Youth Services Librarian
Northbrook Public Library, IL
MLIS, University of Wisconsin-Madison, SLIS, 2009
Photo by Karina Guico
Amy Holcomb’s DIY approach results in STEAM-based (science, technology, engineering, art, and math) youth programming that’s inexpensive, acclaimed, and popular. Her aesthetic was inspired by a 2012 Chicagoland Library Unconference discussion on technology in youth programming, which “stressed using what your library has before expanding into new technological territory,” recalls Holcomb. “Libraries should use available technology to provide opportunities for project-based programs, where patrons can show off what they create.” Over the past two years her Mad Scientists and Math and Science Labs programs have included deconstructing computers and creating chemical reactions with everyday items, like hot sauce packets from Taco Bell. She’s also incorporated more high-tech tools into her technology programming, writing grants for inexpensive Arduino microcontrollers, Raspberry Pi computers, and laptops.
Her philosophy prompted Holcomb to develop Apprentices of the Book Empire (ABE), for children in grades two to six, and Born Digital, for sixth to 12th graders. The apprentices write, edit, and illustrate books (not their own, so they have the opportunity to interpret another child’s story through pictures); then the library binds, catalogs, and adds the book to its collection—all for just $30 total (not per book). Born Digital participants create ebooks, which are available as downloads from the library’s website as well as on iBooks and Scribd; the program costs almost nothing.
“Both ABE and Born Digital facilitate a creative learning experience for kids, tweens, and teens by modernizing a traditional library program: the writing club,” says Holcomb. “The programs celebrate innovation and the freedom to experiment with writing and illustrating without repercussions of failing grades.” And in true do-it-yourself style, they make use of materials already found in the library.