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Rural Libraries Hosting Movable Makerspaces

The Nebraska Library Commission is using a $531,000 grant to purchase "mobile" maker labs and deploy them in rural communities for five months at a time. Nine libraries have been chosen to host what's being called "Library Innovation Studios." These join 18 other libraries that were previously selected for the same program in 2017.

The Studios project provides a rotating set of makerspaces that contain creative tools like 3D printers, laser cutters and film and photography equipment. The project uses makerspaces hosted by the public libraries to offer participatory learning experiences to local residents. The idea is to stimulate creativity, innovation and the exchange of ideas to promote creativity, learning and inventiveness and facilitate entrepreneurship, local economic development and skills enhancement.

"Nebraska's public libraries are the natural gathering points for people to come together to share materials, knowledge, and experiences," said Nebraska Library Commission Director Rod Wagner, in a statement. "Whether the materials and tools are high tech or low tech, digital or analog, art or science, the focus is to create, invent, tinker, explore and discover using the tools, materials, and knowledge available. Libraries have always been dedicated to community partnership, collaboration, and the free exchange of ideas -- makerspaces are the next step in that progression."

JoAnn McManus, who is the project manager for the program, noted that typically only larger libraries can afford to set up makerspaces. The Library Commission wanted to provide that opportunity for smaller, rural communities. "We are showing small rural communities in Nebraska what a makerspace look like and how the community will react to it," she explained. "They're finding it's much easier to fundraise around bringing in a makerspace in their community when they've already developed interest in it."

The project will conclude in July 2020. Five more libraries will have the opportunity to be added to the rotating list of makerspaces after the final application deadline on March 29.

The grant came from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, which is working on the program with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, the university's own Innovation Studio, Nebraska Extension, the Regional Library Systems and local public libraries.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.

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