Introducing the Public Library Innovation Exchange (PLIX)

Public libraries and the MIT Media Lab are kindred spirits. Together, we hope to design new programs for libraries around the country.

The MIT Media Lab

What is PLIX?

The Public Library Innovation Exchange is a Knight Foundation-funded grant project to build collaborations between Media Lab researchers and public libraries across the U.S. The project has three components:

  • Residency exchanges, where we will match a public library with a Media Lab researcher to work on a project together. Each partner on the team will travel to the other partner’s institution for a brief residency, to allow in-depth work, co-design, and development.
  • A public website, where we will host resources to help libraries implement projects created at the Media Lab. This will include how-to guides and kits targeted specifically to public library implementations.
  • A series of online events and virtual hangouts for librarians and Media Lab researchers, to demo tools and provide a forum for conversation and idea generation. The goal here is to build a community of collaborators across the library and Media Lab worlds.

The project is coordinated by a small team from the Media Lab Learning Initiative and MIT Libraries.

Why pair the Media Lab and libraries?

Here at the Media Lab, we are huge fans of public libraries. They provide far more than books to their visitors, serving as community hubs for social change and innovation. From makerspaces to recording studios to early literacy programs, libraries are working hard to create open, collaborative, community-oriented environments where learning can flourish. If this sounds familiar, it’s because this is also precisely the kind of learning environment the Media Lab aims to be and design for. Researchers here at the Media Lab are creating solutions to challenges that require community input, including preventing tick-borne disease, increasing data literacy, and engaging kids with code.

Many Media Lab projects are already collaborating with libraries to develop tools and gain valuable feedback. For example, Learning Beautiful’s Montessori-inspired toys for teaching children computer science and design principles were tested and implemented in collaboration with Chicago Public Library, ensuring that they are usable and engaging learning materials for libraries’ early childhood programs.

What do we expect from this project?

While many of the projects developed at the Media Lab start off as prototypes, the technologies invented and the products created are made to solve real problems. We hope that building these collaborations will bridge the gap between research output and hands-on community implementation at a greater scale. Ultimately, we would love to see the outputs of Media Lab research implemented in public libraries across the country and thus accessible to the communities who can most benefit from their creation. We also aim to foster a community of collaborative innovation, where librarians and Media Lab researchers regularly work together to identify problems, dream up solutions, and make easy-to-use, sustainable products.

How can you get involved?

Are you a librarian interested in collaborating with the Media Lab or implementing these tools? Get in touch!


by Helen Bailey and Katherine McConachie

This post originally appeared on the MIT Media Lab website.