In early 2022, PLIX continued into Phase 2 of the Rural & Tribal Library Toolkit project. The team from the Public Library Innovation Exchange (PLIX) at the MIT Media Lab collaborated with 20 rural and tribal public libraries. Leveraging the remix strategies identified in Phase 1, library professionals explored and adapted a PLIX activity for their contexts.
In this case study, we share the story of April Griffith, the library director at Eureka Springs Carnegie Library in Arkansas. (Fun fact: April Griffith built a shipping container home from 2013-2015 with her partner. Read more about it on this webpage from the Shiloh Museum of Ozark History.)
Their library serves a town of 2,200 people, where more than a third of their population within city limits do not have access to high speed internet, and 90% of local public school students qualify for free lunches (U.S. Census data)
Sustainability and community resiliency are a frequent topic of their library programming. April saw the potential of the Inflatables activity as a way to connect youth with native plants. She noted that "it's a nice way to sneak in another fun STEM aspect—a spoonful of hands-on creating helps the hard science go down!"
In her activity design, she highlighted the beautiful dogwoods, redbuds, morel mushrooms, and other native local flora in the Ozarks. During the activity, she took the opportunity to talk about why native flowers are important in supporting the ecosystem and how insects, birds, critters, and large mammals all rely, in turn, on these particular flora having space to grow in their community. Tweens and teens were encouraged to re-create—with upcycled materials—into inflatable toys and wearables. There was a freedom to use as much of the materials as they wanted because "it was all headed for the trash anyways," which quelled their hesitancy and opened them to exploration.
One of the creations looked like a caterpillar, and the librarian facilitators used the opportunity to connect native flora and fauna. Introducing the native fauna element opened up the original prompt to jumping frogs, fluttering butterflies, creeping caterpillars…all the way to twitching bobcat ears and tails. Youth had a blast with the activity and even tried multiple iterations of their creations.
This remix activity is part of a larger effort to provide STEM program plans for low resource, often rural, environments. Rural isolation often means a hunger for content. But offering STEM programming requires planning time and staff, and sometimes requires librarians to overcome their self-doubt as a STEM facilitator. Many rural librarians handle everything from day-to-day operations to researching, planning, and running programs for patrons of all ages. Having turnkey activities with supporting facilitation scripts and tips encourages rural librarians to introduce more STEM making programming to their patrons.
Check out the PLIX Forum for more librarian explorations and remixes from the Rural & Tribal Library Toolkit Project. Explorations by activity: