by James Rada, Jr.
When much of Carroll County was shut down due to COVID-19, staff with the Carroll County Public Library were hard at work. Although the branches were closed to the public, all the 3-D printers in the system were put to work making parts for face masks that people could use as personal protective equipment. The library printers could make 18 sets a day that were sent to Open Works in Baltimore, where the pieces were sanitized and assembled with pieces that other groups and individuals were manufacturing.
The project allowed the county libraries to do their part to fight COVID-19, but it also showed just how different libraries today are compared to those from 20 years ago. They aren’t the libraries that your grandmother remembers.
Although books remain a popular part of the libraries’ offerings, you now have ways to apply what you read.
“Libraries have always been a center where information is shared. Books are just the start,” said Lisa Picker, director of communications for the library system.
For instance, you can read a book about fish of Maryland and fishing and then check out a fishing rod to see if you can catch a bass or catfish.
Some people can read or hear something and retain it. For others, they need to learn through doing.
Exploration Point at the Eldersburg Branch is a STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, Math) lab where you can learn to use technology. Although geared for younger patrons, anyone is welcome make use of the equipment. The lab offers microscopes, green screens, Lego Mindstorms, drones, 3-D printers, and more with staff who are trained to use them.
If you don’t want to learn but just have fun with technology, you will often find video game tournaments on the calendar of events at several branches.
Picker pointed out that the use of technology in libraries shouldn’t be surprising. Libraries were one of the first places where you could use the Internet because the Gates Foundation funded wiring libraries for Internet access.
“We study trends and rely on the expertise of our staff to decide what to offer at the libraries,” Picker said. “We really work to meet the needs of a specific community. We try to be good neighbors.”
The biggest change coming to the library system will be Exploration Commons at 50 East, currently under construction and planned for opening in June 2021. It will use the 14,000 square feet of basement space under the Westminster branch to offer 3,000 square feet of makerspace, a 1,500-square-foot teaching kitchen, and meeting rooms.
A makerspace is what it sounds like: a place where the tools are available to design, engineer, and fabricate. It is also a place where people can learn to do those things.
“Whether you like it or not, we’re going to be dragged kicking and screaming into the world of technology,” said Sharon Yingling, who is a member of the Friends of Carroll County Public Library. She is in charge of fundraising for the center.
Visitors can use 3-D printers, a laser cutter, a 3-D scanner, sewing machines, audio and video processing software, a large-format plotter/scanner, a vinyl cutter, virtual and augmented reality equipment and software, robotics, microcomputers, and more in the makerspace.
“It takes what we currently offer and expands access to all these things,” said Jen Bishop, emerging and digital technologies manager for Carroll County Public Library.
The equipment could be an excellent resource for startup companies needing to make a prototype item.
“We’re excited for small businesses to use the equipment,” Yingling said. “They can produce prototype products, more efficiently and at less cost.”
“The AV lab is a great place to put together a video or podcast,” said Bob Kuntz, the CCPL’s director of operations and innovation.
The teaching kitchen will not only offer commercial-grade equipment, but it will have staff, presenters, chefs and instructors to teach nutrition, cooking skills, and the science of food.
“Exploration Commons is a nontraditional learning space,” Kuntz said.
The center is an open, accessible area where people are encouraged to learn and experiment. If that learning needs to be done through trial and error, that’s fine.
“It’s a place where you can come in and fail,” Kuntz added.
Exploration Commons will be free to use, although there may be minimal charges for supplies. All the staff in the center will be trained to teach the use of the equipment.
“This is where the economy is going,” Yingling said. “This is where society is going. We don’t want to leave anyone behind.”
The smallest member of the Carroll County Public Library staff is only 4 feet tall, but he attracts the most attention. Pepper is a humanoid robot funded through a Library Services and Technology Act Grant from the Maryland State Library and Institute of Museum and Library Services. Pepper reads stories to children, plays simple games, and holds basic conversations.
“My son, Graeme, was particularly taken with an intro to the Pepper robot,” said Joshua Ambrose, a library patron and the associate dean of campus and community engagement at McDaniel College. “While he’s too young to really program yet, the two of us were able to talk about how we could instruct Pepper to do different dance moves, say things, play videos, etc.”
Pepper can also teach coding using Choregraphe, a drag-and-drop programming language. When someone creates an application on Choregraphe, it can be run on Pepper to see if it works.
“Pepper physically responding to what we told it to do on the computer was a great lightbulb moment for [Graeme],” Ambrose said.
Classes and talks
While technology has certainly given libraries a new look, they are also embracing nontechnological improvements. Need a notary? The library offers one. The Eldersburg and North Carroll branches even accept passport applications on behalf of the U.S. State Department.
You can also find plenty of entertainment with classes, talks, and story times. Listen to a story while petting a baby goat. Stretch your muscles with a yoga class. Learn something new about the county at a talk or meet a book author at an author’s engagement.
“Libraries really haven’t changed their mission,” Picker said. “They are still places to access resources and information in a comfortable, non-threatening way.”
And if you still want a book to read, you’ll find plenty. Books make up more than half of the system’s collection.
Your Libraries at a Glance
Carroll County Public Library branches in Westminster, Taneytown, Eldersburg, Finksburg, Mount Airy and North Carroll offer residents access to technology, entertainment, and information.
- Cardholders: 95,892
- Total Visitors: 923,681
- County Population (2019): 167,656
- Total Circulation: 3,546,134
- Total Collection: 701,477
- Books: 369,119
- Audio: 45,166
- DVD: 56,675
- Outreach: 22,984
- Other Nonprint: 8,992
- Magazines: 11,605
- Digital: 186,936
- Collection Turnover: 5.06
- Databases: 27
- Number of Programs: 6,037
- Program Attendance: 168,632
- Public Computers: 112
- Meeting Room Bookings: 10,264