July 10, 2024

Inspiring Stories of Connected Learning Through Libraries: Indie Memphis Youth Film Festival and the Memphis Public Library Unite

Categories: Connected Learning, Digital Learning, Edtech, Educational Practice, Featured, Research

Image: Courtesy of Memphis Public Library. https://www.memphislibrary.org/


Teen services librarians have been innovating and spreading connected learning approaches ever since the framework was first developed. This post describes how the Memphis (TN) Public Library has put connected learning into practice, a reflection motivated by a collaborative research project with the Connected Learning Lab. It is also a teaser and the third of a series of blog posts tied to a project report that will be released later this month, Transformative Outcomes Through Community Engagement: How Public Library Staff Can Foster Connected Learning Teen Services.

A three-year project funded by IMLS, the Transforming Teen Services for Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (TS4EDI) project investigated the challenges library staff face and the support they need for designing and sustaining connected teen learning experiences, including in rural and small libraries. Researchers engaged in:

  • A review of published literature and materials from IMLS funded initiatives
  • Partnership with 9 libraries representing a mix of rural and urban settings. 
  • Interviews with 13 partner library staff and 12 additional library staff to understand their experiences with connected learning in teen services. 

The project produced reports tailored to public library leadership and teen services staff, with key findings and recommendations, as well as checklists for how to put connected learning in practice. These publications, and related resources for library leaders, staff, and researchers can be found on the Connected Learning through Libraries resource page of the Connected Learning Alliance.

The CrewUp Youth Filmmaking Mentorship grew out of a partnership between the Indie Memphis Film Festival and the Memphis Public Libraries’ Cloud 901 Teen Learning Lab. Indie Memphis, a non-profit dedicated to youth and adult filmmaking, aimed to expand their youth programming, while the library and its Teen Learning Lab sought to provide young people with creative experiences to support them in exploring future careers. Together, they created the mentorship program.

As part of the CrewUp connected learning experience, library staff provide teens access to professional filmmaking equipment. Teens are often interested in using the equipment to make videos for their social media feeds. Using the library’s resources, teens frequently discover they can create higher-quality films than with their phones. When teens make that discovery and realize a deeper interest in filmmaking, the library team connects them to Indie Memphis and CrewUp.  Indie Memphis provides the funding and the connections to professional filmmakers who act as mentors. Memphis Public Libraries provide the space and the connections to the teens. Teens who take part in the program often have never touched a camera outside of their phone camera.  As Jessica Cheney, former manager of Cloud 901 and current teen services coordinator for Memphis Public Libraries, notes, “…Throughout the time that the teens are with their mentor, they have training on how to use a camera, work with sound, use visual effects, and manage post-production. We bring in directors and we bring in producers, so that along the way as they’re working towards their movie or their short film, they have learning opportunities.”

In CrewUp, youth from grades 7 to 12 are organized into teams of three. Each team receives a $500 budget to create their film of 10 minutes or less. Completed films are entered for judging into the Youth Film Fest, hosted by Indie Memphis with Cloud 901 as a partner.  Prizes are awarded in several categories including jury, audience, and staff awards.

Image: Courtesy of Memphis Public Library. https://www.memphislibrary.org/

Chaney talks about the library’s structural and cultural changes needed to build a successful initiative with Indie Memphis. For example, before the partnership, Cloud 901’s video equipment was kept under lock and key. The library had to rethink its policy, making the equipment more accessible to teens and allowing them to take it outside the library. Chaney says, “One of the first things we did was put the equipment in teen hands. We would lock up all of the equipment and I said, Take it out. Literally put the camera in the teen’s hands. Tell them to go shoot something, and bring it back…”  When Chaney got pushback about breakage and loss, she replied, “Well, what if it gets broken? Okay. It breaks. It would eventually break anyway or get phased out anyway. That’s what we have sustainability funding for.” Chaney also encouraged staff to be OK with the types of videos teens gravitated to making with the video equipment and says, “Okay, let ’em do it. Then they come to you and say, ‘Hey, I actually want to make something that’s worth looking at’ And then that’s when the connected learning comes in because now you have their interest.”

Image: Courtesy of Memphis Public Library. https://www.memphislibrary.org/

The CrewUp program incorporates youth interests, supports teens in building relationships with peers and mentors, and provides opportunities for professional, academic, and civic filmmaking. By trusting teens, allowing them to take equipment out of the library, and giving them agency in choosing film subjects, library staff acknowledge the value of teen culture and identity. The program builds connections across the settings of the library and the independent filmmaking community.

Guest post by Kimberly Hirsh

Kimberly Hirsh is the Lower School Librarian at Carolina Friends School in Durham, North Carolina. She served as Research Lead on the TS4EDI project. Prior to her work with the Connected Learning Lab, she worked in the Equity in the Making Lab at UNC-Chapel Hill’s School of Information and Library Science. She is one of the creators of Project READY, a series of free, online professional development modules for school and public youth services librarians, library administrators, and others interested in improving their knowledge about race and racism, racial equity, and culturally sustaining pedagogy.