Thursday, May 15, 2014

What is the vision of tinkering at the library?

What will the public library look like in the near future?

As more and more people access information resources online, the role of the public library is growing and morphing into something beyond a collection of resources to be checked out, used and returned by the community. It is becoming a place where people learn new skills, access hard-to-find and/or expensive hardware and software, and meet up with fellow lifelong learners to stay fit, healthy, mentally alert and have fun!

The vision of the 21st century library is a place that is open all week long, all year around, and full of exciting activities and resources that the average citizen may be interested in but may not be comfortable investing in right away.

Because the library is open 6-7 days a week, it is the perfect place for the community to come together to learn and then practice newly acquired skills or find others with whom to share a passion or interest.

How is this different from a school or community center that offers classes? Simply because the library can offer the most precious resources of all: time and space to explore, tinker, practice, hone skills and meet people over the long term. A class in a college or community center takes a designated time period and then is over. The library is a place where people can return again and again to take instruction, get help, and work on long term projects.

For instance, one of our first initiatives for adults is the Digital Media Lab, to be located on the upper level of the Duxbury Free Library. We will be facilitating patron-driven digitization of family documents, oral history and new forms of multimedia presentations such as musical slide shows of family photos of major events. Storage? We will encourage people to save to a thumb-drive, upload to the Cloud, or create their own archival storage materials to which they can continually add.

Running a Code Camp for four weeks this summer will test drive the concept of helping teens and adults learn the basic principles of computer coding so that they can create their own web sites, games, etc.

Knitting groups, a monthly adult board game night, and a monthly crafting group are all initiatives that bring people together around a common interest. What's great about all of this is that expertise and professional guidance is NOT a requirement. Some of us have a basic knowledge, but mostly we will all be learning and playing and growing together.

Tinkering is about reaching beyond your comfort zone, exploring new media, material, concepts, and, with the encouragement of fellow "travelers," going to new places in your brain and experiencing the joy of acquiring new competencies. Tinkering, by definition, assumes that an initial failure is merely an opportunity for growth. Tweaking, digging deeper into a flawed initial outcome and finding an answer is how deep understanding is built. It demands greater concentration and a longer attention span. It requires a higher threshold of frustration. This is the scientific method and it can be applied in many venues to a variety of media.

The library is the place where the community comes together and where the individual can be transformed.

Monday, May 5, 2014

To Tinker or Not to Tinker?

Recently the Children's Room hosted a Tinkering Tuesday that focused on electronic Mother's Day cards using conductive tape, a 3V battery, and a LED. The goal was to make something extra special for mom while learning about simple circuits. Science = Fun!

I had practiced on a few cards beforehand experimenting with conductive paint and tape but only 1 LED. I had no problems except when using the paint (which I made myself). It takes a while to dry and it won't light up until it is.  Honestly I'd recommend the already made paint from BARE instead because the graphite I used to mix my own was expensive and unreliable. Due to drying times,  I concluded that the tape would be the easiest option available for our 1 hour program.

I had gone into this feeling rather confident that we could tinker around and I would not limit the kids to certain design principles when making the circuit. I was quite surprised by the amount of difficulty and frustration the kids had felt. They did not want to tinker and many left with "failed" cards that did not work. I hated seeing sad faces leaving the room. My whole goal was to make science fun and to see the practical uses in their lives! They left a half an hour later than expected with supplies and emailed instructions to "Go forth and keep testing at home!"

So what happened?

1. Labeling: I could not stress enough the importance of labeling their positive and negative side of the LED and penciling in the pathway before putting down the tape. It's hard troubleshooting an already taped unlabeled pathway.

2. Design: Many of the kids opted to use more than 1 LED. I told the kids that since the LED pack I received were of all shapes and sizes, I was unsure how many one 3V could power but to try it anyway and see what happens. The circuit pathway went from looking like a cone shaped, to a crazy zig zag depending on where the lights were placed. None of these worked.  Everyone ended up starting over with just 1 LED. The more the tape was played with or bent, the harder it was to light.

3. Taping the pathways: When I designed my card, I cut one straight long strip for the plus side, one for the negative side. As I was walking around the room, I noticed some of the kids had taped large chunks on top of other chunks of tape in an uneven mess or sometimes the tape under the negative side of battery touched the positive side.

4. Pressing down HARD:  Pressing down hard on the tape connecting to the LEDS was key. It needs to be a secure connection.

Thoughts for next time around (Father's Day perhaps?):

*In the beginning, talking about how to troubleshoot projects and reiterating the role of tinkering. Consult someone with more science knowhow than I have about the possible issues. Was the tape too messy? pathway too long?
*1 small LED limit with a set design example.
*Emphasize the importance of nicely cutting and placing the tape.
*Getting better battery holders or higher voltage batteries.

Why were they sad? They wanted a finished successful product as soon as they walked out the door. This left me thinking about the expectations of crafting programs especially mixed with the motto of tinkering. Food for thought.