Modern libraries are lending more than just books

    The posting board at the East Baton Rouge Parish library advertises the various events they offer.  (Ann Marie Awad/for WHYY)

    The posting board at the East Baton Rouge Parish library advertises the various events they offer. (Ann Marie Awad/for WHYY)

    As libraries struggle to reinvent themselves, they expand their lending collection beyond books and DVDs to technology, art and even animal pelts.

    This piece is part of our “Rebirth Of The Library” show. Take a look at the rest of our stories here.

    Across the nation, libraries are experimenting with lending more than books. One library in Maine lends snowshoes, another in Alaska lends animal skulls and pelts. When it comes to technology, libraries in New York and Chicago lend mobile WiFi hotspots, while a library in Sacramento lends GoPro cameras. One library in Baton Rouge, Louisiana lends telescopes, paintings, sculptures and, more recently, Arduino kits.

    First things first, an Arduino kit is basically a little circuit board. You plug in wires, LED lights, buttons and other components in a certain order, and then you plug it into your computer and use code to tell it what to do.

    “Really what people do with them is they…assemble some basic projects, get the basics of circuitry down, things like that,” said Eric Cahanin, a technician with the East Baton Rouge Parish Library. He’s in charge of the 3D printing program as well as the Arduino kits. He teaches classes on how to use them.

    “We did one where it was just a free-for-all—play with the kit, learn it, do as much as you want with it,” he said. “Other times we did specific programs, like…they’d follow instructions for how to build a robot.”

    The availability of Arduino kits, 3D printing—and soon, podcasting and video studios—in the the EBR library system is part of the nationwide Maker movement. The Maker movement is like the DIY movement, but battery powered. It encourages people to make and invent, and libraries like EBR have hopped right on, developing Makerspaces for people to learn and play.

    “It’s a great time to be in the public library,” said Mary Stein, assistant library director forEBR. She says neat toys like Arduino kits bridge all age groups, which is something the library aims to do with as many programs as possible.


    An Ardino kit from the East Baton Rouge Parish library. (Ann Marie Awad/for WHYY)

    “More and more, the adults would see the programs we were offering the teenagers, and they wanted to come,” she said. “And nothing kills a teen program more than an adult being in it.”

    That’s why there are Arduino kits to take home, but also classes at the library for all age groups. That’s also why the library offers things like adult coloring, podcast listening parties, science fiction film festivals, beer brewing classes, and there’s a teen room where no grown-ups are allowed. Stein calls it a “cradle-to-the-grave” approach. Something for everyone.

    So, I decided to take an Arduino kit home.

    But after an hour sitting at my kitchen table trying to make one LED lightbulb light up, I gave up.I guess it’s back to the library for me…maybe for that beer brewing class this time.

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