Bertram Rantin

High-tech touches make for a tantalizing story time

Richland Library has enhanced its storytelling events for youngsters with an experimental robotic story telling room, named the LIT Room, that was constructed by Clemson University. Here, George Shafer, a professor in residence at Clemson, shows students how to control the various sights, sound and motions that help enhance the literacy process.
Richland Library has enhanced its storytelling events for youngsters with an experimental robotic story telling room, named the LIT Room, that was constructed by Clemson University. Here, George Shafer, a professor in residence at Clemson, shows students how to control the various sights, sound and motions that help enhance the literacy process. tdominick@thestate.com

Light, sound and motion are adding a new dimension to story time at Richland Library.

As youngsters embrace the world of books, their adventures are being enhanced by a special sensory area at Richland Library Main in Columbia.

In the LIT room – a play on literature and lighting – some classic library stories are being illuminated with specially programmed movements, light sequences and audio. It’s all designed to bring those stories to life while possibly helping kids remember what they’ve heard.

The roughly 12-f by-14-foot area in the Children’s Room on the library’s first floor provides an interactive space for storytelling with robotic and multimedia elements. The wall and ceiling shapes, along with the lighting and sound effects, can be programmed to create particular themes and elements from a picture book as it is read aloud.

“It’s sort of taking the idea of multisensory learning to several new notches,” said Tony Tallent, the library’s director of literacy and learning.

The room, which opened to the public last month, grew out of a partnership between the library and Clemson University as part of an effort to create an experimental learning space for youngsters that was equal parts high-touch and high-tech.

The two organizations wanted to explore how children's comprehension of picture books is influenced, compared to a traditional story time space, in a multisensory environment.

The project was funded with a National Science Foundation grant and the room is designed by Clemson doctoral student, George Schafer, who is studying architecture.

Schafer said the idea was to build on the way youngsters already learn.

“The way they think about and remember books can be enhanced by a room that has sound and lighting,” he said.

But the specific gains in retention levels remain to be seen, he said.

Earlier this year, the study was performed with a group of second grade students at Caughman Road Elementary in Richland 1, where students were read the same stories in traditional reading rooms and the LIT room. Students in both groups were asked to recall the stories they heard to determine whether there was a significant difference in memory.

The results of that study are not yet final, Schafer said.

But what was clear during Monday’s outing was that the youngsters were strongly engaged as library staff shared stories from books, mixed with effects from the LIT room.

“It’s one of the things that the kids remember most,” Tallent said. “It comes alive.”

After Monday’s story session, the library’s young visitors got the opportunity to program some of their own sounds, motions and visuals as Schafer helped them select the effects they felt best represented specific emotions.

Some of their observations were telling.

Asked why a blue shade made them suggest sadness, one group member – 6-year-old Ella Speight of Cayce – said “people say that when you are sad you feel blue.”

There just might be something to this LIT room idea.

Tallent thinks so, noting the room is an ideal bridge between traditional learning and the ever-encompassing digital age.

“It’s honoring the book but taking it to a new level,” he said. “They are still looking at the book but looking at the technology. They’re not scared of it. They’re actually pretty delighted by it.”

The LIT room will remain open at least through the end of the year.

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