How do you pull teenagers into a library? It is a question facing every community that cares about its kids and its library. So this spring when Cheryl Lonebear, the librarian for the Ute Indian Tribe mused about this problem within earshot of TJ Ferrill, the University of Utah’s Assistant Head of Creative Spaces at the Marriott Library, he quickly replied: “Oh I have the stuff that brings kids into libraries!”
On Wednesday, September 12th after months of emails and travel back and forth by both TJ and Cheryl, TJ loaded up a University of Utah fleet car with a 3D printer, his virtual reality suitcase and backpacks full of other high tech gaming apparatus, and we drove 150 miles east on US 40 to Fort Duchesne. Not 5 minutes after arriving TJ’s 14 year old pals Kenyan and Blixx, who attended the Ute Youth Storytelling Camp the past summer at the “U”, leaped to his aid, helping set up the monitors and machines. (I suspect the boys also know that those that help get first dibs at the VR!)
Blixx, a sophomore at Uintah River High School, helps TJ set up the Virtual Reality equipment.
For the next 5 hours high school students, millennials, elders and youth played with TJ’s stuff. What stuck me, a non-gamer from way back, was how collaborative and social VR and gaming is. I kept glancing over at the gaming stations and finding 2-4 people, often multiple generations, playing, laughing, pointing and conversing as their thumbs pounded away at the remotes.
A young attendee ready to sport some VR goggles.
Even VR, which requires someone to sport a funny looking pair of bulky goggles, would cause the formation of a group of smiling faces to gather around the monitor and marvel or scorn at the performance of the goggle wielding player. By the end of the evening dozens of people young and old came out to play. Dozens came to the library event.
Onlookers cheer on their classmate at Uintah River High School as he slays the VR game he is playing!
Although the night started out with the lure of high tech toys, it ended up being, not surprisingly, about people, connections and community. Not only did the event succeed in terms of the connections made, but it marked a vibrant collaboration between a colossal library serving the flagship University of the state and a small, community library serving a rural indian community. TJ and Cheryl took their working relationship forged over many months of travel between the University and the reservation, and built a collaboration that bridged the gap. We are all motivated to create more nights like this one going forward. It worked.
Special Thanks to Aaron’s Sales and Leasing of Vernal for providing screens and consoles galore!