Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

Embracing Content Creation Queries – Guest post by Lynette Pitrak

“I want to design a Gandalf figure to print on the 3D printer.”

“How do I insert text over my video in iMovie?”

“I want to take pictures of the fall leaves on the trees in my neighborhood… but it’s really cloudy today.”

I’m paraphrasing here, but all three of the above are questions I’ve received from teenagers over the past week. When confronted with complex content creation issues, I usually find myself having two thoughts simultaneously:

“I have the best job EVER— teenagers are so cool!!!”

“OMG I have no idea how to do that—  I am the worst librarian in the world!!!”

Maybe some of you can relate? If you’re anything like me, you had a specific major in college (for me— art history/painting) and then completed an MLS or MLIS degree to become a librarian. I didn’t study computer science/filmmaking/music editing/photography in college or graduate school. But still, patrons ask me questions about all of these things (and much more :)) on a regular basis.

And to make things more overwhelming, I want to give the right answer! Librarians are people pleasers; we got into this profession because we LOVE helping people and want to add value to their lives– whether that be in connecting someone with a new favorite author, finding a historical stock price a patron needs when filing taxes, recommending a great gluten-free cookbook, or helping a teenager capture a photographic image. Sometimes, it can feel to me like content creation questions are more daunting than any other kind, because in that situation, a teen is trying to make something that is dependent on the help I am giving them. Luckily though, as a librarian, I have some pretty awesome training and resources to rely on:

  1. LIBRARIANS CREATED THE REFERENCE INTERVIEW! This is one of the first things we probably all learned in library school, and still so important. This is usually the first thing I will try to remember when helping a teenager who has a content creation query. For example, when working with the teenager who wanted to design a Gandalf figure to print on the 3D printer, it was very helpful for me to ask a few background questions. The first of these was, “What program are you using the design the figure?” By asking this, I was able to have a great conversation with this teen. I realized she hadn’t ever coded anything before and wasn’t sure what kind of program to use. She just wanted a Gandalf figurine! This was awesome because first, I could direct her to a program called Thingiverse. This program contains pre-designed 3D images which can be downloaded and then printed on a 3D printer. Natalie was able to get her Gandalf figurine easily this way. Even cooler, she was really interested when I was explaining about how use a program like Tinkercad to code a design that could later be printed on the 3D printer. So we set up a future appointment so that I can teach her to use this program to do some basic coding! She’ll learn some new skills to gain confidence for designing her own figures (and, over time, maybe build up to coding something as complicated as a Gandalf).
  2. LIBRARIANS ARE SURROUNDED BY BOOKS AND THE INTERNET! When working at the library, I am literally surrounded by books and computers with internet access. The librarians who order in our 000s area have built and maintained a wonderful collection of books focused on effectively using technology. It has been important for me to remember that there is no reason why I should feel awkward grabbing one of those books to look up how to do a specific thing, such as laying text over video in the iMovie program!! This is exactly what I did when working with Sam. I consulted our copy of My iMovie by Craig Johnston and Cheryl Brumbaugh-Duncan and used the table of contents to locate the section that discussed text overlays. Sam didn’t think I was unintelligent for having to look up the answer to this question! He was just so happy that I was excited to help him, and that I was able to work with him to try out the techniques recommended in the book until we ended up with what he wanted to do in his film. Next time, he’ll not only know where we keep our resources for computer help, but he’ll also remember that the librarians are always willing to help him. I also use YouTube videos all of the time when answering questions like this. This super easy-to-follow and informative video is just 3 minutes long, and answered all of the questions we had about text overlay in iMovie. Videos such as this one were created by regular people to help viewers do particular things that the creators of the video have also struggled with, and they are in abundance on YouTube!
  3. LIBRARIANS KNOW HOW TO PLAY AROUND! When Chicago Public Library opened their first YOUMedia space, they centered the space around the HOMAGO (Hanging Out, Messing Around, Geeking Out) philosophy. One aspect of this model is that hands on, playful exploration leads to real learning. Working with content creation equipment and software is enhanced by being willing to experiment and play. When Jade asked me how to best take photographs that would emphasize the colorful falls leaves without becoming too dark (because the day was overcast), this was an opportunity to play with the library’s DSLR camera. A rule of thumb is that when shooting on a cloudy day, traditionally the camera’s aperture should be set to f/2.8 to f/4. However, other factors are also important to consider, such as depth of field, balance of shadows and light, and image clarity. Trial and error is key, and it is important to take a lot of bad pictures before finding the right combination. After consulting our library’s amazing IT Department assistant manager (shout out Jason!) for recommendations, we just played with the camera. I showed Jade how to use the DSLR camera’s menu settings to change aperture and shutter speed, how to check the light meter, and how to zoom in and out with the camera’s lens. Some pictures were totally washed out and some were blurry, but when we discovered a combination that worked (f/2.8, 1/100—tripod needed!), the results were beautiful! And now Jade feels confident that she can mess around with the DSLR to teach herself, which was the best part of that experience.
Too much light

Too much light

Not enough light

Not enough light

Good combination of aperture and shutter speed

Good combination of aperture and shutter speed

I hope these examples of some of the experiences I have recently had have been helpful for you!! Next time you a  re approached by a teen with a complicated content creation question, just take a moment to breathe and recall your librarian training… And recognize how lucky you are to have such amazing teens asking you for help!!! 🙂


Read more about Lynette’s work with teens in a creative makerspace setting:

View From Behind The Lens

View From Behind The Lens, It’s a Wrap!

View From the Director’s Chair

View from the Director’s ChairP It’s a Wrap!

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