rtk color pngRobot Test Kitchen started out as a project with ILEAD-USA, an IMLS grant based leadership project developed and run by the Illinois State Library. Jay Turner came to our last ILEAD-USA week and learned about Robot Test Kitchen. He asked us to share it with you.

Our team, consisting of five Youth Services librarians from suburban Chicago public libraries, wanted to work on something to do with robotics. Specifically, we wanted to review robot kits so YS librarians, like ourselves, could use them in programs with our young patrons.  Depending on where you are in your career, things like robotics could be really cool or it could scare you to death.  We developed a list of reviewing guidelines; informed by our own information needs when we were reading reviews of these items.  And then we bought stuff. The ILEAD-USA grant provided a $4000 budget and we purchased a lot of good products.  We also purchased some duds.

The idea was to gather our patrons (ages 3 to teens) and test these products with them.  It meant stretching ourselves more than we ever expected. It meant being vulnerable and letting the need to have the perfect program each and every time. We were learning these products along with the kids sitting around the table with us.  Does the idea of not knowing why a product isn’t working freak you out? Maybe not if you’re sitting at your desk, not easy buttonLibrarian vs. Machine.  But Librarian and Patron vs. Machine is a whole other matter.  What will the kids think if I get this wrong? is certainly a thought that came to my mind more than once.  We were working with Makey Makey and they wanted to try it with a game I wasn’t familiar with.  And for whatever reason, Makey Makey wasn’t connecting with the game.  I was scrambling to get things going and didn’t understand what the problem was.  Then, my testers (grades 6 – 8) started working together.  And they figured it out.  It was a watershed moment for me. I wasn’t in this alone.  It was okay to sit back and let the learning happen.

During the first week of ILEAD,in his keynote address Michael Stephens used the phrase when imaginations play, learning happens. As a group, the librarians behind Robot Test Kitchen embraced that phrase.  And, here it was happening before my eyes.  One of the most significant parts of our project has been our True Confessions posts.  These posts are where we lay it on the line.  As one of my teammate says, “the softer side of robotics.”  I think you’ll be able to relate to one or more of these posts. Trying new stuff isn’t easy.

Wherever you are in your library career, whether working with STEM stuff is easy for you or difficult, you are not alone.  We are stronger together, working side by side. That is the overwhelming message of Robot Test Kitchen.  We hope you stop by our blog.  We also hope that you will join us! Even though our project began in one specific region with a grant, we know that librarians all over have tried new technology in programs or in private, and have experiences to share. What are your Georgia neighbors doing? Who can you reach out to? Who can you support in your own PLN? We accept guest posts of all kinds, but more than that, we hope to grow a conversation in our wider YS library community about our struggles, triumphs, questions, and challenges.

By Sharon Hrycewicz
Downers Grove Public Library
Downers Grove, Illinois