Youth Services Librarian, Grand Rapids
MLS, Indiana University, Bloomington, 2012
Jessica is a “giant nerd”: fanfiction, comics, sf, romances, anime, manga, video games,
and podcasts such as “Jay & Miles X-plain the X-men.” She’s also a baker and calligrapher
and wants to try glassblowing
Photo by Christine Waller Photography
When only one student in a seventh and eighth grade assembly answered yes to having used an ereader, Jessica Bratt realized students in Grand Rapids faced a deep technological gap. “I asked what the schools needed and built interest in how the library could meet their needs,” she recalls. Leveraging her enthusiasm, flexibility, and improvisation skills, Bratt initiated DigiBridge, a formal partnership between Grand Rapids Public Library (GRPL) and Grand Rapids Public Schools (GRPS) that connects students and educators to the library’s online resources and technology.
GRPL director Marcia Warner calls the youth services librarian “a catalyst for change in our community on a large scale. [She] sparks creative thinking and innovation in individual students.”
First, the library removed barriers to use by converting public school IDs into online library cards, creating a dedicated school portal, waiving existing fines, and promoting programs to help get more families to the library. In the second half of 2015, that alone accounted for a nine percent increase in full-service cards issued to younger patrons.
Next, Bratt developed a basic curriculum for library staff to train teachers, students, and parents on using the library’s resources. Since then, students have logged more than 12,000 research sessions, and Bratt is developing an advanced curriculum.
Finally, Bratt put technology directly into the hands of students. The Teen [Tech]Knowledgey Camp debuted in summer 2013 with a budget of $400 and 17 kids in attendance. Attendees had access to an ereader all summer and worked with library resources to learn about real-world applications of technology. According to one teen, “it was a two-in-one pack, where you purposely [sic] try to learn one thing and end up learning something else too in the process.”
“For urban youth who had little access to technology, this camp was life-changing,” says Warner. Kids stayed late to work on their robots and taught one another things the instructors didn’t know. By 2015, the camp had expanded to 50 students and acquired a $20,000 grant to buy dedicated Kindle Fire 6s and LEGO Mindstorm robots.
Building on the success of the first Teen [Tech]Knowledgey Camp, Bratt worked with the GRPL Foundation and Friends to fund DigiBridge initiatives during the school year. They purchased 200 NOOKs and piloted a One School/One Book–style program with four middle school classes, in which students read the same book and create book trailers to share at an annual Book Fest.
Bratt is “still striving to take a more active leadership role,” as schools adopt 21st-century technologies, she says, sharing her know-how with other librarians. “We’ve discovered that DigiBridge has become a gateway for parents to understand the value of the library to their child’s education.”
Ed. note: This profile has been edited to update the name of the podcast.