The Do Space Innovation Fellowship helps to create opportunities for local teachers, librarians, and educators to create rapid innovation in Omaha. The fellowships are open to teachers, professors, librarians, library workers, and other educators in the Omaha metro area to help with the exploration of projects related to 3D printing, robotics, and software development. The chosen projects will be designed for local schools, libraries, and learning centers to independently administer.

Applicants engaged directly with the Do Space community while working on their projects. They also collaborated with the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math Initiative (STEM) and the College of Education at the University of Nebraska at Omaha.The 2017 fellowship began in June and ended in July. The chosen Fellows presented their final projects at Do Space in August and we are proud to finally be able to share their work with the Omaha community!

Today we’re excited to introduce Kylie Gumpert, one of the three fellowship finalists. Kylie is a member of AmeriCorps VISTA who works with Delivering Infinite Book Shelves (DIBS). From her work with DIBS, she became aware of some of the barriers that make it difficult to provide books for classrooms. Her project, Book Zeal, is a website for book donors to post what books they have and for book adopters to select which books they need.

What made you realize there was a need for your project in our community?
I know from my work that there are passionate book donors in our community who want to make sure their donation gets into the hands of those who need it most. But, donors also have to do some hunting – not to find books of course, but to find book adopters who fit the bill. Book Zeal hopes to make it easier for donors to do this.  

Educators are usually reimbursed very little for what they purchase throughout the year, and since books can get pricey, teachers often end up purchasing their entire classroom library out of their own pocket. Not only have they put a considerable amount of their money into this, but they also spend some of the little free time they do have hunting down the books they need for their students. There had to be a better way for educators to get these books without having to put so much of their resources and time into it – and while I’m not convinced Book Zeal is the answer, I think it might be a good start to better supporting not only educators but librarians and certain nonprofits as well.

Tell us a little more about your project!
First, donors and adopters need to register. This creates a profile where they can share more about themselves, and it’s also what allows them to connect with each other and sort out how to get books from point A to point B. Adopters also need to register to make their school building, library or office an official Drop Off Site. This ensures donors have a central location to drop books off at.

The website utilizes the Google Books API: this allows donors to simply search for the book they are wanting to donate and then click a donate button. For each book, a donor also specifies the condition and generally which age range or grade it’s most appropriate for. All of this data is stored and then displayed on the Book Adopter page for educators, librarians, and nonprofits to search through.

The Book Adopter page is broken down into Elementary School Books, Middle School Books, and High School Books. Within these categories, books are also organized into what I’m calling Book Stacks: groups of books from the same donor that fall under one of these three main categories.

So, if a donor enters 10 elementary books, all of those would be displayed together in their respective Book Stack. If a first-grade teacher is using the website, they would first click on Elementary Books. Within Elementary Books they would be able to see Book Stacks available for adoption, and they could directly message the donor tied to those books to let them know they wanted to take them in. A donor would then drop those books off at the adopter’s Drop Off Site, knowing their donation was going to someone who really needed it.

What was the most difficult part of developing your project this summer?
I had never coded before, so this was a huge challenge overall. More than anything though, I think the hardest part was how long it took to figure out how to build certain components of the website. It took a ton of research, and sometimes several days of failures before either figuring out how to make something work or realizing that what I was trying to do wasn’t going to work or didn’t make sense to do. It was extremely frustrating, and I have a lot of respect now for people who do this work for a living.

A silver lining, however, was that anytime I was able to make something work, especially if it had taken a long time to figure out, and even when it was the tiniest thing, I would get this sort of childlike excitement that I haven’t felt in a very long time. That feeling always made it worth it.

How has your project changed since the end of the fellowship?
My project took a back burner throughout the end of August and early September, just because of my other work, but I’m back on the bandwagon now that we’ve gotten through the beginning of the school year. During those months, however, I realized that in order for the Adopter side of the site to function, it would be essential for donors to specify which age range their book was for. So that’s new post-fellowship.

I also added some protections to ensure books were being donated with the condition and age range specified, and that donors are including their username before they start adding books – if they didn’t an adopter wouldn’t know whose books they were or how to get in contact.

I’m currently building the Adopter side of the website – right now I’m playing with the best way to display Book Stacks so that the page is easy for people to navigate. I’ve been exploring Google’s Material Components website, which has some really cool libraries you can basically just plug into your code that are great for displaying information more meaningfully. I also want cover art to display along with book titles, authors, ISBN, etc. so I’m figuring out how to use the Google Books API to do that.

How can the public access what you accomplished?
Eventually, I’d like to put together a Facebook page to spread the word and gather feedback and all that good stuff as well.

About Author
Kylie Gumpert, Guest Blogger

Kylie Gumpert is an AmeriCorps VISTA member who works with Delivering Infinite Book Shelves (DIBS), a local, tech-based nonprofit focused on ensuring every kid has the opportunity to take home and read a book every night. From this position, she has learned that educators spend a lot of their own money on books and taking book donations can be an inefficient process.