Jennifer Nichols

Pima County senior librarian Jennifer Nichols is looking for 15 people ages 14 to 21 who are interested in participating in the planning phase of Tucson's first media center for youths. Those selected for the design team will receive a $100 monthly stipend, but they must be able to meet every Tuesday from 4 to 6 p.m. at the Joel D. Valdez Main Library downtown. The application deadline is Jan. 21. For more info, call 594-5562 or go to www.library.pima.gov/teens/teen-volunteers.php#design.

Tell me about this early phase of the project.

We got a Learning Labs grant from the Institute for Museum and Library Services and the MacArthur Foundation. We received $100,000 to plan a youth media center.

There are some amazing youth media programs in other urban areas. It would be great to see one in Tucson.

I think there are a lot of people who are saying the same thing in the community right now. We have a lot of support and lots of people on board to get it going. There were 12 chosen for this same grant last year and 12 this year. Between all of those people there is a lot of online support. I'm really looking forward to seeing what we develop.

How did you find out about this grant?

We were aware of this program that MacArthur helped start at the Chicago Public Library. In the library world it was exciting. It's the flagship. They turned their teen library into a teen media center. Two years ago we received an $80,000 grant to start the CreateIT program. We hired professionals to teach classes at different libraries to teenagers—like graphic design, animation—during winter and summer break. The classes were all free, because every class at the library is free. But one of the lessons we really learned is that we're not making the impact we want to make. Once the classes are over, the students don't have access to teachers anymore. We wanted them to have access to the mentor, and recognized that fundamentally it is about those relationships. The equipment is great, but it's about having access to the people.

How will this planning phase work?

We would hire youth to lead ... and help them by connecting them with professionals in our community and also help them facilitate their own community conversations with their peers to find out what youth would want in their own media center. The money is really to have this youth-led team, pay them a stipend to create a prototype. That phase will be coming down the line later this year.

What is the age range?

Youths 14 to 21. The application is online and the questions are asking about what their passion is, if they've had to overcome something. Right now, we will choose 15 of them. We will be asking them to go out into the community and talk to their peers and do research—meet with different groups and adults to learn about media centers and meet with other people to find out what they want. All along, we want them to document their own process. They'll have some media mentors to help them with that—video, recording or photos. It will be up to them.

What do you think the basics of a media center will look like?

I think there will media spaces downtown at the library, and then a mobile lab that will travel. And a third is online. We'll be looking for funding along the way.

How do we know the end result will be a media center?

Although this is a planning grant, I know that we have full institutional support from the county. I am sure, at the end of the 18 months, with the ideas and prototypes of what they want to see, we will have the plan realized. Even by the end of eight months we will have plans and have partners all on board, and in the end getting everyone to the table regularly. We are excited about that.

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