Planning Project

Stop-Motion Animation Library Lab for Youth in Rural California Communities

The Stop-Motion Animation Library Lab (SMALL) is a program targeted towards young library patrons. Implementation of a SMALL will benefit youth of all backgrounds; however, it will especially be fruitful for youth who are from agricultural, rural communities in California, who face inequalities in educational opportunities in science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics (STEAM).

Many youths from such communities like Salinas, Watsonville, and the Central Valley are English Language Learners, from first- and second-generation immigrant families, and/or steeped in historical inequities, and often enrolled in schools with low test scores and free school lunch programs. Young people who fall into such unique types of demographics, face complex challenges in their informational needs, especially in regards to access to science education (Shea, M., & Sandoval, J., 2020). In short, this SMALL program would work well to target youth who do not have ready access to high technology makerspaces and quality school programs in STEAM because of systemic inequities in the California school system and beyond.

(As an educator in these unique communities, I have personally witnessed the gaps in access and education that many students face. I strongly feel that libraries can provide significant supplemental educational programs, like SMALLs, to help ameliorate the inequities that exist for young people, especially in regards to STEAM education.)

It is important to note that this program can run in any library, and anyone can use it. It will enhance a library’s STEAM initiatives and engage participatory services using emerging technology trends. For the purposes of this project, however, special focus will be on this special information community in need of STEAM experiences to bridge the digital divide, so-to-speak and build cultural competence for libraries in rural communities. It would best be placed in a youth area of a library, if available.

Objectives for SMALL:

  • To introduce HiLo approaches to integrate technology trends into libraries with limited resources based on the premise that “cost shouldn’t be a barrier for meaningfully including technology in … creative pursuits” (Shea and Escude, 2019). HiLo is a term which represents the idea that high technology with low cost digital tools can engage patrons “in high-complexity thinking and creating” (Shea and Escude, 2019).
  • To integrate HiLo digital tools to foster STEAM learning in the library, especially for young afterschool users who are underserved in their communities.  
  • To support STEAM experiential learning opportunities, especially for young patrons who do not have access to a makerspaces or robust STEAM programing.

 Community Action

Users: Convince youth library users that by participating in the SMALL they will have fun with storytelling and technology, which will enhance their engagement with STEAM because they deserve to learn high technology skills and produce narrative products for their community that express their creativity. 

Library Organization: Convince youth librarians that a SMALL is a HiLo way to engage students in STEAM applications with a low-barrier entry level for youth and facilitators. 

Useful Resources and Guides

Paley, V. (2004). The classroom as Narrative. Schools: Studies in Education, 1(2), 63-74. doi:10.1086/589211

Gabrielson, C. (2008). Stomp Rockets, Catapults, and Kaleidoscopes: 30+ Amazing Science Projects You Can Build for Less than 1$. Chicago: Chicago Review Press.


Shelley. (2018). What is STEM and STEAM? A guide for parents and educators.

STEAM Powered Family. Retrieved from

Shea, M. and Escude, M. (2019) Stop motion animation: After school educator guide. Funded by the National Science Foundation. Retrieved from

PES. (7 March 2013) Fresh Guacamole: Oscar Nominated Short. Retrieved from

Shea, M., & Sandoval, J. (2020). Using historical and political understanding to design for equity in science education. Science Education, 104(1), 27-49. Doi:10.1002/sce.21555

Watsonville Environmental Workshop. Retrieved on 3 March 2020 from



To engage the diverse community of young patrons in the creation and dissemination of information through trends in emerging technology which foster STEAM skills. To provide inviting spaces, where innovation will be sparked and curiosity ignited. To consider participatory programming opportunities that inspire young people to share creativity and build community.

Life-Long Skill-Building and STEAM benefits of SMALL:

Implementing a SMALL into a library space will foster inquiry based learning, or what Booth (2011) correlates with “Discovery Learning”: “…a problem-based or inquiry-based learning, takes place when students form knowledge by way of inquiry and direct experience” (p. 53). This type of learning is ripe for a library that aims to honor Library 2.0 approaches, as emerging trends engage communities of discovery and collaboration.

A SMALL can provide the emerging technology trend that will create participatory experiences of discovery STEAM principles that include “innovation, creativity, critical thinking, and problem solving” (Shelley, 2018). 

Shea and Escude (2019) contend that “The magic of stop-motion is in how inanimate objects come alive through the manipulation of time, sequence, visual perception and creative storytelling.”


While the library staff and administration would be involved in setting and facilitating the policies, the following recommendations are encouraged:

Freedom of expression and creativity:

Because this project naturally encourages young people to express stories through imagery, there may be causes for concern regarding content expressed. For example, graphic imagery (like violence or pornography) may be of concern. However, Shea and Escude (2019) suggest, for example, that “Using violence in storytelling can also help kids make sense of violence they may have seen, felt or experienced in their own lives and surroundings.” So, be advised that to sensor the expression of this content can close doors to the topics and themes that young people are navigating. Stories with graphic content can lend insight into the information needs of the unique information community of your library users. It is recommended, therefore, that when “disturbing” stories are produced and shared, that librarians and staff see this as an opportunity for discussion, questions, and insight into services that might support young people in their learning development and life-long information needs. Building rapport and collaboration with schools and counseling departments can help to discover ways to address the content that might be of concern. Additionally, if a young person is sharing such content with the wider public, there are many learning opportunities that exist in discussing information literacy.

Films exhibited with participatory programming in mind:

It is important to reflect upon the best practices in how and where students submit their stories to the wider community. There might be an option for students to keep the videos private, but also an option to submit the videos into a dropbox-like collection, which can then be viewed by librarian staff/administrators, to then be used in multimedia facets: videos can play on screens or media displays in a loop in the library or on the library website, videos can be posted to Instagram hashtags, film festival events virtually or physically could help build community, awards can be granted for videos submitted through crowd sourcing, inspiring a creative and competitive edge and the community participates.

 Lab set-up, maintenance, and recommendations:

This project is very flexible regarding materials and energy output of staff. The main efforts will involve setting up the lab workspace and stop-motion stations. I.T. might be involved in the initial technology set-up that the library has to provide. However, technology set up could only be a matter of downloading a free app and making sure camera/phone is attached and functional to a tablet or computer set-up. Since it is simplistic in nature, it is reasonable that staff and/or volunteers can participate in the initial set-up.

It is entirely possible to set-up the workspace in a manner that no staff are needed to facilitate this service after set-up. The first few days/weeks might require some technology or in-person support, but after some time, it is expected that users will help each other. The long-term benefits are valuable in this regard.

For the day-to-day maintenance, staff might want to reinforce the “clean up after yourselves” motto, or they can take a few minutes throughout the day to clean up if necessary. Depending on the age-range aim, middle school students and older are very capable of creating this project on their own (and cleaning up) with just the tools available at the workplace station. Also, young people and caretakers can collaborate in such a project together, and reinforce the clean-up philosophy.

It is possible that users will have questions and want to troubleshoot. This will have to be discussed based on the availability of staff and librarians. An excellent instructional guide from the app itself is very helpful, not to mention the thousands of resources easily found on YouTube and simple Google searches. The troubleshooting can be seen as an information literacy learning opportunity in the making. Many students who are highly engaged often refer to such online support to make their movies more complex, like adding audio, or to fine-tune their editing.

There are plenty of videos also for educators to teach stop motion, which can even be used to convince your staff and administrators about the value of SMALL experiences, like this well polished and sponsored video, focusing on the value of stop-motion in arts education in particular:

When the program starts, it is suggested that a volunteer or a “regular” user sit at the station and make stop-motion and engage with onlookers or young people interested, to encourage getting started. Peer support and collaboration works naturally for this project and is highly encouraged. Participatory service aligns strongly with the SMALL. That being said, there may grow to be “regulars” at the station, or young people who can be determined as “experts,” who could be role models and supporters for other users. Service-learning hours could be fulfilled if such a program were popular afterschool and on weekends. The SMALL provides the perfect opportunity for community building and service learning.

A laminated one sheet list of instructions (see appendix) could be utilized and/or a Libguide, or instructional video could be set up on the computers that will be set up at the stations. In fact, there doesn’t need to be any computers at the stations, given the capability of many students who have mobile devices. However, it is suggested that presuming all young people have access to a cell phone and an app store, especially in the rural, underserved target communities, even though the app is free, might not be practicing cultural competence. Therefore, it is suggested that several computers/laptops, or smart tablets are set up with recording camera capabilities, so that people can access the technology if they don’t choose to or do not own smart phones or tablets.

It is recommended that no new technology needs to be bought. The “stop motion” app is completely free to download and use. If the library so chooses to upgrade the app, after some time in seeing successful creation and depending on patron engagement, staff and administrators might decide to invest in the upgrade, which is $4.99 per computer. It is an inexpensive upgrade: Less then $20 if it were to be upgraded on 4 computers at the station.

Materials and Tools:

The materials to make the videos can be upcycled, reused, and acquired by a donation drive, or thrift store purchases. It can be a fun challenge to meet a zero-dollar goal as far as materials are concerned. The possibilities are endless, and a simple inventory of what the library already has material-wise can get it started. Young people can bring in their own materials as the program takes off. Some suggestions include:

  • construction paper or recycled paper from the library
  • paper fasteners (if desired) to allow students to make joints for character movements. See image.
  • pre-cut characters (can be re-used and shared and/or created with craft cutter)
  • pens/crayons/pencils
  • scissors
  • pattern blocks
  • action figures
  • legos
  • playdough/craft clay
From Shea and Escude (2019)

More complex materials:

*craft cutter (vinyl and paper) and computer: if already available a craft cutter at the station can be a great way for students to produce images for motion stop. The cutter saves time in cutting and allows students to access this emerging technology tool. It also might be considered, that if the program gains momentum and is in high demand that a craft/vinyl cutter be purchased (they are around $150 and exemplify the HiLo approach).

Animation stages/rigs (see Instructables for further resources) can be prebuilt, like this one:

Raspberry Pi Stop-Motion Animation Rig
Raspberry Pi Stop-Motion Animation Rig

But a phone or tablet can be wedged between library books to keep the camera still while setting up the images.

The Watsonville Environmental Science Workshop Coordinator, Darren Gertler, came up with the following HiLo Rig:

Movies can be captured in dynamic ways which allow for no cost or little cost: with a rig where the phone or camera faces down. On a table top where the camera from a computer can be adjusted downwards, with a camera facing a stage backdrop. It is suggested that different set ups are at the table, and encouraged that young users get creative with how they want to shoot. It is part of the learning process and takes STEAM thinking to set up and produce.

Tablet Stand
Top: Stage background shot
Bottom: Ariel shot
From Shea and Escude (2019)

Planning and Time

The SMALL can be prototyped as a station with both physical and technological restraints. Because of its flexibility, it can be set up on a table, with limited resources. As you can see, there are several inexpensive rig prototypes that can be used and reused. A library can commit to the HiLo approach and only use what they have to create prototypes (books, soda bottles, and cardboard—all items a library might have on hand) to prop a phone up or build prototypes for the long term.

It is suggested to pilot the program with basics, keep in mind the philosophy behind HiLo. Similarly, Booth (2011) suggests for teaching technology: “There are plenty of costs associated with developing and customizing emerging technologies in an organizational and educational setting, and Free (Libre) Open Source Software (FLOSS) alternatives to fee-based services regularly present themselves as useful alternatives” (p. 65). Booth’s (2011) suggestions also counters Stephen’s (2004) “technolust” obstacles in technology use in libraries. Bottom line: Use the free app and free stuff for initial set-up, until users might want more options and based on evolving information needs.

Furthermore, if the library community wants to practice the HiLo lifestyle, the set-up of a program can be fairly immediate. The library can use what they have, download the app on computers/tablets with cameras, and set up a table and it can get started in a matter of days, even hours. The background decisions and outreach with staff and administrators might take longer. A pilot could ensure a quick set up, and then a re-visitation with staff and administrators might mean further planning and time. Depending on the culture of the library, perhaps, a “do-first, then ask for forgiveness-second” approach is preferable to such a low-risk program.

Staffing and In-Person Program Support

A volunteer/staff member/librarian/administrator might set up the pilot of the program. This might take part of a day’s work for set up. The maintenance of the station can be low, if the station is set up with foresight.

A young person who loves the project is a good target to use as a peer mentor at the station. If young people take to it, leadership and community building skills can be fostered if a young person is asked to be a mentor, especially with a schedule. Furthermore, as previously recommended, service-learning hours can be fulfilled as a station facilitator and stop motion “expert”

Volunteers from any walk of life can help with the station. Even if the volunteer has no training in stop-motion, the troubleshooting and problem solving with users at the table can create a quick experience of training.

Parents/guardians can help younger children.

Technology troubleshooting is likely the most time costly in-person investment upfront, but once the SMALL is implemented at the library, it is only a matter of time that the users will grow accustomed to the program and can likely help any newcomers as the program gains momentum. Thus, there are upfront hours to be invested that will likely subside.

It does not take a degree or special training to facilitate the projects, so any level of staff can commit some time to facilitation. Ideally, the less facilitation by staff the better, because these projects without staff support encourage STEAM skills, problem solving, critical thinking, independent dedication, and confidence building. This is a low stakes entry level kind of skill that can easily be mastered without the in-person help of staff, especially if the technology is well running (the computers work and the cameras work and the app is functional).

It is suggested that samples of stop motion are running somewhere near the station. The Nightmare before Christmas trailer

or Fresh Guacamole: Oscar Nominated Short

can be playing to  provide a context for the project. It also makes the creation accessible because most young people are familiar with animation. A matter of simple explanation can be deduced or explicitly told: animation is a series of pictures taken that trick the eyes into thinking that the objects are moving. About 6 pictures per second make animation.


Because the stop-motion animation videos are products to market themselves as the program runs, the videos submitted to the library can be used for promotions.

Participatory programming offer marketing opportunities, like film festival, or contest, or Instagram and social media sharing opportunities.

Signage, website advertisements, and word-of-mouth are great proponents for encouraging users to use the SMALL. Also, placing the station in the middle of a youth space is ideal, or wherever foot traffic is.

Any censoring of the videos could take some time. Posting rules about posting obscene imagery to help users self-censor their submissions is strongly not recommended. Allow students to create their narratives and use the products as signals to any further support needed as earlier suggested. If there is a trend of “disturbing” videos, then librarians and staff can work with schools or social workers with how to move forward. Given the understanding that some themes that young people will create will be reflective of the culture we live in, as Shea and Escude suggest (2019).


  • The videos themselves serve as evidence of innovation.
  • Quality and quaintly can help provide metrics.
  • Community judging of videos can help to self-evaluate.
  • Users can provide verbal or survey feedback of how it is working for them and what their needs are going forward.
  • The video collection can become an archive, or a means to evaluation. It can be run on social media and evaluated by the community as such. Librarians do not need to be the judges.


 (Laminated One Page Instructions for SMALL stations)

Simple Instructions for Stop Motion (Can be in various languages spoken in community)

Stop Motion: a series of pictures that are combined to create animation.

  1. Download Stop motion on your phone or open on library computer. “?” button will guide the editing and design process.
  2. Design set backdrop/background
  3. Arrange action figures/shapes/dolls/playdoh, etc.
  4. Take picture
  5. Slightly move objects to create the animation
  6. Take picture and repeat.
  7. Consider include credits page as one image before or after movie (your name/s title of movie, etc.)
  8. View movie and edit as needed.
  9. Add sound and design filters if desired.
  10. Identify the title of the video (include your name/avatar if desired) and export video to the library Dropbox (or Instagram, etc.)


  • Avoid using dialogue or words
  • Camera needs to be still and in the same place.
  • Typical movies are 6 frames per second. For example, if you want a 10 second clip you need 60 pictures.
  • Instructional manual is within the app for questions, troubleshooting or more complex design options.

3 Thoughts.

  1. I love this! Great way to allow youths to be creative in a non-restrictive, sensitive environment and teach them STEAM skills. I’ve seen set-ups like this at San Francisco participatory museums and always love playing with them myself, and I’m a huge kid 🙂

    • Thanks Lain,
      I hear such wonderful things about SF programming, I can’t wait to check them out when I visit next. Just heard that the SF libraries are offering themselves as day care facilities for low income families and health care working parents.
      Best regards,

  2. This is an awesome way to get library users engaged in storytelling. I would have loved participating in a program like this when I was a kid (as an adult, too!)
    I also enjoyed the “Fresh Guacamole” video example you used — very cool!

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