Kansas City Public Library Digital Media Lab


In 2012 Kansas City Public Library received a YOUmedia planning grant offered through the MacArthur Foundation and IMLS to design a YOUmedia Learning Lab program. After some consideration and discussion, KCPL decided that a mobile lab would be a great starting point for bringing HOMAGO centered programs to youth in Kansas City. A mobile lab would give staff the ability to “meet the kids where they are” both literally and figuratively at the ten library branches in Kansas City. In 2014, the staff, Andrea Ellis with a background in informal education and a focus on film and video production, and Marcus Brown with a background in formal education and a focus on audio production began developing and presenting programs to youth in Kansas City. These programs were successful and teens learned a lot but over the years, Marcus and Andrea started to find limitations with the mobile lab programs. As Andrea said, ”If the kids wanted to take it (what they were learning) further, there was nowhere for them to go and we could not continue to build a relationship with them.” So Andrea and Marcus began having a conversation about how to make a deeper impact and began to advocate for building a permanent space for their programs.


The first site they considered was the central main library located in downtown Kansas City. This seemed like a good fit because their community expects innovative programs to start out at the central branch but what they found is that teens just don’t go downtown all that often. They started thinking about where teens do go and they picked a branch that has very high teen participation. The branch is located in a neighborhood with several high schools and middle schools nearby, is easily accessible by bus, and is near a very large park that is home to a $20 million soccer training facility that draws people from all over the region. This branch seemed like a great fit for a new permanent lab location. Andrea and Marcus were able to get the support of library leadership and in fact, their support for a new digital media lab in that community was so strong that it led to a remodel of the entire building! The Open House Celebrations was held on April 28th. The space will feature a professional level media production studio, two 3D printers and software, DaVinci Resolve and Final Cut Pro editing software, a green screen, and a variety of Arduino circuits, and Raspberry Pi technology. The lab also hosts a First Tech Challenge robotics team and the Pharobots.


When asked what they are most excited about in the new space, Andrea shared that it is the philosophy of the program that is most exciting. “Technology is a tool that helps youth meet their goals. We have integrated the HOMAGO principles with a knowledge of adolescent development and have found that the relations with an adult mentor is so much more important than any of the “stuff” in the room.”


When asked what they want people to know about their new space Andrea said, “This space is a little different because we are trying to make it an intergenerational space while keeping youth as the focus. We want youth and adults to create new and exciting things together and for adults to share what they are passionate about with youth. This is the type of community we live in and this will keep the space sustainable because adults will be engaged in the space and will want to support it.”