YALSA Session Provides Learning Lab Insights

Survey results indicate skills needed for librarians leading the movement

January 9, 2016

Group discussion at Midwinter
Session attendees discuss ideas for successful informal learning in libraries.

Learning labs. Makerspaces. Fab labs. “They might have different focuses and names, but they all share common elements,” said Kyungwon Koh, assistant professor at University of Oklahoma School of Library and Information Studies (OU SLIS). “It’s important that these programs are teen-driven, youth-driven. In these spaces, relationships between mentors and creators are key.”

This is how Koh kicked off the “YALSA Trends Impacting YA Services: Competencies Needed to Provide Teen Library Services of the Future” program at ALA Midwinter Meeting & Exhibits on Saturday, showcasing the research she and June Abbas, an associate professor also at OU SLIS, conducted on informal learning and community learning centers in libraries. This research won this year’s YALSA Midwinter Paper Presentation award, and Koh and Abbas said their presentation featured survey data that made up “Phase II” of the research.

The survey asked 44 managers, librarians, and staff members working in informal learning spaces in public and school libraries about the most important skills and education needed to work in learning labs and makerspaces.

The top five core competencies were the abilities to understand technology, teach others, be willing to learn, advocate and network, and provide user services to different populations. The most important “soft skills”  needed for the informal learning environment were flexibility and adaptability, curiosity, patience, creativity, and a social disposition.

Survey respondents ranked on-the-job learning as the number one way competencies should be learned, followed by school and formal education, networking, grant-sponsored forums and activities, and online learning.

After presenting survey results, Koh initiated a lively discussion that examined the audience’s differing experiences and viewpoints. Some additional ideas for successful informal learning brainstormed by attendees included not trying to control the lab or makerspace, knowing what one’s community needs, future planning, getting buy-in from administration and the community, and best practices for finding experts and partnerships.

Better marketing was one idea that attendee Kirsten Hansen, young adult and new technology librarian at Aldrich Public Library in Barre, Vermont, thought was important to the longevity of informal learning spaces. “Especially if this is something new for your community,” Hansen said. “You need to have a very clear vision.”

Koh and Abbas’s winning paper will be published in the Journal of Research on Libraries and Young Adults after the conference.