Blogger Children and Technology Committee

Retro Tech: How “Old” Technology Helped with a “New” Problem

This fall at the Enoch Pratt Free Library’s Central Library in Baltimore, MD, we welcomed a traveling exhibit of Maurice Sendak’s works. Maurice Sendak, The Memorial Exhibition: 50 Years, 50 Works, 50 Reasons features exactly that, 50 of Sendak’s works spanning his career accompanied by 50 quotes from authors, academics, and celebrities about his art and books.

Our incredible Art Director, Jack Young, immediately got busy finding a way that we could help the exhibit be interactive. While we knew that the artwork was impressive on its own, we wanted to really make Sendak’s seminal book Where the Wild Things Are truly come alive. In Young’s artist’s eye, Max’s bedroom and ship took physical form.

A family explores Max's bedroom come to life. Photo owned by the Enoch Pratt Free Library.
A family explores Max’s bedroom come to life.

The result of all of this is an experience of Sendak’s art: seeing it in person, up close and experiencing it by physically stepping into the art of a beloved children’s book.

And here’s where we ran into what my dear colleague and friend would call a “high class problem”: we started drawing groups of students from schools all around the greater Baltimore area. Lots of them. Sometimes, one hundred kids would descend upon our library unannounced.

That’s when my awesome colleagues (Hi Wesley and Selma!) came up with an idea to do a video introduction to the exhibit. It was something we could show to a large group of students that would frame their visit, but wasn’t dependent on staff. It was more engaging than paper brochures. With the help of our technology guru, Ryan O’Grady, it became a quick reality.

Had we had limitless resources and time, we could have made an app! We could have done a badge-type scavenger hunt that would have connected to other library materials and resources! We could have let kids 3D print their own wild things to take home!

But we didn’t.

Frankly, we couldn’t.

Sometimes, even though we can dream it up, we just can’t do it. Librarians feel a lot of pressure to be sure that we’re keeping up with what’s cutting edge, providing experiences we know we want students to have with technology, and challenging ourselves as professionals to innovate.

And then sometimes, there are one hundred fourth graders staring you in the face and you realize that in this case, really, it’s about the art and bringing books alive for children and families. It’s about sharing an opportunity that might be once in a lifetime.

Opening the door inside of Max's bedroom reveals this fun surprise: Max himself!
Opening the door inside of Max’s bedroom reveals this fun surprise: Max himself!

Here’s my big aha: it’s okay not to make an app. And it’s okay to be okay with it.

So while we didn’t make use of any real 21st century technology, we did make use of what’s becoming a bit “retro” in the land of tech: video. Teachers have been thrilled by this simple introduction to the exhibit, and students sit up and pay attention.

My takeaway from this is to let the content, the intent, the purpose be your guide with technology. Choose what makes sense for your population and your mission. And while you shouldn’t shy away from opportunities to engage with and utilize what is new and cutting edge, don’t forget about those tech resources you have from days past that are still with us, still useful, and might just be the solution to your one hundred student problem.

— Jessica Brown
Children’s Services Coordinator
Enoch Pratt Free Library, Baltimore, MD

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