The philosophy behind the creation of the Chicago Public Library's YOUmedia was to enable teens to be more than just consumers of digital media, but to be creators as well. Through the activities of making and doing, YOUmedia addresses two significant challenges facing urban public libraries today:
- The shortage of authentic, engaging physical and virtual spaces for teens in public libraries; and
- A lack of meaningful opportunities for teens to learn digital media skills while also gaining relevant new entry points into library resources.
Opened in 2009, YOUmedia is the first ever discrete space devoted to teens at the Chicago Public Library, occupying an open, 5,500-square-foot space on the ground floor of the Chicago Public Library's downtown Harold Washington Library Center.
The design of the YOUmedia space is based on the research of Professor Mizuko Ito and colleagues, Living and Learning with Digital Media (2008). This ethnographic study of more than 700 youth found that young people participate with digital media in three ways: (1) they “hang out” with friends in social spaces such as Facebook; (2) they “mess around” or tinker with digital media, making simple videos, playing online games, or posting pictures in Flickr; and (3) they “geek out” in online groups that facilitate exploration of their core interests.
In these groups they may, for example, make things like rap music, documentaries, machinima, or robots. They may also be committed writers on fan fiction and anime sites. Ito et al found that these online, interest-driven activities extend young people’s learning and exploration significantly beyond experiences in school or community programs.
The goal of YOUmedia's physical and online spaces is to support young people in participating with digital media across all three of these practices so that, in time, there is a substantial increase in the number of youth in Chicago who use online resources and new media as tools to engage in inquiry about their neighborhoods, the city, and the world. The design of the YOUmedia learning space encourages individual and collaborative work and also provides a safe and open space where teens can come just to hang out.