://www.instructables.com/id/LilyPad-Arduino-Stuffed-Fox-Toy/
• Totoro Plush: http://www.instructables.com/id/LilyPad-Arduino-Totoro-Plush-with-Umbrella/