Nearly an hour east of Cleveland, Madison Public Library sits between its middle school and high school. The town itself sits between nurseries and wineries. The largest township in Ohio’s smallest county, it’s unassuming, even with Exit 212’s newly erected Love’s Travel Shop sign cutting through the Grand River fog.
Yet, in the fall of 2022, Dublin City Library contacted MPL through Facebook. As in, Dublin, Ireland.
Stan the Tech Van is a mobile extension of MPL’s CreateSpace. Acquired last year using Federal American Rescue Plan Act funds from the State Library of Ohio, MPL purchased Stan from a local Dodge dealer to haul and host 3D printers, laser engravers, a 3D scanner, Lego Robotics STEM lab, Cricut machine, vinyl cutter and more for library events within the community.
The News-Herald covered Stan’s ribbon cutting in Madison’s square last August, which in turn caught the eyes of Ireland.
“The reason they sought us out is because they couldn’t find anything that seemed to match what we were doing,” says Walsh.
Stan’s addition to MPL’s “Library of Things,” which includes hot spots, a popcorn machine, coolers and even driver’s test practice cones, is but another means with which MPL seeks to serve the interests of all community members.
Once occupied by a fish tank and row of CRT monitors, MPL began converting its south wing into a CreateSpace in 2017. The space included a button maker, rapid paper-cutting machine and laminator. Then a heat press, laser and 3D printer. Today, MPL has a total of 19 machines. More are on the way thanks to a $250,000 Libraries Accelerating Learning Grant from the Ohio Department of Education awarded in December 2022 (think UV printers, fiber printers and a robot garden).
Madison High School graduates Charley Barnicoat and Colten Hager work with the SLA 3D printer, courtesy Madison Public Library
Other local libraries have assumed the mantle, embracing technology hubs and enhancing maker communities, regardless if they are rural residents, who need the tech brought to them, or underserved urban populations.
“Nothing we are doing is any different than what libraries have historically done with books,” Walsh says. “We are above and beyond just books. We are empowering people to become more.”
Matt Skvasik, Cuyahoga County Public Library’s innovation programming specialist, agrees.
“It’s no different than connecting [a patron] with that book about entrepreneurship,” says Skvasik. “It’s all a tool.”
In 2016, CCPL’s first Innovation Centers opened in Garfield Heights, Parma-Snow and Mayfield. After attending a 35–45-minute orientation about the devices, patrons aged 18 years and up are free to use them. (The lasers, embroidery and CNC Rotary machines require their own additional basics course, which is also free and provided monthly by the library.) Rudimentary supplies can be purchased from the library, but users are encouraged to bring their own materials.
“It’s not uncommon to see somebody using an embroidery machine and coming in with 20 ball caps or big pieces of wood or acrylic. It used to be weird, but it’s what we do now,” says Skvasik.
Skvasik says their most popular offering is access to Adobe Cloud.
In 2022 nearly 4,400 patrons used CCPL’s Innovation Centers. Skvasik concedes that it has been a slow build since the COVID-19 pandemic put a temporary halt on services (in 2019 about 3,500 used the Garfield Heights Innovation Center alone), but regrowth has remained steady.
Cleveland Public Library’s TechCentral is another maker space that’s bouncing back post-2020.
CCPL offers recording studio services for ages 11 and up, courtesy Roger Mastroianni
TechCentral first opened with more than 90 computers in 2012. By 2014, it had reopened with a vinyl cutter, laser engraver, 3D printer and recording studio with instruments.
(CCPL also has recording studios for ages 11 and up at their Garfield Heights, South Euclid, Strongsville and Warrensville locations.)
Unlike CCPL, CPL doesn’t require a class beforehand. While staff members are available to assist, says TechCentral Manager Suzi Perez, “it is predominantly a do-it-yourself space.”
This summer, Perez looks forward to introducing a Cricut machine and 3D scanners to the throng. She sees the instruments returning from their COVID-19 hiatus by fall 2023.
“The future is bright. We have a lot of ideas of things that we want to make available. But everyone’s going to have to be on the lookout for new tech,” says Perez.
CCPL is expanding graciously. By spring, the library will add two new Innovation Centers in Fairview Park and Warrensville Heights.
“[In Warrensville Heights] there’s been large interests and community groups around quilting, sewing, things like that. So it’s going to take a textile focus, which is something we haven’t done before,” Skvasik says.
Next year will be the big one: following CCPL’s Solon location upgrade, their new Brooklyn branch will open -- with ground breaking this year.
And, if you feel like traveling there, Walsh says Dublin City Library hopes to have their own Stan running by 2024, too.
Courtesy Cleveland Public Library
While CPL has packed their own van, or mobile maker space, with a 3D printer, mobile engraver and button maker to attend community events like Edgewater LIVE and IngenuityFest since 2015, Stan remains unique in that the van is not used solely for transport, but houses a lab in its interior.
MPL’s latest grant will cater to students grades 4-12 in Madison Local Schools, focusing on the loss of STEM and STEAM programming during the pandemic. But Walsh wants MPL’s CreateSpace to be a place that encourages everyone to flex creativity and grow, regardless if their focus is on their Etsy business, their stand at the Madison Outdoor Village Market or Rabbit Run Community Arts Association.
And if the library is inaccessible, Stan the Tech Van isn’t.
“It’s funny, people walk in here and go, ‘I didn’t even know this stuff existed.’ Here it is. Come play with it. Come be the next Edison. Come be the next famous Etsy person,” says Walsh.