If you have the outdated idea that libraries are nothing but collections of books, you likely haven’t visited one in awhile. The Chadron Public Library is no exception and later this year will be able to offer even more hands-on activities.
The library was selected to host several makerspace stations through a grant from the Nebraska Library Commission. The $530,732 National Leadership grant to the commission from the Institute of Museum and Library Services allowed 18 libraries to host makerspaces last year. Chadron is one of nine libraries selected in the first award cycle for 2019 and will receive the makerspaces in July. They will remain on site for six months.
The stations, made possible by the Nebraska Innovation Studio, will add to the opportunities the library already offers through classes and the availability of two 3D printers. It will also allow the library and its supporters to explore ideas for future additions to the facility, as current expansion discussions have included a makerspace.
“It will give us the capability to understand what people would like to have on a permanent basis,” said Library Director Rosella Tesch. “I think it’s a great opportunity.”
The grant will provide training for seven individuals, including library staff, volunteers and after-school personnel in May. A $1,000 grant will make it possible for the library to hire a high school or college student on a part-time basis to work with patrons in the makerspace.
“We want to expose students to our profession,” Tesch said.
“This partnership demonstrates how our Nebraska communities can use technology and education to empower community residents to create, learn and invent,” said Gov. Pete Ricketts in a press release. “By expanding the skills of the workforce in our communities, supporting entrepreneurs and encouraging lifelong learning, this partnership reinforces our vibrant business climate and supports community development.”
The makerspace includes six stations and nine mobile kits in total, though the Chadron Library will serve as a temporary home to just four of the stations and six of the mobile kits. An additional 3D printer, a laser cutter, vinyl cutter and embroidery machine are the stations the library will set up, while the mobile kits include the Lego Mindstorms robot kit, a laminator kit, the Arduino Starter kit, which teaches programming skills, the Makey Makey kit, which allows individuals to turn ordinary objects into touchpads and connect them to the internet, and a button maker kit.
“If I have a regret it’s that we don’t have the space for the whole thing,” said Tesch, show saw the entire set up at a conference in Kearney two years ago.
Space issues are why library supporters are working on raising funds for a library expansion. Library staff already have problems keeping items available to patrons full time. The facility’s virtual reality technology, for example, has no dedicated space in the library. Instead Carl Spicher hosts VR programs twice a month on the first and third Tuesdays from 4-6 p.m. for ages 10 and up.
It’s important for the library to stay up-to-date with current technology, Tesch said. One of the library’s 3D printers is only five years old but is already considered a dinosaur in relation to today’s technology. The second 3D printer is quieter, can print two filaments simultaneously and create larger objects than the first, Spicher said. At about a year old it can also handle exotic filaments, such as a plastic mixed with wood fiber that can be sanded down and stained. The U.S. Forest Service worked with the library to create replicas of fossils in copper, stainless steel and rustable iron, which provides weight in a realistic replica students can handle. One patron even made wall spacers, Spicher said.
“It really is for practical purposes,” he said.
Patrons can design their project at home with the Flash Forge software and bring it to the library for printing on an SD card.
“It’s important to expose the kids to this type of technology,” Tesch said. “Eventually this is going to be our lifestyle.”
Exposure to the makerspaces that will arrive in July could even inspire ideas for new businesses, which will be key in rural areas like Chadron in the future, she continued.
“Nebraska’s public libraries are the natural gathering points for people to come together to share materials, knowledge, and experiences,” said Nebraska Library Commission Director Rod Wagner in a press release. “Whether materials and tools are high tech or low tech, digital or analog, art or science, the focus is to create, invent, tinker, explore and discover using the tools, materials and knowledge available. Libraries have always been dedicated to community partnership, collaboration and the free exchange of ideas – makerspaces are the next step in that progression.”