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Wanted: Input to Shape YOUR Library

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This is a guest post by Alli Hartley-Kong, Educational Programs Specialist in the Library’s Informal Learning Office. 

A letter from a schoolgirl to President Grant. A linocut print made by a twelve-year-old. Video footage of young boys on roller-skates, from over 100 years ago. An interview with a man who spent his childhood marching for civil rights. Photos and audio recordings of children’s jump rope rhymes and handclap games. Did you know that hidden within the many collections of the world’s largest library, we hold documents, books, and other materials that amplify the voices of children?

Children’s rhymes and games, Blue Ridge Elementary School, Ararat, Virginia; Mullen, Patrick B., 1941- (Photographer); Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress

Children’s voices shape our collections, and now we want to include children’s voices in shaping the experience of visiting the Library of Congress. The Library is working to transform the visitor experience in order to share more of its national treasures with the public and show how Library collections connect with visitors’ own creativity and research. We’ve included a new participatory learning space in this plan—designed especially for kids age 9 to 13 to experience both onsite and online! This will be a space where kids can go “behind the scenes” at the Library, get a firsthand look at the process of research, and transform from visiting to actively using the Library. It is scheduled to open in spring/summer 2024.

Over the past few months, Library staff and exhibit designers have been meeting about what will might make this space interesting to kids. We’ve discussed hands-on interactives, digital learning stations, and examples from the Library’s collection that show how children can be changemakers. But we want to hear directly from kids themselves! In order to center the voices of children in this process, we are forming an advisory council of children ages 9-13 to provide feedback on proposed designs and learning experiences.

Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden greets visitors on the expo floor at the National Book Festival, September 1, 2018. Photo by Shawn Miller/Library of Congress.

We are seeking a group of children nationwide to participate independently, with parents available for follow-up, in four one-hour online workshops between October 2021 and December 2022 (October 23, 2021; January 8 2022; April 2022 and summer/fall 2022). We’re looking for creative kids between the age of 9 and 13 who are open to sharing ideas, dreaming with us, and are able to attend all of the sessions. Each session will include discussions about concepts and prototypes with Library staff and members of the project design team, as well as a behind-the-scenes experience with a Library expert. Participants may learn about book conservation or our film and map collections, take a virtual tour of the building, and more!

Not every kid experiences life or learns the same way. We want to include a wide range of children’s experiences in our advisory group to ensure the learning lab is as inclusive as possible. We’ll work with you to ensure your child can fully participate. We welcome children with a diversity of perspectives, backgrounds, and abilities.

If you and your child would be interested in participating, please complete this questionnaire together by October 15 in preparation for the first workshop. Please fill out one complete form for every child who would like to be part of the council. If you have questions, please email our team at [email protected].

Herbert Putnam was the Librarian of Congress for a whopping forty years, from 1899 to 1939. When he was only two years into his tenure, he said about the Library, “But it is not a library merely for scholars already made. It is a library for scholars in the making.” The Library of Congress is YOUR library no matter how old you are, and we are still living Putnam’s words today. We’re committed to making this a space not just for adult researchers, but for families like yours to come and learn. Make your voice heard to shape the next generation of experiences at the Library of Congress!

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