A Space for More Than Shhh! The Community Library of the Future

Is your community library adapting to a modern learning model? Here are 4 libraries leading the evolution.

Back in 1600, when book lending libraries were starting to be established, there was no vision of the 2017 community library.

There was no hint that technology might put the lives of physical, bound books at risk. No one in the 1600s could know people would one day sit in front of glowing screens in order to read poetry, get table-building instructions and learn new languages.

But that is exactly what happened and because of it, many modern public libraries have chosen adaptation over obsolescence. Their adaptation comes in the form of makerspaces.

To clarify, a makerspace is an informal space where members of a community can gather to create with machines and materials that may be difficult for the average individual to obtain. At your modern community library, there may be classes and equipment for making a quilt, a wood carving or a silk-screened apron. Every makerspace is different and generally responds to community interest or need. Many libraries qualify their space as an area for STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics), where people of all ages can pursue their interests through hands-on training.

To get an idea of the evolution happening around the nation, check out four makerspaces that are making the modern community library more interactive and engaging than ever.

1. Anythink: A Revolution of Rangeview Libraries (Adams County, Colorado)

community library

Courtesy of Anythink Wright Farms Library

Anythink libraries are staffed by a group of visionaries. They see people’s passions and turn them into possibilities. Anythink encompasses the transformed library system of all of Adams County, Colorado. What was formerly known as the most underfunded community library system in the state has become a sanctuary for creative production.

In the early phases, it wasn’t just physical buildings that needed a complete overhaul; it was the philosophy, too. Shelves were filled with outdated collections accumulating dust. So the staff reached out to the voters (multiple times) and eventually got a response that resulted in a complete transformation: libraries for the future.

After a positive response from voters and funding from local government, Anythink trained their staff on hospitality. They designed spaces that are warm and welcoming, left the Dewey Decimal System in the past, created a more intuitive organizational system for their book collections and stopped charging overdue fines.

To top off all these advancements, Anythink hires artists in residence to train people of all ages in a multitude of disciplines. The director of innovation and brand strategy, Stacie Ledden, explains that the backbone of this training method is transferring expertise, learning through play and bringing information to life.

It’s no surprise that in a matter of three months Anythink Wright Farms, just one of Rangeview Libraries’ seven branches, registered 10,000 new library cards.

2. Fayetteville Free Library (Fayetteville, New York)

community library

Courtesy of FFL Library

In 2006, Fayetteville Free Library in New York was the first to notice the DIY trend and created the first community library makerspace, where equipment like 3D printers could be used by anyone who learned a computer program and had a library card. With a few years of trial and error under their belt, FFL’s online training tools have become quite comprehensive. Community members can learn more about each program before even stepping into the space.

FFL has a digital creation lab where anyone can drop in to record a podcast, use a green screen or design a website on their computers. Their FFL Fab Lab requires patrons to obtain certification through training on their equipment, and a tech is available to troubleshoot any issues with their sophisticated machinery. Their lab is any tinkerer’s dream, full of sewing machines, knitting supplies, soldering irons, vinyl cutting tools and even baking pans that can be checked out for loan. In this space, any project can be realized.

3. The Collaboratory (Wallingford, Connecticut)

community library

Courtesy of Wallingford Public Library

With already-successful adult and teen programs, the Wallingford Public Library decided to expand its usable space as a collaborative environment for library patrons and community members.

While the Collaboratory was in the planning phases for nearly three years, the physical space was up and running in a matter of months. With a construction grant that covered half the expenses, the former AV section was transformed. The space quickly filled in with new computers, a loom, a laser cutter, recording equipment, a mini greenhouse, handmade upcycled guitars and more DIY equipment.

The idea behind makerspaces is access. What used to be equipment reserved for businesses or manufacturers is now accessible in the heart of community centers like the Wallingford Public Library. As an extension of their self-training philosophy, Wallingford and many other community library makerspaces have enrolled in a Lynda.com subscription so patrons can learn several of the software programs provided in the space.

Janet Flewelling, the head of emerging and creative technologies at the Wallingford Library, explains that there aren’t many places like the public community library, where every person of every age demographic and socioeconomic status is welcome and given the resources to pursue whatever their goals may be.

4. The Guadalupe Branch Library (Guadalupe, Arizona)

community library

Courtesy of Maricopa County Library District / Guadalupe Branch Library

The Guadalupe Branch Library does an impressive job of serving their community of 6,000 residents. Because a large portion of the community is in the Native American Pascua Yaqui Tribe, they provide texts written in Spanish and Yaqui. They have programs that serve every age demographic in their region.

As part of the Maricopa County Library District, the Guadalupe branch noticed that its only public school continuously produced low testing scores. Their overall math and science scores were below the average expectation. The Guadalupe branch decided to take their community library to the next level to bridge the gap and enhance STEAM learning through experiential training.

Their active Facebook page displays pictures of community members’ creations, such as Lego flags and homemade digital pianos, and groups of all ages working on canvases or learning about the inner workings of a sewing machine. As just one example of the opportunities this remarkable community library provides, a young woman named Selena Larios turned her life around through Guadalupe Branch Library’s makerspace photography program.

The library of the future is here. If you’ve never seen one, it will be easy to recognize the difference. While there is still space for quiet reflection, there will most certainly be a corner buzzing with activity and engagement. That corner you see — the one with children welding and grandmothers painting — that’s the library of the future. end


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