Libraries are some of my favorite places, and I know I’m not alone in that sentiment. The obvious reason for that is that they’re full of books, but they’re so much more than that, too. They’re quiet places of respite, while simultaneously being places that embrace community. And the rise of technology hasn’t diminished their relevance at all – quite the opposite, actually. Libraries have always been the first access point to new technology for a lot of people. I can actually remember using the Internet for the first time at my school library, opening up a browser window and not having any idea how to navigate past the library’s home page. That’s kind of laughable to think about now, but how many people had that same experience as their first exposure to the Internet?
Similarly, many people experienced 3D printing for the first time at a library. More and more libraries, both school and community ones, are beginning to offer access to 3D printers – and sometimes full makerspaces. The Kearney Public Library in Nebraska recently added a makerspace as part of its public offerings, and the staff are excited to open it to the community.
“A lot of people won’t have these things in their homes,” said Technology Librarian Beth Rosenthal. “These are things they can use to be creative and make new things. Our goal is to make a place to be creative.”
“Another station will include a machine for saving VHS tapes to a digital format,” Rosenthal said. “We also have a sewing machine that will do embroidery work, a button maker and some fun machines that we thought people might make use of.”
Personally, I think access to a machine that transfers VHS tapes to digital format is a brilliant idea, and one that many people will be thrilled to take advantage of. How many people have old videotapes – of weddings, first birthday parties, championship games, etc. – lying around their houses gathering dust, waiting for the day that their owners finally get around to finding someone who can digitize them? The makerspace gives these people the opportunity to do it themselves – and that’s one of the great purposes of a makerspace: giving people tools to do things and make things for themselves.
“In this society, we mostly just consume,” said Rosenthal. “We hope to see patrons explore and discover. People do that in the library anyway; they are studying and writing and doing things here. This space will take it to another level. We do crafting programs here but this space will be more self sufficient for people. We’ll give them a space to explore. We like to think of the quote by Albert Einstein, ‘Creativity is intelligence having fun.’ We want an outlet for people to explore in a new way.”
On January 10th, people can come to a free open house to explore the makerspace from 4:30 to 7:30 PM. There is currently only one 3D printer, but Rosenthal hopes to get more if there is an enthusiastic response to the first one. Patrons will bring in files of things that they want 3D printed, and staff will handle the actual printing while the patrons watch a live stream online if they choose.
The Kearney library is far from being alone in offering a makerspace, and that’s a wonderful thing. Many people who have gone on to start businesses and do incredible things with 3D printing point to community makerspaces as their first exposure to the technology, so there’s no question that these places are valuable. Just as library access has helped people to find jobs, register to vote, learn to read, manage their taxes, it’s also allowing them to discover and become familiar with some of the most important new technology out there – and there’s no telling where that might lead.
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