Digital Media Labs

Transform your patrons from consumers into creators

December 31, 2014

Amanda Goodman

Where in a library can families share their stories? Where can teens create music videos and upload them online? Where can a veteran revisit his Army buddies? The answer is in the library’s own digital media lab (DML).

A DML consists of equipment for either creating original digital content or converting older media to digital formats. The conversion process enables the sharing of memories and prevents the media that holds them from being locked up in an obsolete format. Your DML can be kept in a separate room or simply be a cart that is rolled out as needed. No matter the budget, your library can build a DML and transform the way your community interacts with digital content creation.

In the Aug./Sept. Library Technology Report, I identify how to fund DMLs, decide on equipment, and train staff. And I pose questions you need to answer before you decide to add a DML to your library. Eleven projects are profiled for budgets and spaces of all sizes, including five in-depth reports on how particular libraries met their community needs with different types of DMLs.

To qualify for inclusion in the report, a DML needed to:

  • provide equipment to the community for the creation of video, audio, or other digital content;
  • offer members of the community the ability to transform analog media (such as cassette tapes or records) to digital formats; and
  • offer digital literacy programs on how to create digital content.

But why does a library need a DML? The Edge Initiative, a national coalition of leading library and local government organizations that provides guidelines to help libraries manage their technology growth, requires libraries to “provide access to relevant digital content and enable community members to create their own digital content” (AL, Jan./Feb., p. 36). DMLs singlehandedly fulfill that benchmark.

While any community center may offer equipment, a library adds further value to a DML by providing knowledge and expertise in using the software, whether through workshops or self-guided tutorials. In this way, the library helps the community to learn digital literacy—a skill everyone will need as digital technology becomes more pervasive. That educational role argues for locating a DML within the library.

Some DMLs, however, reach beyond the library’s walls on carts or through pop-up workshops in various locations. Laura Damon-Moore of the Library As Incubator Project keeps track of these creative ventures. “There is a greater sense that a library is a place where you take part in a hands-on activity and come away having developed a new skill,” Damon-Moore told the Madison (Wis.) Capital Times in a December 26, 2012, article on library makerspaces. DMLs and makerspaces accommodate the new expectations of our communities. Wherever a library sets up a creation station, the community will find it and evolve from consumers into creators.

A DML is a whole-library project, as I’ve seen in my work planning and managing the implementation of Darien (Conn.) Library’s DML. Each department contributes in some way—raising funds, painting the room, moving equipment, scheduling appointments, or teaching patrons how to use the lab. Our community has adopted the DML as its own, finding uses for it that we had not anticipated, such as recording job applications or meeting with war buddies for the first time in 40 years after rediscovering them on digital slides.

And the best part? I’m often there as they discover a new way to see the world. A DML is more than a room with equipment. It’s a creative space for making and sharing memories.

AMANDA L. GOODMAN is the user experience librarian at Darien (Conn.) Library. She cohosts a podcast about user experience and libraries called LibUX. This column is adapted from her Library Technology Report, “Digital Media Labs in Libraries.”