Youth Leadership at DML
This post was written by BAVC Factory Filmmaker Buffy Almendares, Sophie Bedecarré Ernst, and BAVC’s Director of Next Gen Programs Ingrid Hu Dahl after presenting about the SFPL Digital Learning Lab initiative at the Digital Media and Learning Conference in Chicago.
On our plane ride to Chicago, the three of us had an opportunity to talk both about how the experience of the San Francisco Public Library Youth Advisory Board has shaped Buffy and Sophie’s previous perception of youth media organizations and about how they hope to incorporate their experiences into the future learning lab — which is scheduled to begin construction later this year.
The SFPL Youth Advisory board has nineteen members that span from high schools across the Bay area with a range of media experience and technical skills, including Buffy and Sophie, who represented the board at DML presenting alongside learning lab partners the California Academy of Sciences, KQED, and BAVC.
The partner team — which didn’t start with youth at the planning phase — has considerably grown to embrace youth leadership and decision-making, which Buffy and Sophie clearly showcased in our 90-minute group presentation on March 14, 2013.
The panel covered three phases of the learning lab — the pre, the present and the future.
Pre-Partnership. Considering the overall Bay area landscape, Buffy and Sophie knew about existing youth media outlets but they often seemed private, relying on word of mouth for underrepresented young people to join. Even Buffy joined BAVC because of her brother Aress, who convinced her it was worth the twice-a-week afterschool commitment, despite an hour commute.
Partnership for the Learning Lab. After several months, the partners supported the development of a SFPL Youth Advisory Board to help steer the direction of the learning lab, guiding the design with architects, advocating for the construction approval with the Library Commission, and going on field trips to get inspiration and ideas. The opportunity for leadership roles gives what Buffy says “is an opportunity for us to accomplish what we want for our cities and make it happen, to be active participants.” All partner organizations have focused on the library as a space to host important events, including Career Panels and a national film festival, BAYMN fest.
Post-Construction of the Lab. Buffy and Sophie plan to continue their leadership when the lab is fully functional, including reaching out to high schools and other youth media organizations; identifying the structure of the lab and clarify its goals; actually running the learning lab and assisting with media tools; and most importantly, mentoring the young adults who make the space their own. The public learning lab will be a space to bring people together, to increase the visibility of a broader network of organizations that serve young people, and become a model for youth leadership.
During the Q&A, audience members asked Buffy and Sophie for recommendations they have for other organizations or networks that want youth involvement. They expressed: “It’s important that both adults and teens level the playing field so everyone is treated the same (e.g. no ageism). If you want youth input, listen to what they say and do something with their recommendations so they remain an integral part of the process.”
Sophie and Buffy attended other panels, few of which had young people present, which they found surprising for a conference that talks a lot about youth. One panel featured a few teens from Los Angeles and Oakland, which provided personal examples of how they became active in their communities—stories that will impact the development of the SFPL teen center.
Outside the conference, Buffy and Sophie visited YouMedia in Chicago and got a chance to speak with a teen that attends the library everyday after school (a 45-minute bus ride) because she finds it “a safe haven, an escape from my home life.” In addition, they checked out the Art Institute of Chicago, which exposed them to different types of creative media arts expression.
Takeaways that the Board members had included:
Sophie – “In general, DML attendees have a universal understanding of technology unique to the larger world.”
Buffy – “I think of DML as a giant group of people talking about similar issues we’re trying to deconstruct to make into a better system” and have “access to people who have the resources to enact change.”
As a team, we all want the teen center to benefit the communities who need access digital media from a centralized location, and to pinpoint organizations for additional resources. The library will also create an online platform to increase the visibility of the broader youth media landscape, throughout the Bay area and beyond. As Sophie explains, “We want to keep the technology relevant beyond five years.” We have no doubt that with youth leaders at the helm, the center’s relevance will expand beyond that timeframe.
To see more about the SFPL learning lab and other members of the Youth Advisory Board, watch “Youth in Design,” a mini-documentary produced by advanced filmmaking teens in the BAVC program, The Factory.