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Hive Mind

Richmond's public libraries look for creative appeal with new maker spaces.

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At the main branch of the Richmond Public Library at 101 E. Franklin St., coordinator Natasha Payne-Brunson is helping teens re-purpose young adult books into lanterns. A grant for Teen Read Week helped pay for the eight sewing machines used to transform the old books, which had been headed for recycling bins.

It's all part of the new maker space program, a plan by the Richmond library system to increase its accessibility with an array of technologies, including self-publishing tools that aim to breathe new life into public libraries.

"Right now, this is a mobile maker space," Payne-Brunson says. "We can pack it up and ensure that other branches are able to benefit."

There's a hint of edgy, do-it-yourself aesthetic in this first maker space offering. The lanterns on display also will sport covers from books written by local young adult writers. Some of those feted authors will be visiting the library, such as Kwame Alexander, whose writing has been described as "beautifully measured" by The New York Times.

"Show-and-tell is fine, but you don't want to become a YouTube channel for real life," emerging technology librarian David Folmar says. He coordinates the library's Tech Commons program, which sees a lot of young adults eager to create computer games. Folmar says the future maker space will encompass a variety of artistic mediums, some of which may overlap.

"Ideally, you want it to be a place where multiple generations are openly sharing skills," he says. "And if someone has to finish their soundtrack over at the Science Museum of Virginia, then that's best for everybody."

Matt Baker supervises the Mix at the Science Museum of Virginia, which houses audio recording equipment. His staff already teaches skills at the library's main branch every month. "For maker spaces to stockpile a bunch of equipment and professionals," he says, "that's just redundant."

Baker suggests creating a hive network and adopting a philosophy called HOMAGO — Hang Out, Mess Around, Geek Out.

"Maker spaces are home base, and you can take off, or someone can meet up with you," he says. "That type of self-directed learning has always been a function of public libraries." S

Richmond Public Library's first maker space event, Illuminating Books, will be held Oct. 14 at 3 p.m. at the main branch. Appearances from award-winning young adult authors are scheduled for Oct. 16 from 6-8:30 p.m.

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