Maker spaces and 3-D printers
Local libraries lead the way to the future.
By Katie Bowles
Libraries can evoke many images: leather-bound books, rich mahogany, “Anchorman” references. However, libraries don’t often call thoughts of futuristic gadgets, convenience and high-speed technologies to mind. Enter the libraries of Northern Virginia: Not only do these local libraries carry books and other print materials; they also have digital and downloadable content, interactive workshops, early education and educational programs. The systems in Alexandria, Arlington, Fairfax, Loudoun and Prince William Public Libraries all offer current and even futuristic technologies to patrons, often at no cost. Ditch the expensive gadget stores and stop by a local library—you may be surprised by what you find.
In August 1995, the Arlington Public Library system debuted its first Internet PCs for the public thanks to a grant that was shared by only seven other library systems in the entire United States. Other local libraries followed suit soon after with databases, computers, Internet access, audiobooks, e-books and the newer technologies available today. For example, Arlington branches now offer advanced software for endeavors such as audio and video editing and graphic design. Arlington Public Library Public Information Officer Peter Golkin notes that the libraries also strive to include everyone in their new technologies: “The library offers a wide array of technology training classes aimed at everyone from the beginner to those already comfortable with the basics. If you need to know how to use Excel, or if you want to get started on Twitter, we have classes for you. Want to buy an e-reader tablet? We have a class for that. We also offer classes that focus on some of the great digital resources the library offers, such as the very popular online investment site Value Line.”
Neighborhood libraries aren’t content with only having current technologies, either. The Alexandria library system is planning to introduce high-tech products that were once only available in medical laboratories and Ivy League campuses with an upcoming “Maker Space” at its Burke branch, according to Alexandria Library Deputy Director Renee Dipilato. “While all Alexandria libraries offer access to digital content, public-access computers and free wireless connectivity, we are excited at the prospect of transforming portions of our Burke branch into a true maker space. We envision a maker space, computer lab and a digital media lab where customers can actually create content.”
The Alexandria system isn’t alone in its endeavors toward interactive customer projects. The Loudoun County Public Library system offers a book-printing service as well to patrons of its Rust Library in Leesburg. The “Symington Press” is a printer that makes high-quality paperback books in minutes and is available to all. Patrons can print from an online catalog of millions of titles or print out their own creative work, all in a professionally published paperback format. Along with catering to project-minded people in Leesburg, the entire Loudoun system keeps up with the demographics of its visitors. Library heads in Loudoun understand that many county residents are commuters, so they offer an extensive audiobook selection through OneClickdigital, which makes them available on mobile devices.
Northern Virginia libraries also have been able to reach out to new patrons through special events, such as Fairfax County Public Library’s NoVA Mini Maker Faire, which is coming up again March 15, and the 3-D printing road show. During the Mini Maker Faire, Fairfax County worked with local partner Nova Labs to show library visitors projects that they could make on their own, such as the carrot piano, which utilizes electrical currents to create musical notes through carrots. Short-term events like this and the 3-D printing road show, which demonstrated 3-D printing technologies, draw new customers to libraries.
All of these offerings put NoVA ahead in the world of technology, but it’s also important to remember that local libraries work as social hubs and meeting places. The Prince William Public Library System offers free meeting room spaces, library-sponsored book clubs and ESL classes, among other offerings. Libraries have become more than quiet spaces to study and learn; they’re community areas where neighbors can socialize and network.
Libraries in Northern Virginia still offer the content and knowledge that they always have. Rather than solely offering books, however, local branches carry 3-D printers, book-printing stations, interactive classes and technological experts. The communications division manager of Loudoun County Public Library, Mary Frances Forcier, makes an important note about the benefits that libraries bring: “Our guiding principle with technology is that it has to support our core mission: building community through promoting the joy of reading, learning and creating. Libraries have always served that function, and now we’re adapting to fit the new reality of the digital age.” Libraries are trusted sources of information and have always been, but now they’re both bringing new technologies to users and giving the users the know-how to use the technology of the future.