During PLA’s 2016 Conference, several Colorado libraries worked together with some Colorado companies to present the COLab, which provided attendees with the opportunity to experiment with activities, learn about technology, and ask questions of people involved in the maker movement.
The libraries involved consisted of Arapahoe Library District, Broomfield Library- Mamie Doud Eisenhower, Colorado State Library, Denver Public Library, Loveland Public Library, and Pikes Peak Library District. Participating companies were IT-Works, SketchUp, and SparkFun. The COLab evolved from ALA’s 2015 Midwinter in Chicago where Denver Public Library and SparkFun worked together to do a smaller version of a COLab-like event and saw potential for growth. Denver Public Library’s Cody Yantis said, “With PLA in Denver, we realized we could go big and showcase some of the cool stuff Colorado libraries and businesses are up to.”
During session breaks, the space was hopping as conference attendees took advantage of a variety of activities, including 3D modeling and printing demos, Fruit Mario, button-making, soldering, sewing, yarn-spinning, robots, circuitry, and mini-catapults, as well as talking with other library workers about their maker programs. IT-Works’ president, Jamie Leben, stated that they wanted to be involved because “[i]t was a great opportunity to interact with attendees by providing an interesting activity that was new to many of them, rather than just a ‘sales’ interaction typical of a trade show booth.” From a library view, Amber Holmes from Loveland said, “I was so excited to share how Colorado technologies are being used in Colorado libraries. Our partnerships with local robotics, circuitry, and 3D printing companies have greatly increased the services we provide to youth and their families. Many of these technologies aren’t financially accessible for individual ownership within our service population, so the library acts as an access point for instruction and use. It’s incredible to see the level of creativity and collaboration that results from these partnerships!”
After the event, I asked some COLab staffers if anything surprised them. Yantis stated, “I was confident that we’d be well received, but I had no idea how slammed we would be. Also, I was really pleased at how many of the people I visited with mentioned that COLab was a really cool and useful resource.” SketchUp for Education’s program coordinator Chris Brashar said, “The sheer amount of companies that support the industry was a shock. More contextually, the amount of librarians that are passionate about expanding the role of their library as a conduit to tech education. Most of the librarians I met were advocating for makerlabs of their own [sic].”
When asked about interactions with attendees, Nick Taylor, supervisor, Tech Experience, from Arapahoe Library District said, “Attendees were super positive! They were impressed by Colorado library offerings and we had lots of opportunities to hear about other library makerspaces and initiatives. On the day we were there, my employee Matilda sat people down at the table to make sewn LED bracelets, and they were enamored.”
I was able to assist when Pikes Peak Library District helped staff the space. My entire time there reminded me of why I love working in libraries—the free sharing of information and ideas, asking a colleague questions about what he/she does and how, and experimenting with something new!