Kent Libraries Digital Dens with Artefacto Makercarts

What was the plan?

Kent library service had ambitious plans to set up five Digital Dens to provide weekly digital making activities for children at Gravesend, Ashford, Sheerness, Newington and Swanley Libraries. Digital Dens were designed to develop digital skills with the help of the Makercart, and were aimed at young people aged 8-11 years old in areas of social deprivation. Our plan was to supply equipment and activities, staff training sessions and support events at the five libraries, starting in the summer 2017 and finishing on March 2018. And that was just what we did…

What we did?

We worked in partnership with project manager Jon Carlton to deliver the program. Our first Makercart delivery and staff training session was at the Gravesend Library. Soon after, we organised an open event in collaboration with Jon and Gravesend Library staff and had great success. Many children and families attended and had the opportunity to try the equipment and activities that will be part of the Digital Dens. The weekly Gravesend Digital Den was up and running soon after and we rolled out the program to the other libraries. You can read Jon’s account of Kent’s Digital Dens at the Library Taskforce site.

Not all libraries, staff, volunteers and communities are the same: we use a tailored approach and adapt our plans to local needs and requirements.

What’s next?

Well, we’re happy to report that the delivery of Makercarts and support to Kent’s Digital Dens was very successful and we’ll be providing further support beyond the end of the ACE funding in March 2018, including: 36 digital making activities per year as part of a subscription service; more staff (and volunteers) training sessions; support for further public events; access to our help desk support service and advice for new equipment; and a Raspberry Pi SD card exchange service (something libraries are finding really useful and not available anywhere else!)

What we learned?

It’s been great seeing how Artefacto’s Makercarts and support can help an ambitious library service such as Kent Libraries deliver a successful program that tackles children’s Digital Literacy and Inclusion in areas of social deprivation. The program has been a extremely popular and most Digital Dens are over subscribed: Ashford have over 50 children signed up for their waiting list! This proves there is a huge demand in our communities for these services and highlights the key role public libraries play in delivering them.

It’s also very positive to help library staff and volunteers gain new skills (coding, 3d design, electronics) and embrace new ways of working (project based learning, constructionist pedagogy). But we know that not all libraries, staff, volunteers and communities are the same: we use a tailored approach and adapt our plans to local needs and requirements.

Onboarding staff and volunteers is one of the key elements when delivering programmes of this kind. As Jon states in his blog “Not all of our staff have the same level of experience or interest in technology and coding, and it’s important to recognise this and think about ways you can get staff on-board with your project as early as possible. Having an interest is far more important than having experience – training can always be delivered.”

It’s also great that Digital Dens will continue to run after ACE funding finishes. This is a great commitment from Kent Library service! They are even considering opening new Dens in the future, if and when funding is secured.

We sincerely hope that, on one hand, other library services show the same level of ambition and commitment as Kent to support Digital Literacy and Inclusion, and on the other hand funders (including Central Government) recognise the need and importance of this kind of programme. Let’s keep (digitally) making!