February 8, 2016

Amy Holcomb | Movers & Shakers 2014 — Innovators



Youth Services Librarian
Northbrook Public Library, IL

MLIS, University of Wisconsin-Madison, SLIS, 2009

@tulipsfromputin; tulipsfromputin.tumblr.com; www.facebook.com/northbrookpl; www.slideshare.net/tulipsfromputin/born-digital-25643511

Photo by Karina Guico

Empire Builder

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.

Create the Library Your Community or Campus Needs
LTC Online Course Join Library Journal and a roster of design experts for our latest 4-week interactive online course. Starting January 27, 2016, Library Design Workshop will guide participants through complex issues of library space design projects such as space programming, fundraising, and finding the right design team.
  • Develop a roadmap to create a flexible library space suited to your community.
  • Inspiring ideas, concepts, and perspectives from leaders in the library design field.
  • Build a framework to create a robust report for key stakeholders.
Lead the Change logoLTC register Lead the Change
Library Journal's Lead the Change offers timely resources and tools to stay ahead of the innovations and changes impacting the library profession. Library staff at all levels can participate in hands-on live events, access insightful on-demand webcasts, and enroll in LTC Leadership Academy - Online, a new online learning program that will help staff learn essential skills to advance their careers, solve problems unique to their libraries, and put strategic plans into action. LEARN MORE


  1. Andrea Johnson says:

    Congratulations on this well-deserved honor, Amy! We’re so pleased to have LJ acknowledge what we’ve known all along. Keep being awesome!

  2. Connie Ghinazzi says:

    Congratulations Amy! It was wonderful to see you on this list. It sounds like you are using your science background to really engage with the young people at your library.

  3. Monica Harris says:

    Great job, Amy! It is wonderful to see the inspirational work you are doing recognized here!

  4. Amy Holcomb is the best kind of librarian – practical, innovative, and always thinking about the next step. I’m incredibly proud of her and happy to see her join the Movers & Shakers list!

    Congratulations, Amy! This award is so well deserved!