YOUmedia Design

YOUmedia philosophy

The Chicago Public Library, in collaboration with the Digital Youth Network, created the YOUmedia teen space to expand digital learning opportunities for high school students. YOUmedia’s philosophy is to:
+ Ensure that teens possess a fundamental understanding of the various modes of communication that comprise the new media landscape.
+ Help students learn the tasks and roles associated with each mode of communication, which happens most powerfully when they take on multiple roles in the creation of new media artifacts.
+ Ensure that teens are able to think critically about the meaning of new media messages as both consumers and producers.
+ Instill in teens a core set of values needed to become productive and prosperous citizens in the 21st century.

YOUmedia believes that teens' new media literacies must be developed beginning early in life through a variety of formal and informal, intrinsically motivating new media learning experiences that span school, after school, home, and community.

YOUmedia essentials

1) Space: YOUmedia must have a designated physical space where teens can gather, as well as an online space for social networking, posting work, and sharing ideas.
2) Mentors: YOUmedia must have mentors to work with teens and share their artistic and digital media skills.
3) Interest-based learning: YOUmedia must support interest-based learning by offering opportunities for teens to engage with friends and mentors around their passions.
4) Research: YOUmedia programming must be informed by ongoing data collection and analysis to adapt to the needs of students and changing media, and ensure positive impact.
5) Partnerships: YOUmedia is a collaboration among a variety of organizations and contributors to provide youth a broad range of opportunities and resources.

What follows is a deeper explanation of the essential components of a YOUmedia space.

1) SPACE: Physical and online

A. Physical space

i. Layout

The physical YOUmedia space needs to be a safe and welcoming place where teens can work both individually and collaboratively to create digital artifacts and pursue their interests. The physical YOUmedia space can vary in size but should have an open floor plan allowing students to see what’s going on in other parts of the space. There should be three discrete areas:

Hanging out
+ Purpose: a relaxed, social area where teens can read, talk with friends, and check email. This area is designed to be a pressure-free introduction to the technology, resources, workshops, and group projects that are taking place in other areas of the space.
+ Characteristics: it is strongly recommended that food and drink are allowed in this space. Furniture should be comfortable (such as sofas and bean bags) with technological resources easily accessible (e.g., laptops and gaming systems).

Messing around
+ Purpose: the center of independent exploration for teens who want to do more than just hang out but aren’t ready to commit to a class series, allowing teens to be creative and experiment with whatever digital medium they find interesting.
+ Characteristics: access to laptops for gaming, podcasting, digital flip and still cameras, drawing pads and more.

Geeking out
+ Purpose: a space for teens to take their interests to the next level with the guided instruction of a mentor, librarian, or other media specialist via workshops and projects.
+ Characteristics: presentation/instructional space including work tables for discussion, collaboration, and project development; presentation technology (e.g., large screen or monitor, smartboard, audio system).

ii. Appearance

Display: From a simple bulletin board to a flat-screen TV, the YOUmedia space should include an opportunity for teens to display their work.
Furniture: In order to have the most flexibility within the YOUmedia space, use furniture with wheels. This will allow for the spontaneous shifting of tables, desks, and chairs and allow students to move from individual to collaborative work.
Lockers: Teens need to know their possessions are safe. Providing lockers allows students to store their backpacks and other items safely for as long as they plan to stay in the YOUmedia space.

iii. Feel

General: Mentors and librarians should impart a sense that the space is teen-owned and expect teens to respect and help maintain it. Posting work, notices, and leaflets around the YOUmedia space helps contribute to the overall culture of the space.

+ First and foremost, it should be a designated teen space, adults may only enter the space to check out a book and then move on.
+ Cameras (flip and still) are loaned for seven days, book loan period dependent on standard institutional policy. While books may be returned to other branches, YOUmedia equipment must be returned to location from which it was checked out.

B. Online space

The online space is a private social learning network that allows youth to post their projects, exchange ideas, critique peers’ work, and participate in debate with other teens. Mentors and librarians are online too, encouraging students to post their work, modeling participatory behavior by posting their own work, critiquing teens’ projects, and sharing in the communitywide conversation.

The social learning network features tools to foster teens’ participation including:
+ Virtual Currency: serves as an incentive system as students earn 'YouMedia Bucks' by posting videos, songs, blogs, critiques, etc.
+ Leaderboard: displays the names of top-earning students which helps motivate students to participate in the community
+ Debate Tool: helps teens understand how to craft an effective argument
+ Custom Rating System: introduces and reinforces specialist terms that provides a consistent framework for feedback
+ Groups: allows for controlled membership of interest groups, with a public or private setting; can be created by teens or administrators
+ Curriculum Management System: helps staff collaboratively design project-centered curriculum to communicate deliverables with instructions, examples, deadlines, and expectations for evaluation to students

2) MENTORS: The who, how, and training involved

A. Who

YOUmedia mentors share their skills and knowledge with teens and are essential in helping teens navigate the YOUmedia space and online network through face-to-face exchanges and online interactions.

Characteristics and qualities:

+ Librarian and new media professionals: mentors are artists, instructors, librarians, and other professionals skilled in some artistic or technical area (artist backgrounds may include things like hip-hop, digital filmmaking, photography, poetry, and graphic design).
+ Youth programming: mentors possess a broad knowledge of youth services and youth programming for teens and develop curriculum that is teen interest-driven.
+ Technical fluency in digital media: mentors should demonstrate expertise in digital media and express an interest and ability to work with digital media in youth-centered activities and pursuits (including technology and digital equipment such as still and video cameras, drawing tablets, video and photo editing software, and recording equipment like keyboards, turntables, and mixing boards.
+ Personal portfolios: mentors should have a personal portfolio of work that exhibits their new media abilities, helping to demonstrate to teens how they can develop their own abilities and become producers of new media.
+ Pedagogical knowledge: mentors must possess pedagogical knowledge in understanding the connections between teaching and learning.
+ Cultural capital: mentors must be well-versed and engaged in popular cultural influences relevant to teens.
+ Interpersonal skills: mentors’ interpersonal skills build the social capital necessary to motivate teens to participate in mentor-led workshops and programs. Mentors must be able to encourage teens to pursue new interests, provide useful feedback to teens, exercise fairness when critiquing student work, and manage professional relationships.
+ Creativity: mentors need to be flexible and adaptable as they create enriching digital media learning opportunities while offering creative programming that engages teens interests.

B. How

+ Offer teens 24/7 learning opportunities through their accessibility both online and in face-to-face exchanges
+ Lead workshops in the YOUmedia space to help teens build their skills and create digital artifacts
+ Organize theme-based programs based on teen interests
+ Engage with teens around posted work in the online space
+ Share their skills and experiences to teach teens how to use a variety of technology and digital equipment
+ Encourage student dialogue and participation in the YOUmedia community
+ Encourage teens to pursue their interests and passions
+ Model participatory behavior online by encouraging students to post their work, offer feedback and critiques, award virtual dollars, or points, for student produced work, post their own work; and face-to-face by leading workshops and programs that move teens from "messing around" to "geeking out," lead sessions on topics such as gaming, digital music production, and blogging, encourage students to create digital artifacts to share and post online

C. Training

Collaboration and problem-solving are the cornerstones of training and professional development for YOUmedia mentors. This is done through participation in professional learning communities or communities of practice. Mentors are encouraged to come together to talk about their practice, learn new content, explore problems of practice, and develop structures for support. Among the YOUmedia mentors’ most valuable assets is a willingness to be experimental. Mentors should be encouraged to be flexible and creative in their pedagogical approaches. Mentor training should include:
+ Student socialization: Mentors must engage with teens and take an interest in the students hanging out in YOUmedia. Teens’ interests can provide the fodder for mentor-led workshops and programs. Mentors should try to form relationships with the teens who frequent the space in order to build “social capital” that leads to teens taking an interest in mentor-led workshops.
+ Creative programming: Because the average YOUmedia teen enters the space after spending six to seven hours in school, programming has to be creative to draw their interest. Homework, projects, papers, and social demands are all competing with opportunities to “geek out.” Mentors should consider a variety of single-session activities, mobile activities that allow them to experience other parts of the library, projects that could be produced in two hours or less, or installment projects that require creating digital artifacts over an extended period.
+ Evaluation and assessment: Focus-group feedback and surveying students are the most reliable ways to evaluate the success of YOUmedia programming. Mentors must engage students in conversations and critiques of programs and workshops to learn if what YOUmedia offers is of interest to participants. Attendance rosters, online commenting and critiquing, as well as the quality and quantity of digital artifacts students produce will help mentors gauge whether their programs are effective.


Research surrounding learning, including findings from the MacArthur Foundation’s five-year, $50 million Digital Media and Learning Initiative, has found that young people’s use of digital media is changing the way they live and learn. Digital media has transformed young people’s learning to become more social and interest-driven. While traditional learning might have been limited to a classroom, where a single teacher disseminated knowledge, today teens are learning from peers and mentors in a more social, collaborative setting. In online communities where young people pursue their interests – whether it be fan fiction, astronomy, or chess – their learning is self-directed and their peers range from amateurs to professionals, crossing ages and experiences. YOUmedia supports this interest-driven approach to learning by offering opportunities for teens to engage with friends and mentors based on their shared passions and natural curiosity.

+ Talking and collaboration: Teens must be allowed to talk and interact with each other and with mentors and librarians in a YOUmedia space. Collaboration is noisy.
+ Variety of resources: There must be resources in a YOUmedia space to allow for interest-driven learning. Books, videos, music, exhibits, or artifacts will help engage teens and open the door for deeper pursuit of their interests.
+ Youth culture: To facilitate learning, mentors must be technically skilled as well as familiar with youth culture. If mentors have teens who are into gaming, cartooning, and graphic novels, mentors should have some knowledge in those areas to facilitate learning.
+ Youth input: Mentors should seek teens’ feedback and comments regarding past and future programming.

A. Media

i. Print

The YOUmedia space surrounds teens with books, magazines, and other print media. While students can access materials from other parts of the library as well, the YOUmedia space contains the library’s young adult collection.

ii. Technology

There are two aspects of technology to be addressed with YOUmedia – the technology infrastructure needed to run the space and the technology needed to engage the teens.

Technology infrastructure requirements include:

  • adequate broadband access
  • wi-fi
  • an abundance of power outlets
  • secure places to store digital equipment

New media competencies for teens include:
+ Digital music: Develop a broader understanding of the basic properties, elements, and methods involved in the production of music across genres as well as audio representations.
+ Digital video: Broader understanding of the structures and process of pre-production, production, and post-production used to create film and video as stand-alone new media artifacts and for use with other new media modes.
+ Graphic design: Examine the use of graphics and still images while learning the basic elements and principles of photographic composition and visual design.
+ Interactive game design: Explore the use of interactive experiences to understand the basic components and forms of interaction involved in the programming of interactive experiences.


YOUmedia’s digital equipment helps teens build their skills and create digital artifacts with the goal of building a solid set of digital and social skills. Teens learn how to use a variety of technology and digital equipment, including:

  • desktop and/or laptop computers
  • still and video cameras
  • drawing tablets
  • recording equipment such as keyboards, turntables, and a mixing board


Whether a novice with technology or more experienced, teens in YOUmedia should have access to software that allows them to learn the skills of media production. Software available for student use in YOUmedia may include:
+ Comic Life and iPhoto for teens to create their own publications and books.
+ GarageBand and FL Studio for students interested in beat production.
+ Pro Tools and GarageBand for teens interested in the art of recording or podcasting.
+ iMovie, Final Cut Express (Mac), or Movie Maker (PC) for teens who are interested in making short films, book trailers, public service announcements, music videos, and videocasts.
+ FlipShare for editing movies on Flipcams.
+ Aviary for teens who want to explore graphic design.

B. Curricula

YOUmedia takes a goal-based scenario model for learning by doing that is believed to be more authentic and engaging for youth. The essential components of a goal-based model are:

  • Learning goals
  • A mission for students to complete
  • A cover story that frames the mission and motivates students
  • Roles within the cover story
  • Operations or activities involved in completing the mission
  • Resources needed to complete the mission
  • Situated feedback

YOUmedia’s curriculum approach immerses teens in a culture of critical thinking about new media messages. Teens engage with mentors and librarians to learn basic techniques involved in the production of different types of media. And they apply what they have learned through the production and “doing” of projects and digital media artifact creation – from movies to music to blogging and beyond. For example, YOUmedia’s “Engage” project asks teens to become both artists and activists during a five-week summer program. Teens and mentors view and discuss contemporary and classic American art, visit the Art Institute of Chicago, and create digital media projects that connect art with social change.

C. Program

Whether it is digital music production, graphic design, gaming and blogging, or spoken word, YOUmedia’s workshops are guided skill-building sessions led by mentors from Digital Youth Network, Chicago Public Library librarians, and other community partners.

During workshops, teens pursue their passions more deeply through the creation and critique of digital media artifacts. Focused project groups provide opportunities for teens with shared interests to come together to develop their skills and leadership abilities. Interest-driven activities around core library programs, such as One Book One Chicago, can foster civic engagement and provide a context and purpose for teen participation.


Data from the online social network can be used to inform the design and development of workshops and project groups in the physical space. Because the YOUmedia environment must constantly adapt as the needs of students change and as the media itself evolves over time, mentors must seek out student feedback and usage trends.

YOUmedia usage data should be made available to help mentors understand:

  • How teens are using the space
  • How effective that use is
  • The quality of the work done in the space
  • How they can provide more quality programs

While seeking student input, mentors must also:

  • Monitor how programs are impacting youth
  • Track attendance and participation
  • Oversee online use of the social network
  • Evaluate work produced online and in the space
  • Monitor use of the technology tools
  • Record student growth over time

Mentors can keep up with new research in the field through the Digital Media and Learning Hub, which provides a database of resources and projects, as well as blog posts from researchers, educators, and foundation leaders. It is the online presence for the Digital Media and Learning Research Hub, which is hosted at the University of California, Irvine. The Hub allows researchers, policymakers, practitioners, industry professionals, scholars, and young people around the world to share data and information as they explore digital media and the networked world of the 21st century.


Partnerships are key to the creation and sustainability of YOUmedia. Engaging a variety of partners helps support teen programming by providing mentors, funding for activities, possible apprentice or internship opportunities, design support for the physical space, and more.


Location: The initial YOUmedia physical space is located at the main Chicago Public Library branch downtown, with new physical spaces planned at other CPL branches throughout the city. Currently students from all parts of the city attend YOUmedia, and this has allowed youth from various backgrounds to work together based on their interests. The library or other institution housing the physical YOUmedia space should ideally be:

  • centrally located
  • easily accessible by public transportation
  • in a safe location for youth to visit in the afternoon and early evening hours

Multiple physical locations may be considered in order to locate the resources closer to a specific target population. Physical space may be provided by a library, museum, or other community group, or some combination thereof.

Design: The YOUmedia physical space was designed by a team of graduate students from the Entertainment Technology Center at Carnegie Mellon University, under the direction of Professors Drew Davidson and Jesse Schell. Additional support for the build-out of the space was provided by Chicago Scenic Studios and US Equities. The YOUmedia online space was designed by a team under the direction of Katie Salen from the Institute of Play in collaboration with Akili Lee from the Digital Youth Network.


Multiple partners may contribute mentors to work at YOUmedia, however, it is preferable that mentors have a strong time commitment to, and interest in, working within the YOUmedia space since personal relationships are a critical component in the success of mentors and the program overall. While special guest instructors may be brought in on a more limited basis, YOUmedia mentors should ideally work in the space no less than 20hrs/week. Mentors may include youth librarians, out-of-school program providers, teen program coordinators at area institutions, artists, professionals in the field of digital media, and others.

All mentors, regardless of affiliation, should go through a common training program with ongoing group meetings to develop programming, address challenges and needs, and discuss best practices.

Interest-based learning

Providing rich learning resources requires developing public-private partnerships, at both the local and national level. Digital media equipment may be sought from technology-related companies or funders; universities or other institutions of higher education may be able to provide pedagogical and research support, or assistance in the design of the physical and online space; and community-based or area foundations may be able to provide for start-up costs.


YOUmedia is grounded in research into digital learning conducted by academics around the country, with particular collaboration with Mimi Ito and her colleagues at the University of California, Irvine, and the Digital Media and Learning Research Hub. Local universities or institutes may play an important role in the research component of the program.

YouMedia at the Harold Washington Library - 400 S. State Street