A $4,200 recording booth, $5,400 worth of movie animation software and two $750 sewing machines. No, it’s not the wish list of a particularly spoiled, artsy kid. It’s a plan for the future of the Dakota County libraries.
The county is looking to join several Twin Cities libraries that have added “maker spaces.” The areas filled with technical equipment for do-it-yourself projects have grown in popularity over the past few years, and are changing libraries’ roles in their communities.
People are visiting libraries less as e-books become more popular, Deputy Library Director Ben Trapskin said. So communities are rethinking how to use the buildings.
“We really want to breathe some new life into what we’re all about,” he said. “This is a good reason for people to come back into the space.”
Ramsey County formally opened one of the spaces this summer at the Maplewood Library. St. Paul Library opened Createch Studio last year. Minneapolis opened its tech center for teens, a maker space at the Central Library, in 2013. So far, most of the facilities have been aimed at kids and teens.
On Wednesday afternoon, the brightly colored room at Maplewood Library was packed with kids playing with iPads, 3-D printers and LED lights. It did not look or sound like a library.
“I know how to do it! Oh my god!” sixth-grader Amier Day exclaimed as he discovered how to layer digital sounds with the GarageBand app.
“Show me how to do it,” Dallas Williams said, leaning over to look at Day’s iPad.
People want to share the excitement of discovery — that’s what drives the maker space movement, said Ken Meyer, a laser engineer with 3M who volunteers at the library. Meyer uses his time at the maker space to tinker with projects, like a device that automatically waters a plant, and to show kids how they work.
Maker spaces expose young people to different types of media and new ideas. It’s an old library goal executed in a new way, said Ali Turner, Hennepin County Library’s assistant services division manager. It also keeps them out of trouble.
“Teens that might have come here and been at a loss for what to do and just hung around, or gotten in small-time trouble or been on Facebook all day, are now much more complexly engaged,” Turner said of the teen tech center in Minneapolis Central Library.
Creating at all ages
For now, the Maplewood maker space is just for youths. But it will soon open for adults to use on Saturday mornings, said librarian Amy Boese.
Meyer said tinkerers like himself will show up to share “weird ideas” and use the different software and 3-D printers.
Adults often have different goals when they use maker spaces, Turner said.
“It’s a DIY mind-set,” she said. “People are just really wanting to understand where things come from.”
While Hennepin County libraries do not have a maker spaces for adults, they have added programming, like a knitting group, to fill that niche, Turner said.
Dakota County, however, plans to open its maker space to the general community. Officials hope users of different generations will learn from each other and help one another figure out how things work, Trapskin said.
The County Board gave initial approval this week to create the space at Wescott Library in Eagan. Eventually the equipment there will be shared with other libraries, Trapskin said.
Equipment and furnishings are expected to cost $55,000 and will be covered by a grant and a donation. The county is still figuring out how to cover future expenses like repairing equipment and training staff, Trapskin said.
Staffing the area will require a balancing act, said Darcy Schatz, who is on the county’s Library Advisory Committee. Employees will need to help run the equipment without sacrificing other services, she said.
But as communities’ needs have changed, Trapskin said libraries have gotten used to shifting staff and resources — like the donation that will help fund Dakota County’s maker space. That money was originally designated for print reference books.