Sunday, April 27, 2008

The Business of Storytelling

A little over a year or so my Dad mailed me a newspaper clipping of an ad for the Digital Discovery Center, an after-school program located in the suburb just west of their own in Bay Village, Ohio. It looks like a pretty cool place, and the credentials of the couple who own it (backgrounds in childhood development, special education, independent schools) are pretty stellar.

Click on the About section on their site and you learn that the Digital Discovery Center "provides children with hands-on access to sophisticated technology that is often missing from their current school programs. Robotics, digital filmmaking, and photography, and other forms of digital media are exciting new means of communication that captivate children and challenge them to develop their creativity and problem solving skills."

They offer courses in digital filmmaking, stop-motion animation, digital music creation and robotics. It's a niche that I can't help but think public libraries should more aggressively be looking to fill. The joint venture between the Public Library of Charlotte & Mecklenburg County and the Children’s Theatre of Charlotte, the remarkable ImaginOn, is the best and most exciting example of how public libraries should be responding to the fact that their patrons are no longer simply consuming media. They're creating it, as well. Lot's of it. Films, photographs, fan fiction, blogs, music and remixes. Distributed online to friends, family, and sometimes, mysteriously (virally), a few million of the curious who have followed a link to your YouTube post.

The folks who had the audacity to follow through and actually get ImaginOn built realized they were, at their chewy center, in the business of storytelling. And they realized their patrons, especially the younger ones, were hungry to tell their stories. So ImaginOn does just that. It doesn't matter if they're fictionalized or confessional, filmed against a blue screen or performed on a stage, using stop-motion animation or painted on a canvas, told through a dance or a song. The building is designed to help nurture and create stories by offering the tools, space and support to make it happen. (The above photograph is of one of ImaginOn's two performance spaces.)

Which makes me wonder. Does ImaginOn then archive the material these teenagers are creating? Does that content, with the creators consent, become part of the libraries permanent catalog? Can, for example, one teens ImaginOn supported documentary on skateboarding be accessed and watched (and commented on and tagged) by his peers via the libraries catalog?

I'd love to see a larger body of literature out there about ImaginOn, a Library Technology Report or a collection of essays, heck, a book written by some of its directors or an intrepid reporter. I want to know more about what's working and what isn't, I want to see some of the content that's being created and hear what the kids who created it thought about the process and what they thought of their end results. What kind of collaborating is happening and how is it being facilitated? Can their successes be replicated in other public libraries?

The sheer scale of what they're setting out to do at ImaginOn is almost too overwhelmingly good to be true. For a place in the business of telling stories, it very much needs to share its own.

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