December 12, 2022

ConnectedLib Toolkit 2.0: Bringing Connected Learning to Small and Rural Libraries

Categories: Connected Learning, Critical Perspectives, Digital Learning, Educational Practice, Equity, Featured, Research

For the last seven years, I’ve been working with a talented and committed group of researchers and library practitioners on the ConnectedLib Project, a research-practice partnership focused on bringing connected learning to public libraries across the United States.

With support from the Institute for Museum and Library Services (IMLS), our team at the University of Washington iSchool and the University of Maryland College of Information Studies co-created the ConnectedLib Toolkit with public youth library staff in Providence, RI, and Seattle and Kitsap County, WA. Launched in 2019, the Toolkit offers youth-serving library staff a free, customizable, and self-paced program to design and implement CL-inspired teen programs and services.

The Toolkit comprises a series of modules that teach library staff about connected learning and walk them through the steps to implement connected learning services through their libraries. The activities are designed to help library staff evaluate their current teen services and their library’s existing capacity for connected learning; identify community resources that could support teens’ connected learning experiences; and develop a plan for implementing their own connected learning program.


Following the Toolkit’s launch in 2019, we engaged with a wide variety of public youth library staff through YALSA e-courses, a WebJunction webinar, and other conference and webinar presentations. Amidst the positive feedback (Love the flexibility! Great that it’s free! Connected learning is perfect for my library!), one critical response emerged. The Toolkit – and, by extension, connected learning itself – felt geared more towards well-resourced urban and suburban libraries than small and rural libraries with much smaller staff and budgets.

It was true – most of the connected learning examples throughout the Toolkit were taken from libraries with relatively sizable resources. Largely missing were voices from the small and rural libraries that make up the majority of libraries across the country.

We asked ourselves: How could we make the Toolkit relevant to a small public library that might have just one part-time staff member, a few volunteers, and no dedicated youth library staff?

With a second round of support from IMLS, we partnered with an amazing group of librarians serving small and rural communities across the country, from rural Washington to Rio Grande, Texas. For over a year, we engaged with our partner librarians in a series of participatory design sessions focused on critically evaluating each module in the Toolkit. Through this process, the librarians offered suggestions for making the explanations, examples, and exercises more relevant to their specific contexts. Their experiences working through the Toolkit also generated new examples that we incorporated into the updated modules.

In the second year of the project, as we were revising the existing modules, we worked with our library partners to develop an entirely new module focused on civic engagement. Recognizing the vital civic role that libraries play in small and rural communities, it was a natural fit to engage our partners in developing resources for library staff to support teens’ civic engagement.


We are thrilled to announce that our new and improved ConnectedLib Toolkit is now live! To mark the release of this new version, our team will be hosting ConnectedLibFEST this spring. This is the first ever event specifically focused on connected learning in small and rural libraries and communities. This virtual experience takes place on Wednesday and Thursday, March 15-16, 2023, 1-5pm Eastern. Each day brings together library staff, researchers, and community members to learn from and with each other about bringing connected learning to small and rural library settings. We are aiming for broad participation and therefore welcome ideas on a variety of connected learning topics and formats. We hope to see you online in March!

Pre register and submit a program idea here.

Guest post by Katie Davis – Associate Professor at the University of Washington (UW) Information School, Adjunct Associate Professor in the UW College of Education, & founding member and Co-Director of the UW Digital Youth Lab.


Katie Davis is Associate Professor at the University of Washington (UW) Information School, Adjunct Associate Professor in the UW College of Education, and a founding member and Co-Director of the UW Digital Youth Lab. In her research, Davis investigates the impact of digital technologies on young people’s learning, development, and well-being, and co-designs positive technology experiences for youth and their families. Her work bridges the fields of human development, human-computer interaction, and the learning sciences. Davis is the author of three books exploring technology’s role in young people’s lives: Technology’s Child: Digital Media’s Role in the Ages and Stages of Growing Up (MIT Press, 2023), Writers in the Secret Garden: Fanfiction, Youth, and New Forms of Mentoring (with Cecilia Aragon, MIT Press, 2019), and The App Generation: How Youth Navigate Identity, Intimacy, and Imagination in a Digital World (with Howard Gardner, Yale University Press, 2013). Davis holds two master’s degrees and a doctorate in Human Development and Education from Harvard Graduate School of Education.