Jun 24, 2014 Allie Wenner Uncategorized
Five 3-D printers
A 3-D scanner
A laser cutter and vinyl cutter
Seven sewing machines
Paper craft tools
Jewelry making tools
Knitting and crochet kits
Professional 3-D software
Hammers, screwdrivers, wrenches and other hand tools
Kill-A-Watt energy meters
And much, much more!
Fayetteville Free Library Executive Director Sue Considine doesn’t play by the rules – she makes them. Since joining the FFL in 2001, Considine has moved the library from its 4,500 square foot building on East Genesee Street in 2003 to the vast 46,000 square foot space in the former Stickley Furniture Factory. She’s grown the staff from a handful of people to almost 50 and has increased the library’s budget from $300,000 to $1.6 million over the last ten years.
“I haven’t done any traditional library things my entire career,” Considine said, seated in her office, part of the east wing of the library which was renovated in 2006. “I’m a facilitator – I make resources, time, space and support available to the creative doers. I get the barriers out of the way and give them what they need to take great ideas and move them forward. That’s why I’m here.”
Last year, Considine was invited to the White House, where she was honored as a “Champion of Change” for the work she’s done at the library to encourage science, technology, engineering, art and math (STEAM) among children and teens. Worldwide, the FFL has made headlines for its innovative Makerspace, called the Fab Lab, in publications like Forbes.
As the first public library in the world to create public access to “disruptive technologies,” or technologies that unexpectedly displace existing technologies, the FFL is now receiving calls from libraries across the world that want to emulate what it’s doing.
And although the Fab Lab is stocked with impressive new machines like a vinyl cutter, 3-D printers and a laser cutter, Considine said the Fab Lab about much more than just bringing in new fancy gadgets. She said that each modern-day library should tailor itself to the needs of its community, an idea she’s believed in since day one.
“We don’t create access to technology for the sake of creating access to technology,” Considine said. “We create access to things, and spaces, and people because it’s our mission to support relationships. It’s about everything from companionship, friendship and finding like-minded people who can help you round out an idea and move it forward. And those relationships and potential-building happen here every day.”
11 years ago, when the library first announced its plans to relocate to an exponentially larger location, there were many naysayers, Considine recalls.
“Our goal was to take what was and move it into this space and expand from there. So we took our existing services, existing collection and existing staff and we added a computer lab, which everybody thought was nuts. Since then, we’ve added two more,” she said.
A few years later, the library created a new wing and community café, which Considine said brings in about $3,000 in yearly revenue. Around this time, she began making trips to the Syracuse University iSchool to recruit students studying to get their master’s degree in library science. “I realized that we have the premiere information science school right in our backyard – these are the people I want on my team,” she said.
Today, the entire circulation staff is composed of Syracuse University students, and every professional on the FFL team except one began working at the library as a student. Admittedly, it’s a bit of a different format from other libraries, she said.
“We are an incubator,” Considine said. “Imagine the possibilities – every day, we’re surrounded by the best and brightest new thinkers in the field who have exposure to things happening now.”
Additionally, Considine eliminated all departmental roles among her staff. Instead, each full-time librarian is a director and has responsibility in the area they’re passionate about, whether it be technology, making or social media, among other things.
This is part of Considine’s vision to ensure that everything the FFL does is a true team effort and that each staff member contributes to the success of the organization. Each month, all staff members get together for three forums, where topics like collections and access, big ideas and making are discussed. “There’s nothing that’s thought about in isolation – everything happens in the forum,” she said.
A perfect storm
Around five years ago, the public library industry was turned upside down by the introduction of new technologies like eReaders and Netflix. Many felt that these products were direct competitors to public libraries, and the future was uncertain.
At the same time, the economy began to spiral downward. While many businesses and organizations saw a decrease in their clientele, more and more people began visiting their public libraries. Suddenly, libraries were more important than ever.
“Having these two things happen at the same time kind of gave way to this industry-wide revelation that we need to evolve,” Considine said. “Our brand is not the book, and our value is not in the things we collect. Our value is in the opportunities we offer.”
And once the FFL had this realization, the opportunities began: one-on-one assistance for people who were job searching, downloadable eContent for patrons’ Kindles, Nooks and other eReaders, family-friendly events like movie screenings and a weekly kickball game and much more.
The first public library Makerspace
After listening intently to the community’s needs, the library staff came up with the idea to create a Makerspace for patrons, complete with the tools necessary for members of the Fayetteville community to explore their hobbies and interests with like-minded individuals. It would be the first opportunity for people to use a 3-D printer for free or without membership of a tech or higher education organization.
And for Considine, the decision to develop it was a no-brainer.
“It’s exactly in line with our mission – to create free and open access,” she said. “We create access to content, and most importantly, to each other. That’s what we do; we’re about connectedness and community building.”
The first local Makerspace opened in July 2012 with the first public 3-D printer in the world as part of the FFL’s Digital Creation Lab, a space where it offers podcasting equipment, the Adobe Creative Suite for professional video editing, more 3-D printers and a green screen. The lab was funded in part by an award the library won at a Contact Summit in New York City, an Indiegogo campaign and a grant from New York State Senator Dave Valesky.
The Digital Creation Lab was just the first phase of a $1.3 million project which included the addition of the Fab Lab, which opened as a part of the library’s 10 year anniversary in September 2013, complete with five 3-D printers, jewelry making tools, sewing machines, paper craft and hand tools, knitting and crochet kits and more.
Additionally, the library has created a “Little Makers” area in the children’s room, which includes Lego and other building kits, paper, scissors and other “traditional” crafting material and age-appropriate science experiments. Empty picture frames hang on the walls where children can display their creations.
There is still 7,000 square feet of unused space in the library, which Considine hopes to transform into a small business/entrepreneur work space.
Anyone can do it
Considine firmly believes that any public library can change the industry like Fayetteville has. It all starts with a staff willing to question traditional library methods and that is able to listen to what its community needs.
“If we could impact the industry from our little corner of the world in Fayetteville, New York, any library could if they’re willing to do the hard work of challenging the assumption that they have about what libraries are in a community, what they mean to the community, what librarians do and don’t do and how we spend those allocated dollars and create opportunities for our communities,” she said.
Currently, the FFL offers at least one class or activity every day and about 40 percent of those classes are led by “expert” community volunteers. To find out more about the FFL Fab Lab or to volunteer to teach a class, visit fflib.org.