Since August of 2011, the Mix IT Up! project has engaged GSLIS students and community organizations to work together on issues related to youth advocacy and information technology. The IMLS-funded program is wrapping up at the end of the fall semester, so we sat down with Principal Investigator Rae Montague (MS '00, PhD '06) and Project Coordinator Joe Coyle (MS '11) to reflect on its impact in the community and the future of the important collaborations that came out of it.
Based on a combination of youth services librarianship and community informatics, Mix IT Up! was developed with two ideals in mind: “to increase the information technology (IT) skills of youth and library school students and shift attitudes about the traditional role of librarians and libraries by positioning library and information services at the center of mutually beneficial and dynamic student-community partnerships.” Building upon previous grants and partnerships, Mix IT Up! continued the strong tradition of collaboration between GSLIS and the surrounding community.
Working with sites like the Tap In Leadership Academy, the UP Center, Jefferson Middle School, and many more organizations, Mix IT Up! scholars have challenged the traditional library role with some exceptionally creative projects. As Coyle explains, “we think about literacy very broadly: digital literacy, community literacy, etc.” Based on this broad, inclusive definition, Mix IT Up! projects have included library collection development, ongoing writing and literacy programs, and workshops about everything from music production to stock portfolios. The program evolved over time through continued conversations with its community partners, and student participants engaged in projects that built on their unique skills while addressing the needs of the community.
One powerful example of the scope of this project can be found at the Champaign County Juvenile Detention Center. Two Mix IT Up! scholars developed writing workshops for incarcerated youth, while another scholar built on her work with the Urbana Free Library’s Teen Open Lab to assist with digital music production programming for the JDC. One young incarcerated poet was published in the 2013 Words Unlocked poetry anthology; another workshop participant was able to work with an incarcerated writer in Texas, a unique collaboration that allowed both to develop a stronger relationship with writing. Finally, in conjunction with his role as the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, the JDC hosted acclaimed author Walter Dean Myers in 2013 for a moving presentation about the importance of reading.
For the twenty or so GSLIS students involved in the project over the past few years, Mix IT Up! has provided the opportunity for extended engagement with the community that goes beyond what many traditional assistantships have to offer. In their roles as research assistants, employees, and volunteers, Mix IT Up! scholars gained firsthand experience building relationships with and between multiple organizations towards a larger goal. This experience translates well to youth advocacy work post-graduation, both in a library context and in the broader community. Scholars, faculty, and community members also participated in several conferences as a team, sharing Mix IT Up!’s success and building valuable professional experience in the process. Throughout the course of the project, scholars met biweekly to stay apprised of the project’s efforts, further develop potential collaborations, and support each other in their work.
Although Mix IT Up! has reached its conclusion, many of its associated projects are still going strong. Montague emphasizes that this is “one slice of a much broader interaction that [GSLIS has] had” with the Champaign-Urbana community. There are many ways to get involved, including one-time volunteer work, assisting with fundraisers, or even developing a full GSLIS practicum with a site. Several participating organizations have also put together an Amazon Wish List of books to supplement their continuing programs.
For more information about the project and its partners, including biographies, stories, and further resources, visit the Mix IT Up! website. If you are interested in volunteering or would like to discuss the project, please contact joe.a.coyle [at] gmail.com (Project Coordinator Joe Coyle).