Library tinkers with tech

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Proposal would boost capacity for creativity in computer lab

Library officials have proposed an overhaul of the computer lab at North Branch Library to add high-powered computers, software, peripherals and training for more sophisticated users.

Dubbed the Forge, the “maker space” would support creative activities that require technology resources often too costly for individuals to purchase and maintain, and very little of which is publicly available in Denton, according to Trey Ford, a technology librarian at North Branch.

There are some membership-based maker spaces in Austin, Dallas and San Antonio, Ford said. He’s seen select business service stores pilot maker spaces, too.

Public libraries are beginning to offer such services, too, according to Terri Gibbs, Denton’s director of libraries. She toured a new maker space at the Chicago Public Library as part of a professional development conference to see how it works.

Just like library classes that offer computer basics to newbies — which the library will continue to offer in the lab — the maker space will come with classes and support for people who want to learn higher-end skills, Gibbs said.

When people think about libraries, they often think about books, but libraries serve lifelong learning, Gibbs said.

“To stay relevant into the 21st century, libraries need to offer the full spectrum of services,” Gibbs said.

With the overhaul, the library could offer the services people need for sound and music recording and editing, podcasting, video creation and editing and digital art, including comics.

Ford will also offer classes using special educational computers that help people understand hardware and software, so they can work on innovations in computers themselves.

Once trained on the equipment, users could come to the maker space with their designs and output objects on a 3-D printer, too. That capability allows designers to build and test inexpensive prototypes of objects they create, Gibbs said.

The Forge is part of several supplemental spending packages being considered by the City Council for the coming fiscal year. Equipping the maker space is expected to cost about $13,000, including the purchase of the 3-D printer and enough spools of thermoplastic to last about a year.

The classes and the equipment would be available for free to library users, although there would likely be fees for 3-D printing to recoup some of those costs, similar to the nominal charges the library has for making photocopies, Gibbs said.

So far the maker space appears to have City Council support, as well as meeting a community need, Gibbs said. It isn’t that people have asked for specific equipment, but they have been asking for more sophisticated technology resources. Denton is a creative community with unique needs, he said.

“It’s our job to figure it out,” Gibbs said.

Denton Public Library has a survey up on its website, www.dentonlibrary.com, where residents can provide feedback on its services, including the maker space.

Should the council approve the proposal, the library plans to have the equipment in place by January, but Ford will begin offering some classes for higher-end users in October, which aren’t limited to adults. Teens will be able to take the classes, too.

In November, Ford will also offer “Squishy Circuits,” a class that introduces elementary students to computers as they build circuits with modeling dough.

PEGGY HEINKEL-WOLFE can be reached at 940-566-6881 and via Twitter at @phwolfeDRC.


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