Readers and learners already call the Ottawa Public Library home. This spring, the library is hoping to attract a new breed of patron to its Centrepointe branch: makers.
In what’s now an nearly empty storage room tucked next to the teen zone, the library is building a modern fabrication centre as a space for people to learn – and put into action – skills that until recently were restricted to large manufacturers.
The makerspace will be the first of its kind in Ottawa and follows a trend of libraries evolving to include hands-on learning centres and high-tech equipment.
The space won’t be open until late this spring, but it will boast a 3D printer, video-editing equipment and a laser cutter, among other tools. At times, the makerspace would host workshops or training sessions, while at other times it would be open with supervision for people who want to tinker, said Ottawa Public Library chief executive officer Danielle McDonald.
“It’s really about learning a different way,” she said. “The library should have a greater role in teaching and collaboration.”
In the last decade or so, a community of “makers” has sprung up who use new tools like three-dimensional printers and laser cutters to produce anything from small art sculptures to missing parts to fix everyday gadgets used in the home.
“There is something that appeals to people at a really profound level and that’s to make something with your own hands,” said Luc Lalande, a local maker who has become involved with advising the public library as it develops its makerspace.
“It’s taking back control of making things – not just buying things and consuming things,” he said.
“It’s quite innovative for the library to do something like this,” Lalande said. “Institutions can be pretty resistant to change.”
Lalande says he wants to help out because he has a soft spot for re-engaging the community with the physical library.
“People are disengaged from the library,” he said. “Libraries are large and they’re community hubs,” he said. “It’s a place where people come to learn and not to be restricted.”
Another local maker, Jeff Ross, agreed.
“When you’re talking about the library … it’s open and accessible to the community, it’s a place where you learn new things and it’s a place to share knowledge and pass it along,” he said. “There is a natural affinity (to the maker movement), I think.”
Ross has attended workshops on setting up makerspaces and has been involved with advising the library on its project.
The movement has been growing in Ottawa, Ross said. A Mini-Maker Faire started up in 2010 with a couple hundred enthusiasts in attendance. By 2013, the event had partnered with the Canadian Science and Technology Museum and attracted 4,000 people.
Lalande is hoping the library’s makerspace leads to a proliferation of similar facilities in Ottawa. There is already a similar concept at Art Engine, which operates workshops at Arts Court.
Ross also holds big dreams of starting up a community-based makerspace in Ottawa. He sees the library’s involvement as a positive step because he thinks governments will need to be more involved in setting up or funding makerspaces if they are going to be sustainable learning centres.
Building the space
The makerspace is a one-year pilot project is a partnership with the United States Embassy and its American Corners program, which usually involves setting up a section of American material in foreign libraries. Since Ottawa’s libraries already have American content, McDonald proposed the makerspace idea, and the embassy bought in.
The embassy will provide $58,000 to purchase equipment, tools, and computers and it will pay for room preparation and programming. The library will provide the space and funding for staff to manage and oversee the activities and programs.
As a result of the partnership, the makerspace will be called “Imagine Space – An American Corner.”
The makerspace initiative is an extension of the library’s campaign to understand how users want its services to evolve and what its role should be in the future. Last year, people told the library that they want to learn by doing things during the “Imagine” public outreach campaign, McDonald said.
The library is continuing the discussion with community stakeholders about what the makerspace will look like and how it will function.
“How it is going to look is all brand new,” McDonald said.
Programming in the space will focus on fabrication or prototyping; digital content creation; video, music, photo editing as well as gaming and app creation.
“Programming will be very community and customer driven, and we’re hoping to create a stage upon which local inventors, tinkerers and entrepreneurs can showcase their talents,” said Virginia Madon, a spokesperson for the library.
Staff at the library have been interested in makerspaces and have checked out a couple in the United States, including one in Chicago. But McDonald herself is still learning about the concept, she said.
“At its basic level, it’s an environment where you can come together and learn things,” she said. “It’s learning through doing.”
McDonald said that while all library programs are free, there might be a cost associated with using the makerspace due to the cost of materials.