Chattanooga Public Library – Makerspaces and Walk Up Stations

A number of people were surprised that I was going off the beaten track down to Chattanooga for the last stop of my study tour. However Chattanooga Public Library is led by 2014 Library Journal’s Librarian of the Year, Corinne Hill, who in the past three years, with a team of hand-picked librarians from around the States, has turned the library’s fortunes around quite dramatically. Corinne was brought in as Executive Director in 2012 following an independent consultant report which deemed the library to be failing and irrelevant. Chattanooga Public Library is a big space but it does not have the big budget that some of the other libraries I’ve visited have. It is a challenging 1970s concrete building with large open spaces, the floors are reminiscent of aircraft hangers, but by using the space to their advantage Corinne and her leadership team have demonstrated what can be done, providing innovative new spaces with a limited budget. It is still a work in progress and so far most effort has been concentrated on the 4th floor makerspace and the 2nd floor Teens/Tweens and Children’s areas. Much has been written and talked about Chattanooga’s 4th floor and it has been heralded for it’s creative innovation, however it was the 2nd floor Teen/Tween areas that really caught my eye…but I’ll start at the top.

Changes

I met with Corinne Hill and Assistant Director Mary Jane Spehar, they gave me an insight into some of the changes that have taken place in the last couple of years.

The 4th floor is the best known area putting Chattanooga at the forefront of the makerspace movement in libraries but a lot of other changes have taken place. One of the major changes has been the way the library order’s stock, in the past up to 19 people selected the stock, this process has been streamlined, stock is now ordered by two people and new stock is pre-processed. Corinne’s view is that when a book is released it should be available in the library on the same day. If a new book is popular and there are many reservations for it, additional copies are now purchased.

Corinne introduced a patron request system, the premise being that it is cheaper to purchase a paperback book than pay for the cost of staff time and postage for inter-library loans. The promise is that the library will purchase requests that patrons ask for and the patron will be the first person to borrow that book or DVD. It is not a complete carte blanche, the items requested have to fit within the bounds of the collection policy and be available to purchase. Since 2012 there have been 11,000 patron requests. The library is now finding that by adding to their collection in this way, they are purchasing a broader range of materials that are popular with patrons and may not have been chosen by librarians. The process of actively partnering with the community to build the collection is very popular with patrons, patrons feel that the library is listening to them and requests can be turned around within a week.

They have bought into many online services including several for eBooks and eAudio books and an online film streaming service. Very extensive weeding had to take place to make room for the new areas which was quite controversial at the time.

Other changes that took place were investment in customer service training and practices and changes to recruitment. Customer comment cards are placed all around the building for customers to give feedback, every comment is followed up by Mary Jane. Corinne visited an Apple Genius Bar to get her phone fixed and was impressed with the service and staff so she asked Apple for their job description and application form and had them adapted for the library, they then advertised for ‘smart people’. This gave them some new staff who have different skill sets to complement existing staff with library backgrounds.

There has been an institutional cultural shift underway at the Chattanooga Public Library, not all staff have reacted well to the changes that have been made but the process is ongoing and Corinne believes that to create institutional change takes five years. A forthcoming staff day training will be used to highlight to all staff the different activities that happen on the 2nd and the 4th floor.

imageimage

4th Floor

I was shown around the 4th floor makerspace by Mary Barnett (4th floor operations) and Elizabeth Gaffney (assistant). The floor had been used as a storage space prior to Corinne’s arrival, it was completely cleared and now offers 12,000 square feet of public laboratory and educational space.  After trying various hours and days they decided that the best times for the floor to be open are Tuesdays to Saturdays 2-8pm.  The space is staffed by three part-time assistants, it is often single staffed and occasionally double staffed.  The mantra on the 4th floor is that the library is there to facilitate, it is all about self-directed learning, the staff are learning too so won’t do the work for people but can help if needed, the ethos is to allow people to learn themselves. Originally the floor was designed to be a conduit for people to be self-organised, however they are now trying to start some introductory workshops to help people get started in the space. Where possible they ask people in the community to come and share some of their skills rather than relying on staff to learn enough to teach. The focus of the 4th floor is to support production, connection and sharing of knowledge by providing access to tools, facilities and space.

The most popular item on the 4th floor is the 3D printer, the filament is charged at cost ($0.06 per gram) so most items printed cost no more than about $1.50.  Other popular items include a zine making area – essentially cutting, sticking and folding to make small magazines. There is also a fabric making area with a loom and sewing machine, a vinyl plotter and a laser cutter as well as an area with traditional tools.

The floor also houses the GigLab, Chattanooga is the Gig City, one Gigabit per second internet speed is available to every household and business in the city by super-fast fibre optic broadband. The GigLab offers one Gigabit of connectivity throughout the library and through the WiFi, it also offers a 4K extremely high definition screen, an audio visual streaming system and virtual servers. Popular recent additions are two Oculus Rift headsets enabling virtual reality gaming.

Th vast 4th floor space

The vast 4th floor space

3D printer

3D printer

Zine making area - popular cutting and sticking

Zine making area – popular cutting and sticking

traditional tools

Traditional tools

Gig Lab

GigLab

Virtual Reality in the GigLab space

Virtual Reality in the GigLab space

Sewing and weaving area

Sewing and weaving area

Seating and meeting area

Seating and meeting area

3rd Floor

The 3rd floor has more of a traditional library feel and houses the genealogy and local history collections as well as a computer suite dedicated to local studies and family history databases.

imageimage

2nd Floor

Teens and Tweens area

The Teens and Tweens area covers over half of the second floor, it used to be the adult non-fiction area but in the last couple of years it has been completely cleared out. Now there are Chromebooks for teens to use in the library and there is no enquiry desk, there are usually one to two members of staff who floorwalk and the space is filled with lots of interesting ever-changing things for teens to do.

Megan Emery is a librarian based on the 2nd floor, she designs the programming for the teen and tween department and also the programming for the 4th floor makerspace. She is currently focusing on parallel programming ideas between the 2nd and 4th floors, making the 4th floor more family orientated and a natural progression for young adults from the teen area. This will enable trips to the library to become a greater whole family experience.

Megan has worked on Etsy’s Entrepreneurship Program for libraries, with her knowledge from this programme she has developed a weekly Saturday teen camp called Camp EtsyNooga, it runs over five weeks and is aimed at helping teens start their own small creative businesses. The teens need to come along with a product that they have made or designed and sessions concentrate on helping them with pricing, replicating their product and marketing. At the end of the camp they attend and sell their products at a craft fair.

The 2nd floor has an interesting range of walk up program stations, these are not operated by staff and again the focus is on self-directed learning. Through a series of focus groups they asked teens and tweens what they would like to see in the space, so the programming is developed with the users’ input.  The stations include a gaming area, Minecraft stations, a MaKey MaKey station (currently glasses of water linked to making music on a Chromebook), science experiments, Spirograph, a tracing table, button badge making and an iPad Instagram photo booth. There are also areas for theatre, art and a big screen for weekend movies. One of the programmes that was on while I was there, which really appealed, was “Let’s take things apart”, old electronic devices that no longer work, e.g laptops, VHS machines, radios etc., are donated to the library and the teens can spend an hour taking them apart. The programme an hour later is “Let’s put things together” here teens and tweens spend an hour making new weird and wonderful things from the items they’ve taken apart in the previous session.

Programming on the 2nd floor is extensive with multiple activities each day, many of them are advertised in the events pages but many are just put on at short notice if teens want them and there are always a range of walk up stations.

There is also of course a book area and some staff recommendations to help teens decided what to read. The manga and graphic novels are particularly popular. Teens are encouraged to sit back and read for 20 minutes if they are spending time on the gaming station and want to change a game.

Megan operates a teen volunteer programme where she has about 180 teens and tweens who help out. There are no set roles and no set times. It is very flexible, they can turn up and there is always an ongoing list of (real) things to do which maybe about developing programmes, designing craft areas, art projects, helping on walk up stations. Volunteers are initially trained to do pop-up programmes, take statistics, engage with patrons. Some experienced teens also provide peer to peer learning, teaching and supporting new volunteers. Over 800 hours were donated in August alone.

Daily programmes

Daily programmes

Gaming area

Gaming area

Minecraft stations

Minecraft stations

I have a go at Makey Makey - walk up music from science activity

I have a go at MaKey MaKey – walk up music from science activity

Makey Makey

Makey Makey

STEM programing

STEM programing

Spirograph table

Spirograph table

Lightbox tracing station

Lightbox tracing station

Button badge making

Button badge making

Instagram photo booth using an iPad in a box

Instagram photo booth using an iPad in a box

Megan shows me the Big Screen

Megan shows me the Big Screen

Make your own floor board game

Make your own floor board game

And some books!

And some books!

Teen staff top picks

Teen staff top picks

Children’s Library

I was shown around the Children’s area by Lee Hope, Youth Services Coordinator. This area had been rows and rows of shelving with no seating, it is now an open space where children and their carers want to spend time. Similarly to the Teen and Tween area there are lots of walk up programme stations, fun things for children to do based on STEAM learning (STEM plus the arts). These include Lego and Duplo tables, sensory pods, hopscotch taped on the floor, postcard writing, a dressing up area  and magnet letters. Story times take place in a separate children’s events room and it was interesting to hear that they also deliver a regular sensory story time, they find these are particularly good for children with autism as well as visually impaired or deaf children.

Children's Library

Children’s Library

Sensory pods

Sensory pods

Hopscotch in the library

Hopscotch in the library

Felt table

Felt table

Write a postcard to your favourite book character

Write a postcard to your favourite book character

Making puppets with paper plates and crayons

Making puppets with paper plates and crayons

Magnet letter board using roasting tins

Magnet letter board using roasting tins

image

1st Floor

The entrance of the library combines a coffee shop with the circulation desk, all circulation staff make coffee as well. It is aptly named ‘Circulation and Percolation’. The coffee shop breaks even, it is not there to raise funds but provides an additional service to customers. The rest of the 1st floor houses the adult fiction, non-fiction, 20 public computers, magazines, DVDs and audio books.

Coffee shop entrance

Coffee shop entrance

imageimage

Adult fiction

Adult fiction

I’d like to thank everyone at Chattanooga Public Library for their time and the information they shared. There are many inspiring ideas here that can easily be adapted to suit other libraries.

Plane tickets booked – Library appointments made

CILIP and the ESU have issued a press release on this year’s Travelling Librarian Award so it’s a good time to give an update on my tour plans – plenty has happened in the last few weeks.

I have now managed to arrange my dates and meetings with the libraries I plan to visit and my plane tickets are all booked. I have decided to fly from Bristol via Amsterdam to Boston. Although this makes the travel time slightly longer it is far more convenient for me than flying from Heathrow and was significantly cheaper.

I will be arriving in Boston on the evening of Saturday 19th September, this will give me a day to look around and then I will be visiting the Central Library on Monday 21st September where my contact is Michael Colford, Director of  Library Services. The Central Library in Copley Square has been undergoing a major renovation project which includes a new teen area called Teen Central  – here’s a taster from The Library as Incubator Project and the Library Journal

From Boston I will be travelling by Megabus (bargain $5 ticket) to Hartford. Hartford Public Library is one of the LTC cohort. My contact here is Matt Poland CEO of Hartford Public Library. He has recently announced that he will be leaving at the end of the year but hopefully not before September. Here is Matt talking about some of the library’s community engagement projects.

Joining me in Hartford will be Erica Freudenberger, Library Director at Red Hook Public Library which is also one of the LTC cohort. From Hartford I will travel with Erica to Red Hook and the Hudson Valley. Erica has very kindly offered to put me up for a few days at her house in Catskill, she tells me that it is a perfect time to visit the Hudson Valley as it will be the fall, the leaves will be changing making it incredibly spectacular. Red Hook Public Library has been given five star status by the Library Journal and was also named as the first finalist for the 2015 Best Small Library in America Award, given by Library Journal and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. You can read more about this amazing small library and their engagement projects here. Erica is also arranging for me to give a talk to the Mid-Hudson Library System of 66 member libraries. It will be exciting to share information about our own library service, volunteers, community and outreach projects with colleagues overseas. While I am in the Hudson Valley I hope to look round some other local libraries as well.

From The Hudson Valley I will travel by train to New York. On 28th September I will be meeting up with Michelle Misner, Acting Director at the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, the main branch library for New York Public Library. Michelle has arranged for me to meet with Carolyn Broomhead (Research Community Manager), Maura Muller (Volunteer Manager) and Susan Rabbiner (Assistant Director of Exhibitions), she has also put aside some time to give me a tour of the building to see their work in action. On 29th September I will be visiting the Bronx Library Center and meeting Chief Librarian Michael Alvarez. Whilst in New York I also hope to drop in on the Andrew Heiskell Braille and Talking Book Library and the Mid-Manhattan Library.

The next part of the tour takes me to Philadelphia. My contact at the Free Library of Philadelphia is Donald Root who is Chief of Central Public Services Division. The Free Library is undergoing a transformational initiative called Building Inspiration: 21st Century LibrariesNew areas include Central Senior Services designed to serve Philadelphia’s growing population of older people.

From Philadelphia I will travel by train to Washington DC. I will be meeting Kim Zablud, Assistant Director of Public Services at DC Public Library. We will be touring round Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library (Central Library), I’m particularly interested to see the new “Labs” and Kim has also arranged for me to visit some of the branch libraries. I have a weekend in Washington so hope to make some time for some tourist activities and also take a public tour of the Library of Congress – can’t really go all the way there and not do that!

The last leg of the study tour will see me flying to Chattanooga on 6th October. There are lots of exciting things happening at Chattanooga Public Library. There’s The 4th Floor, Camp Etsynooga and Makeanooga for starters. Maker spaces, community collaboration, knowledge sharing and the sharing economy have become the order of the day at the Downtown Library.  I hope to spend some time with Executive Director Corinne Hill, Library Journal’s 2014 Librarian of the Year who has been re-inventing the public library. My contact is Mary Barnett, Public Relations Coordinator and 4th Floor Ops, Mary is also making arrangements for me to meet with community partners and key staff during my visit.

The next step is to arrange accommodation. As most of the libraries I’m visiting are in city centre locations the nearby hotels are quite pricey for a long trip. Wherever possible I’m going to look for AirBnB, this will give me a great opportunity to stay with people and find out more about local areas.