Meet the Librarian Co-Designers: Allie Affinito

February 4, 2021

We're kicking off a new series about some of the librarians who've participated in the co-design process with us. For our first edition, we’re featuring Allie Affinito from The New York Public Library!

The PLIX Activity Co-Design Program (formerly the Residency Exchange Program) is how PLIX develops new creative STEAM learning activities. All PLIX activities are based on MIT Media Lab research and designed for the public library setting. The PLIX team brings creative learning design expertise to make these research concepts accessible to a wide audience of learners. Using a participatory design approach, the PLIX team, fellow Media Lab researchers, and public library professionals (our co-designers!) work together to develop the content and context for these learning activities, all of which are published openly on the PLIX website.

Today we kick off a new series where we will highlight some of the librarians who participated in the co-design process with us. For our first edition, we’re featuring Allie Affinito from New York Public Library! Though we have yet to meet Allie in person, the PLIX team has gotten to know her well over the past year. Along with co-designing Inflatables, she’s participated in lots of our workshops, including as part of the facilitation team for November 2020’s Facilitating Creative Learning Workshop.

Let’s meet Allie….

The wonderful Allie Affinito! (photo from Allie)
The wonderful Allie Affinito! (photo from Allie)

Tell us a bit about your role at your library! What's your favorite part of your job? How is "making" part of your role?

Allie: I'm a Children's Librarian at the Chatham Square Branch of the New York Public Library, where I've worked since I moved to NYC in 2014. My favorite part of the job is hanging out with the kids in my community and getting to know them and their interests through all kinds of programming/outreach. However, there's a special place in my heart for our NYPL Tech Club programs, where we get to mess around with all sorts of different STEAM projects. Building these programs is really what turned me on to creative learning and helped me incorporate “making” into a part of my day-to-day.

What excites you about creative learning?

Allie: I'm a big proponent of the idea that librarians are facilitators as opposed to caretakers of knowledge. I hate the stereotype of librarians as gatekeepers—hoarding books and yelling shush—and want instead to model librarianship as a way to encourage all patrons to share their knowledge and find ways of accessing the subjects they are passionate about. Creative learning sums up that approach in a really tangible way for me, and has helped me not only in programming but really the way I view my job as a whole.

Why were you first interested in participating in the co-design?

Allie: While our branch was closed to the public I was really missing my Tech Clubs and just working on STEAM projects in general, and I had to kind of re-shape what programming might look like as we phase back into opening. I attended a few PLIX webinars, had a lot of fun raiding my recycling bin for materials, and was pumped to test a new project concept when the team reached out! [Editor’s note: getting to know Allie virtually was such a highlight of 2020!]

What is something interesting you learned from participating in the co-design?

Allie: Give a group the exact same materials, prompt, goals, whatever, and you will STILL always end up with a variety of amazing results. I was constantly saying, “Oh that's so cool! I never thought of that!” through the whole process.

Allie playing with one of the inflatables she created during co-design.
Allie playing with one of the inflatables she created during co-design.

What other PLIX activity are you most excited to run with your patrons? Any remix ideas you'd like to share?

Allie: I'm really excited to try out Beautiful Symmetry after hearing about all their ideas during the PLIX December Community Call. I'd love to do something with fractals in nature, maybe like a scavenger hunt for symmetry in the city.

And lastly, what’s one of your favorite books/articles/poems/essays you’ve read since we started staying home?

Allie: I LOVED The Magic Fish by Trung Le Nguyen—the art is stunning, and the story will punch you right in the feels.