Teen Services Manager
Maricopa County Library District, Phoenix
MLS, Clarion University of Pennsylvania, 2010; MA, English, Northern Arizona University, 2013
O’Malley has written four novels, including The Egg Said Nothing (2010)
Photo by Kristin O’Malley
The Great Adventurer
As a child, says Caris O’Malley, “I harbored dreams of working at the library. Things weren’t always great at home, and our local library provided me with sanctuary.” O’Malley followed his dream, starting at Arizona’s City of Apache Junction Public Library in high school; he stayed for nearly 11 years, all through high school and college and receiving his MLS in 2010. Now, as teen services manager for the three million–plus users of the 17-branch Maricopa County Library District (MCLD), he’s helmed pilot projects like the Social Learning Labs, which deployed a mobile recording studio and filmmaking and digital art labs to branch libraries. The labs have enabled teens to produce four short films, several hundred photographs, one concert recording, and multiple digital art pieces.
O’Malley is also the driving force behind Notes from the Underground, a concert series operated by and for teens. Its first run produced six concerts as well as 10,000 copies of a compilation CD of local teen bands that can be heard at mcldconnect.org/teen; the series won an award from the National Association of Counties.
O’Malley, who recently completed his second master’s degree, in English, firmly believes that getting teens to be creators of content rather than just consumers is the key to literacy, whether technical or reading. He is currently spearheading the development of a free, web-based, open source, interactive multiplatform summer reading program (SRP) tool. “Following recent trends in gamification…Caris’s latest project, the Great Reading Adventure, has the potential to impact library Summer Reading Programs forever,” says Jeremy Reeder, MCLD deputy director. The SRP can be accessed from anywhere. “It enables users to engage with the SRP on their own terms,” Reeder says.
Interest in the project grew after the 2013 SRP, which encompassed all 61 public libraries in the county and included more than 91,000 participants of all ages. Despite its success, says Reeder, “The limitations of the software program we were using made Caris search out something better.” Dissatisfied with both the homegrown and vendor-offered options he investigated, O’Malley secured $150,000 from the Arizona State Library (the largest Library Services and Technology Act grant in state history) and another $100,000 from MCLD to manage the development of a new SRP software program. The Great Reading Adventure will feature what Phoenix Public Library children and teen services coordinator Wendy Resnik describes as “robust, user-friendly back-end reporting, a badge-style incentive system, user-generated avatars, an animated ‘gameboard,’ in-game challenges of increasing difficulty, customizable digital prizes (such as local business coupons), and much more.” It will be available nationally in time for 2014 SRPs.
The project is especially timely, O’Malley points out. “The Great Reading Adventure features were designed specifically to address Arizona’s passage of the Move on When Reading legislation, which holds back third graders who are not reading at level…. We want to help kids improve their reading skills.”