How can libraries keep up? With local tech partners, via WQED’s Inquire Within

This story first appeared on NEXTpittsburgh, which publishes Kidsburgh.

Starting with a part-time job as a high school sophomore, Liz Kostandinu has spent 16 years working in libraries across the Pittsburgh region. In that time, she has watched the field undergo seismic shifts as people’s reading lives moved from page to screen.

“The face of libraries and library programming has just changed so much,” she explains. Librarians are now “called on to be experts in not just traditional literacy, but in digital media literacy as well.”

For librarians across the many cash-strapped communities in our region, keeping up with the latest trends in mass media is a daunting challenge. So Kostandinu is now busy working to close the gap between small libraries and the cutting edge of education tech as project manager for WQED‘s Inquire Within program.

Now in its third year, the program works with 30 local libraries across the WQED broadcast area to adapt PBS‘s wealth of online learning tools to their community’s particular needs.

“We open up the catalog of resources,” she tells us, “and say, ‘You tell us what will work best in your space.’”

Those resources include apps and streaming videos from PBS that teach everything from emotional health to rudimentary computer coding. WQED also provides advertising, staff training and other materials to help libraries offer this content to visitors.

Along the way, the Inquire Within network also serves as a kind of laboratory and incubator for new approaches to education: Starting this month, the organization kicks off a new partnership with Advanced Robotics for Manufacturing (ARM) dedicated to creating a tech and engineering curriculum for young learners.

Home base for the new partnership will be the Carnegie Library in Hazelwood.

Gina Masciola, manager of education projects with WQED, says that the collaboration with ARM is just one small part of a larger WQED documentary/public education project called Future Jobs, a web series examining the changing face of the local labor market. The project is also supported by Catalyst Connection and the Allegheny Conference on Community Development.

“ARM is proud to be a new part of the Hazelwood community,” said ARM CEO Byron Clayton, in an announcement about the project. “And we are excited to work with WQED to bring this new opportunity for STEM youth education into the neighborhood.”