Taking Literature to the Next Level

Tech & Creation | 7-minute read
By Brandon Lafving
April 13, 2018
A lot of people think of books and mobile devices as very different things. You sit for hours in front of a book, you browse Instagram inattentively, or maybe you “like” a few fuzzy cat pictures on your iPhone. The two couldn’t possibly be more different.
But we don’t see it that way at Sacramento Public Library. We think information technology takes literature to the next level, making high-quality media easy to duplicate, disseminating information across the world in the blink of an eye, allowing readers to participate inside an evolving storyline. Digital technology changes what we think of as writing and reading, ink and pixels, but it only enhances the experience.
We are incredibly excited to have Chris Durr aboard because he is helping to enhance the digital reading experience of the Sacramento community. We will come back to some of Chris’s current activities with video game workshops and more later, but first you need to hear the unlikely story about how Chris became a librarian.
It all started with a home that had no books.
Chris Durr discovers reading
“I think that having that broader perspective of the world is profoundly important, regardless of your birth, regardless of the circumstances you are born into. The tools that enable us to see further than the world right in front of our faces are abundant — kids just need access and someone who can teach them, just like I did.
Librarian Chris Durr 
“The first few years of my life were spent in Stockton, California, where I attended a school called Cleveland Elementary School. I actually did not get a lot of schooling between kindergarten and the second grade. Life was unstable, and my mom was running away from some things. Eventually we moved up to Humboldt County.
“My mother’s house had no books, not a single bookshelf, no leaflets whatsoever. But my father had developed a serious reading habit. So whenever I visited him up in Oregon, he would send my brother and I to the library to get books.
“I was a pretty bright kid, but I was more or less a non-reader at that point because schooling had been so infrequent. I was, however, completely obsessed with cats. And the library, it turned out, had these eyewitness books about the furry, four-legged objects of my obsession. I would open these books, knowing they had all of this incredible information that I was dying to know, but I just couldn’t get that info. So I had to rely heavily on my older brother to help me learn how to do that.
“That’s where my path toward literacy began, at the library. 
“Later, I became involved in a lot of state-funded support services for kids whose parents hadn’t attended college. One was called Upward Bound, part of TRIO. That program helped to expose me to college campuses, and later, navigate all the hurdles to get into university. Those resources were very influential on me, and without them, I doubt I would have made it to college.
“After I finished university, I wanted to give back. I participated in Teach for America before going on to receive a master’s in information science and learning technologies.
“Now I work at Sacramento Public Library with kids and teens to help them learn skills related to technology, general literacy and information literacy. As my tenure here continues, my understanding of communication, and all of the modern tools and skills we need to use to do that, evolves and expands. It is such an exciting time to be alive.
“I think that having a broader perspective of the world is profoundly important, regardless of your birth, regardless of the circumstances you were born into. The tools that enable us to see further than the world right in front of our faces are abundant — kids just need access and someone who can teach them, just like I did.”
Video game production workshops
The idea, the Prime Directive, is not just about developing confidence, skillsets, or fluency with programming languages — it’s to give kids a leg up."

Here at the Library, Chris gives kids that extra progressive education that provides true access to reading. We prize his work because, these days, digital literacy begins with reading, but it also takes much more than that to understand the Internet, much less use presentation tools, like PowerPoint, Prezi, WordPress, social media, eBooks, audiobooks, and all the various forms of reading we have at our fingertips today.

Chris plays an integral role in our digital literacy program. In 2017, he taught a classroom in the Sacramento River Delta region how to design video games. Along the way, the kids learned how to use a scrum wall and apply other cutting-edge product management tools, storytelling, coding and more. Administrative staff, teachers, and the entire community really came together to support the effort.  

“The idea, the Prime Directive,” Chris says, “is not just about developing confidence, skillsets, or fluency with programming languages — it’s to give kids a leg up. Before the workshop, many kids didn’t know the difference between a right click and a left click on a mouse, but they were writing IF/THEN scripts of code by the end. That’s a pretty extreme transformation in terms of technological literacy.”

More recently, we expanded the program to Leataata Floyd Elementary School and at other Sacramento Public Library locations, where great relationships with school personnel are allowing kids’ lives to transform.
This is only one of our initiatives that Chris has brought to life.
Participatory storytelling through Twitch Creative
More broadly, Chris has forwarded our digital literacy initiative through real-time, web-based forms of communication. We call the program “Libraries Illuminated” because it is making us more visible and accessible to anyone. Here’s how it works.
Fundamentally, we are updating branch locations with high-speed Internet. But the enhanced speeds allow us to do so much more via public access and programs. Now, you can partake in our programming from home, or the office, anywhere with an Internet connection. Chris is a huge part of this evolution.
Here’s why he’s so excited about it: “In 1990, schools were teaching PowerPoint. It was about preparing people to include visuals, sounds, formatted text, all valuable ways to enhance communication. As we move forward, interactivity is becoming layered on top of those things. You know, when I watch Jeopardy I sometimes shout out the answers. But there are technologies out there that could make it so that Alex Trebek could actually hear me. I could be a part of the show, even as a watcher.”
Chris currently is exploring different ways to use a tool called Twitch Creative to open up Library programs so that anyone can participate, from anywhere.
Twitch is a software layer that was first used by professional gamers to teach amateurs how to improve their play. It uses two video feeds, one to show a live video of the gamer’s face, which is superimposed onto a virtual screen showing the video game. Using Twitch, the pro gamer can play the game and talk about the decisions being made, showing and telling at the same time. Audience questions can be answered. It’s like giving a geometry teacher a chalkboard that can be seen in real-time by a classroom seen across the globe.
More recently Twitch has branched into Twitch Creative, which is the same technology, but applied to any activity. Piano teachers, for instance, use Twitch Creative to show students across the world how to play Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, glass blowers will bring hundreds, virtually of course, into their studios to see and interact as they perform their master craft. The technology is transforming education and communication.
We are proud to be a part of that story. Chris is helping the Library use Twitch Creative to expand its workshops and programming so that anyone can tune in and participate, whether they are at a branch location, at home, or traveling in China. During these programs, we teach participants the logistics and some of the ideas behind the platform, so that they will understand how they might use Twitch Creative as a “listener” or a “speaker” for their favorite activities.
It is truly an exciting time to be a reader, writer, speaker, listener, creator, consumer — no matter who you are, there are exciting new ways to interact, learn and play.