Tag Archives: Digital Media Lab

Volunteering in a Digital Media Lab – A Guest Post by Lian Sze

LianThis is a guest post I asked Lian, a volunteer in the Skokie Library Digital Media Lab, to writeWhat is life like for DML volunteers and workers is a common question from people interested in DMLs, I hope Lian’s post will help explain what her volunteering looks like.  – Mick Jacobsen

With four tricked out Macs, a chroma key green wall, Blue Yeti microphones, a drawing tablet, scanners, various electronic instruments and more, the Skokie Public Library Digital Media Lab is the place to be if you’re looking to create.  Each of the four Macs at the DML is considered a station, and each station has unique software that appeal to different patrons depending on the type of project they are working on.

As a volunteer at the Skokie DML, I had no idea what types of patrons I was going to encounter or what kind of help I would be able to offer.  Much to my relief, a lot of the questions that I get asked are often basic computer questions that anyone familiar with a Mac can usually answer.  However, I do get asked questions on some of our more advanced software, such as Final Cut Pro or Adobe InDesign, questions that I am only able to answer with a little bit of research online or in the books that we have in the DML.

What I love the most about patrons at the DML is that they are always willing to help each other out, so even if I can’t answer something I can always ask another patron to see if they know the answer.  The sense of solidarity comes from the fact everyone is working in this shared space together, a place where there is so much equipment and so much software that no one person can claim to be an expert at everything.  Skokie Public Library also attracts a culturally diverse patron base, so it’s not unusual to see someone editing a video on an Albanian wedding alongside another who is editing photos from her childhood growing up in Europe.

The skill levels of the patrons vary, from those who are very technologically savvy to those who can barely use a computer.  There are often high school or college kids who come into the lab and know exactly what they need to do, whether it’s video editing or remixing that song that they love so much (NO PROFANITY, PLEASE!).  But we also have a lot of older patrons who may need help scanning photos, others who just want to watch a Lynda.com video and some who might just want to learn how to use a Mac.

Even though some of the older patrons seem to have more difficulty with the software programs, it never seems to deter their determination to get their projects done.  One lady was using Dreamweaver to edit her church’s website, while another man was using Adobe InDesign to edit a brochure that explained his recent world travels, and both of them told me that they were just beginning to learn how to use these software programs.

The most excited patrons are always musicians.  When they see all the equipment we have here, you can almost see their minds reel at how they can use the DML for their upcoming music projects.  They often comment on how expensive the equipment and the software are and how many of them would not be able to afford it on their own.

Whenever I see someone poke their head into the DML, I always explain to them what the DML is for and how they can sign up for a station.  You may never be able to predict why someone will sign up for one of the stations at the DML, but you can be sure if you don’t tell them about it they may never know that these resources are available.

“Lian Sze is a MLIS student at Dominican University and will graduate in May 2012.  She is also an intern for the Public Library Association and Northwestern University.  In her spare time, she is a bike enthusiast, gardener, traveler, yogi and foodie. Despite her love of technology, she still writes snail mail.  She is currently living in Chicago.”


TTW Contributor: Mick Jacobsen

Is a digital media lab right for you?

Erika helping in the DML

From the Skokie Public Library http://www.flickr.com/photos/skokiepl/5553081244/

If you can be in charge/start your/be part of a Digital Media Lab (DML) I highly recommend it… for you.

Now, I think all the community building, etc. aspects of a DML are awesome and one of the futures of libraries – see a Library Journal article I co-authored for that all important aspect.  However, this post is for those of you who are considering starting a DML and wondering if you will enjoy it as an aspect of your job.

This is what my work life looks like being in charge of the Skokie DML ( I have other duties besides the DML, but you aren’t interested in that). Training, training and more training.  Training myself, colleagues, and library members. Oh, and also making sure everything runs smoothly and is positioned for the future.

  • The Software

I am always training myself on software.  I mean always!  In the last 1.5 yrs I have taught myself the rudiments of Photoshop Elements, Motion, Adobe Flash, Adobe Illustrator, Dreamwearver, iWeb, Adobe InDesign, Adobe Fireworks, Screenflow, and Adobe Premier Pro (ongoing – I think I may try to become more of an expert on this as it is really useful and videos and libraries blah, blah, blah).  I have taught myself to be a relatively advanced user of iMovie and Garageband.   My next ones to study are everything Final Cut X, Adobe AfterEffects, Adobe Soundbooth, and Adobe Photoshop. I try to give myself 4 hours a week for self training, but that normally becomes 1-3 as other stuff moves up the to-do list. http://blogs.skokielibrary.info/medialab/software/

  • The Hardware

I prefer learning the software more than the hardware, but maybe you a musician or an engineer type and the hardware will be more fun for you? However, hardware doesn’t really change and I can usually have something down well enough in relatively short time in comparison to software. I have had to learn microphones (gain, patterns, etc.), flat-bed scanners, slide scanners,  Flips (terribly difficult, I know), relatively inexpensive still cameras, tripods, MP3 Recorders, portable hard drives (which need fixing as members often hurt the file structure when ejecting the devices incorrectly on Macs),  digital convertors, midi keyboards, midi recorders, electric drums, and electric guitars (my next week’s project).  Am I awesome with any of these, not really, but I know how to get them to work in our environment, I certainly am not a drummer or guitarist or any type of a musician. http://blogs.skokielibrary.info/medialab/equipment-available/

  • Administration

This eats lots of time (it should) as we are figuring out the best way for this space to grow and function, the most important part of the gig.  Being sure we are offering enough training (internal and external), reaching out to local organizations (non and for-profit) for partnerships, presenting, hiring, managing, and training incredibly talented individuals, recruiting amazing volunteers (your normal library volunteer is not going to be useful in a DML), selecting hardware and software, building for the future, dealing with problematic users, running the website, blogging and making sure others are blogging, and all that other leadership stuff.

Does this seem kind of fun? If so, maybe you should be in charge of a DML. No, then I seriously recommend passing on this responsibility. We are constantly getting interns and LIS student volunteers interested in working in the DML, hire them – contact me if you want some names.

I am hoping some other DML manager types will post in the comments or elsewhere explaining what they do.


TTW Contributor: Mick Jacobsen