Leeds Library Connects with Digital Schoolhouse

Author: Liam Garnett

Leading the way in the Digital Schoolhouse Libraries Project 

Over the last decade Leeds has become a hub for digital and the sector now employs over 100,000 people with major companies such as NHS Digital, Channel 4, Sky, BJSS, and many others making the city its home. To ensure those with low digital engagement aren’t left behind, to provide equity of access to tech and skills development, and to inspire next generations, Leeds Libraries has developed a nationally recognised digital programme that supports the computing curriculum, develops people’s digital skills, provides free access to technology and the internet through public PC access, tablet lending and sim gifting, and helps people to self-manage their health and wellbeing.

This digital programme includes a strong creative digital offer which involves Lego Spike clubs for 6 – 8-year-olds, code clubs for 9 – 12-year-olds, building a resource of loanable kits such as micro:bits to improve community access to technology, delivering workshops at local primary and secondary schools, and building partnerships with stakeholders within Leeds and across the region.

A Digital Schoolhouse workshop in action at Leeds Library 
A Digital Schoolhouse workshop in action at Leeds Library 

When we heard that the Digital Schoolhouse initiative was going to incorporate libraries into their project we thought it would be a fantastic chance to enhance our creative digital offer through access to their resources, to make new partnerships within the digital industry, to tap into an experienced and knowledgeable skills base, and to increase opportunities for community engagement with digital. We met with Digital Schoolhouse Community Outreach Officer Mark Ward who talked to us about how the project had worked in schools and what they hoped to achieve in libraries. Going through the resources helped us see how they would work in a library setting, how they could be used to engage audiences in new ways, and how they could be adapted to build on existing activities we had had success with in the past.

During the school holidays we ran our first Digital Schoolhouse events using the Jazzy Jigsaws and Paint by Pixels session plans. This approach to computational thinking through unplugged activities is not something we had used before, and it was interesting to see how our young people engaged with the event. Digital Schoolhouse had loaned us a couple of Nintendo Switches with the game Just Dance installed. We thought this would be an opportunity to partner with Northern Ballet on the Just Dance with an algorithm workshop. Northern Ballet provided a dance instructor to do a warm-up with the children before we moved onto the concept of putting a dance together as an algorithm, before finishing off with playing Just Dance! Ubisoft also provided some swag that we gave out at the end. Both the children and those delivering the workshop thought it a great success.Sh

Showing off some of the Ubisoft swag! 
Showing off some of the Ubisoft swag! 

While attending one of the Digital Schoolhouse’s Ingenuity days, I spoke with a programmer from TT Games in Manchester who mentioned that they have team members who run community outreach. Leeds has a growing video games industry, and I had been interested in the Loopy Video Games workshop from the Schoolhouse resources, so invited TT Games programmers and a secondary school to our Central Library. I adapted the Loopy Games worksheets so I could run it in a shorter time to suit the school. The object of the workshop was for the students to develop a video game from scratch, but from the contacts I had made at the Digital Schoolhouse Ingenuity day they also heard from industry professionals about what it’s like to work in the industry. The students were fully engaged, including a neurodivergent pupil who the school had expressed reservations about bringing along, but he contributed throughout and even spoke at the end in front of the whole class to pitch his idea. Hopefully this workshop inspired the students to see the video games industry as a viable career opportunity.

The next step for us is to develop esports teams in libraries. We have purchased kits now and will be piloting these groups over the next couple of months. Our aim is to have them embedded by Autumn in four libraries around the city. Once we have a regular group we can then start introducing game-making into the sessions using Construct 3 and even hold inter-library competitions! All of this has been made possible by our partnership with Digital Schoolhouse, and we look forward to developing this project over the next year and beyond.