Pop-up media centers connect Detroit communities with information

Technology / Article

Allister Chang is executive director of Libraries Without Borders and Richard Tao is senior adviser to Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan. Photo above by K.Shabu City of Detroit/CCSD.

Coming from families of recent immigrants, we share a deep-seated appreciation for public libraries. One of us, in fact, grew up in Detroit’s Cass Corridor, having directly benefited as a child from the wealth of books and other resources provided by nearby Detroit Public Library branches.

Motivated by our shared appreciation of libraries, the two of us, with support from Knight Foundation, have been working to implement a program aimed at expanding access to library resources in Detroit’s neighborhoods. The program, called the Ideas Box, was originally conceived by Libraries Without Borders, Philippe Starck, and the Alexander Soros Foundation.

Just what is the Ideas Box?

Imagine a portable library replete with not only books, but also Internet access, laptops, e-readers, tablets, video cameras, arts and crafts materials, a television, and a projector. Now imagine those materials being stored in containers that can be packed and unpacked in less than 20 minutes. Finally, imagine being able to access all this at your local rec center, your nearby laundromat, your neighborhood park, and even the lobby of your apartment building.

In the coming weeks, primarily during after-school hours, on weekends, and during vacation, the Ideas Box will travel around Detroit with a team of facilitators and teaching artists, offering supplementary lessons and workshops that align with public school curriculums. Among other things, our programming will emphasize improving children’s literacy, numeracy and digital fluency. The United Way for Southeastern Michigan, Southwest Solutions, and many local educators have played sizable roles in helping us customize the Ideas Box as such.

 Parents and kids with Ideas Box at Detroit Public Library. Courtesy of Libraries Without Borders.

As we move forward, it is our goal to make the Ideas Box a traveling hub of important information for not only children in the city, but Detroit’s residents generally. Each day, we continue to load new resources into the Ideas Box, including Detroit bus schedules, materials from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, and the latest educational programming from innovative organizations such as Code Academy and Spark 101. We look forward to building continuing partnerships with any organizations that share our values to expand access to information.

In the not-too-distant future, we envision there being dozens of Ideas Boxes in Detroit, coupled with a mobile app capable of pointing you to the closest open Ideas Box, community center and public library. Through these resources, we hope to bring to Detroiters the resources we gained so much from as children.

If you are interested in joining us, please reach out. We would love to work with you on bringing our vision to fruition.

Allister Chang can be reached via [email protected]. Richard Tao can be reached via [email protected].

Gear in the Ideas Box includes e-book readers. Courtesy Libraries Without Borders.