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“A custom-created pendant of a local business logo created using the Library 21c laser cutter. Photo courtesy Alyssa Rose.”

New library programs, services, and machines are drawing a different crowd of library members. 

Several Colorado library districts are looking beyond digitizing their content to help them target new potential library members. Often places for community gatherings and engagement, some technology-focused libraries are naturally shifting to offer fully-equipped makerspaces. Technologies such as 3D printing, laser and vinyl cutting, design software, audio and video editing and others are drawing self-motivated individuals looking to learn and create.

“A big part of what we’re trying to support is the small businesses in our community,” says Becca Cruz, manager of the Creative Computer Commons at Library 21c. “That falls into the makerspace. People can create prototypes and then take those with them to use in their businesses.”

A makerspace is a place for people to gather and create things, any kinds of things, usually with technology in some capacity. Library 21c, part of the Pike’s Peak Library District in Colorado Springs, has two makerspaces. One is available for use by anyone and doesn’t require staff supervision, and the other is for creative activities that might have a higher margin for error, involving the use of power tools or 3D printers. 

Alyssa Rose, a product designer for elope, Inc. in Colorado Springs, first heard about Library 21c’s makerspace services on KRCC, a local radio station. As soon as the makerspaces opened in June 2014, Rose says she began using the laser cutter every few weeks, both for personal creative projects and for work.

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“A custom-created “Deathly Hallows” pendant created using the Library 21c laser cutter. Photo courtesy Alyssa Rose.”

“Of the personal stuff I have designed, a lot of it is jewelry, pendants, earrings and stuff that is cut out of wood or acrylic sheet,” Rose says. “I have etched on glass, on journal covers and on cell phone cases, and even the back of a hair brush for a Christmas present for a friend of mine.”

Rose says that once people at work saw what she was able to do for personal use, they realized they could use the same library laser cutter for work projects.

“For work, I used the laser cutter to cut out some prototypes for costume glasses,” Rose says. “I have used it to cut intricate packaging mock-ups that we needed for trade shows and weren’t able to get from the factory in time, and some other samples that we needed to send to customers.”  

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“Interchangeable paper glasses prototypes created for elope, Inc. using the Library 21c laser cutter. Photo courtesy Alyssa Rose.”

Having access to the machines is a barrier for many. Rose’s education in design from the Art Institute in Denver taught her how to use the technology, but she didn’t have her own machines or anywhere to go to use someone else’s. The local makerspaces changed that, but Library 21c’s plans for supporting the community are looking at the bigger picture by offering more than just access. 

“We have a business and entrepreneurial center,” Cruz says. “We have a librarian who meets with people who have small businesses, to help them with strategies, help them use the powerful databases that provide industry-specific information, we have information on business plans and tools people can use for developing their marketing plans.” 

The same librarian also offers classes directed toward small business owners, Cruz says. The Creative Computer Commons, home of the library’s two makerspaces, is run by four librarians who have an interest in learning about new technologies, even if they haven’t been specifically trained for them. Their motivations are driven by community demand. 

“We’ve been trying to see how people want to use the space and what they’re interested in learning, and then trying to respond to that,” Cruz says. “From the very beginning, we’ve all said and understood that we’re going to keep experimenting with policies, procedures, until we get to the point where it’s working well for us and for the patrons. We know that some things might work well for a time and then we’ll change it again.”

Library 21c is currently planning to purchase a larger format laser cutter, something that Rose says she is planning to use. Looking forward, she says there are a few other technologies she’d love to see in a Colorado makerspace. 

“For personal uses, the main things I wish the library would get next are a surger sewing machine and an embroidery machine,” she says. “A [vacuum forming machine] would be lovely too!”

by April Nowicki