Bringing Maker-Style Garage Tinkering Into the Local Library

Posted by Zachary Slobig

In my elementary school years I and my siblings spent many hours in our local library in Washington D.C. It's where we would wait for my mom or dad between the end of the school day and the end of their work day. Our library was a modest brick building filled with stacks and stacks of books and a few big tables where we would read or do our homework. A stern librarian sat behind a high desk aggressively shushing any chatter. Learning in those walls was solitary and silent and visual.

Libraries—by necessity—are evolving these days. They're no longer just big rooms for storing and lending books. The local library is becoming a inspiration hub and innovation laboratory. Sitting quietly with a book? Sure, that still happens in libraries big and small, but increasingly, libraries are becoming dynamic workshop spaces for creative multimedia learning and doing.

A library in Westport, Connecticut recently unveiled a "MakerSpace"—basically a big noisy workshop—where people will come to learn how to build things right smack in the middle of the main floor. Using the "Maker Bot Replicator," the in-house 3-D printer, library patrons will help Maker-In-Residence Joseph Schott construct two airplanes to suspend from the ceiling of the library.

They'll also be fabricating some of the tools to be used in the space. One library patron recently "printed" a wrench. Projects in Westport will be open sourced and completely community driven. "The idea that we can be creative and do things ourselves and continue the history of American ingenuity is great for this community," says Schott.

The library director took things even a step further by suggesting that the Maker Space could prove to be a viable incubator for inventions that could be taken to market. "We need to thrive in a time when there are no more employers as there once were," said Maxine Bleiweis. "We need a spirit of adventure. We are open to ideas and new thoughts. This space is emblematic of the way we need to be thinking."

Over in Oak Park, Illinois, the local library converted a 9'x13' glass enclosed space just inside the entrance into the "Idea Box"—a rotating monthly interactive installation for creative engagement that appeals to all ages. For National Poetry Month library patrons could write a poem on the walls using magnetized words. Another month, the space became a working studio where painters and sculptors produced work during regular library hours. The current incarnation allows library goers to create their own constellations out of hundreds of LED touch lights fixed in the walls. It's like a pop-up shop of creative surprises. 

A dynamic participatory experience was not what was waiting for me at the local library I grew up with. What kinds of innovations are reshaping your local library? We'd love to know.