March 16, 2018

Creating Creative Spaces | Field Reports

Hamilton Public Library Central Library

Hamilton Public Library Central Library

There was a clear need for collaborative and creative community spaces in the branches of Ontario’s Hamilton Public Library (HPL). We had two objectives: provide customers with the services and technology they couldn’t easily access at home and support the city’s growing arts and innovation community.

Scale and sequence

Our Digital Media Labs (DMLs) started as small-scale pilots at two locations. We looked at our full branch complement for the rollout, taking into consideration the locations, physical spaces, diverse populations, and user needs. Launching these small-scale DMLs allowed us to test the waters and gauge community response before committing to a larger, more permanent space at our Central location. In the end, we chose our Red Hill (in the east) and Terryberry (in the west) branches.

We started out small with the DMLs, then launched our flagship Maker space at Central (our largest and busiest location), and then scaled back again for the 13 (and counting!) branch Maker spaces across our system. This enabled HPL to incorporate valuable lessons learned from the initial rollouts, influencing the direction for both Central’s launch and the subsequent branch Maker spaces. Some were around better software choices, updated guidelines and procedures, more efficient training for staff, and standardized stations across the system. We also rebranded the DMLs to Maker spaces that, depending on size, feature different studios and resources.

All Maker locations have media studios with iMacs equipped with Adobe Creative Suite. The original two sites piloted in 2014, plus one more launched this summer, also feature sound and photo studios with microphones, pianos and drum kits, a green screen room, and cameras.

Timing for the initial rollouts took three months. Planning started in April 2014 with grand openings in July/August. Our flagship Maker space at Central took much longer because it was dependent on a larger renovation of the library’s fourth floor. Our Central Maker space has all the fun features listed above, as well as a Maker Studio with 3-D printers, a vinyl printer/cutter, large-format printing, an embroidery machine, VHS and audiocassette digitization, musical instruments and recording equipment, DSLR cameras, Wacom tablets, and Raspberry Pi. Community partnerships have enabled our Central Maker space to offer everything from programs targeting at-risk youth to live, in-the-round concerts.

Teaming up

The entire process involved many meetings with various stakeholders, such as management, the library board, and our digital technology/Maker space team. There were also visits to nearby libraries that had already launched such spaces to share ideas and best practices.

As with any big organizational change, concerns included staff training, support, and building a knowledge base. The digital tech team went to great lengths to put together reference materials, Q&As, “train the trainer” sessions, and help to launch the technology and programs in each location.

We experienced our share of bumps: adequate training for staff, ensuring the computers/equipment were ready in time and working properly, equipment maintenance (especially for the 3-D printers), soundproofing, proper coverage for stolen or broken items, and customer support expectations. HPL’s Maker spaces have truly been a collaborative effort with many individuals involved who have brought their own expertise to move the concept forward.

Getting the word out

To promote the openings, we leveraged a number of communication channels including social media, internal branch notices, our quarterly What’s Happening program guides, media releases, and pitches to local media. We’re constantly updating the messaging to highlight new openings, services, programs, and technologies at our Maker spaces, though word of mouth remains one of our strongest tools. Our big challenge now is figuring out how to reach nonusers who have no idea about the amazing services libraries have to offer.

Antonella Giancarlo is the Manager of Communications, Hamilton Public Library, Ont., with experience working and volunteering in both the public and private sectors

This article was published in Library Journal. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

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