Libraries have always been about more than books. Pathological readers will, of course, know the library best by that familiar spark of joy experienced when entering a space devoted to books. But libraries are also a place for individuals to seek information and knowledge, to connect and to grow. As such, the emergence of makerspaces within libraries makes sense.
“Makerspaces provide opportunities to learn new skills, promote cross-generational learning with kids learning from adults and adults learning from kids and encourage 21st-century job skills like collaboration, problem-solving and creativity,” said Leslie Pallotta, Cranberry Library director. “They offer an adaptable learning environment where people can learn at their own pace and at a level that is comfortable for them.”
Cranberry Township recently opened its new makerspace, The Forge @ Cranberry Library, after a library renovation that stretched to almost 18 months—thanks to some unforeseen structural challenges and a global pandemic—and cost almost a million dollars. The project was funded through donations from local businesses, nonprofits, churches and private citizens, as well as by Cranberry Township, which designated the makerspace its official Project of the Year for 2019.
Community support for the makerspace has been strong.
“Great libraries forge great communities,” explained Rev. Tom Parkinson, a member of the library’s board and local pastor. “Cranberry Library’s makerspace is an innovative way to harness our community’s creativity and ingenuity. For years to come, the makerspace will empower people to learn new skills, share exciting talents, and create beautiful things.”
The space has a “clean side” and a “dirty side.” The former boasts six 3D printers, a crafting corner, sewing and embroidering machines, weaving looms and Cricut® machines as well as an AccuCut® die-cut machine, scrapbooking and papercraft supplies and myriad artistic materials like brush markers, paints and drawing pads.
The dirty side includes a peninsula with 10 soldering stations, two tool boards complete with clamps and power tools, a heat gun, a spray-painting booth with a hood to suck up paint fumes and a Versa-Tool® wood burner for pyrography projects. The crown jewel of the dirty space is a Helix epilog laser cutter that can raster or etch acrylic, glass, wood, cardboard and a variety of other materials. Makerspace Manager Mary Frances Reutzel has plans to etch a pumpkin for a library display this fall.
The Forge was designed to be flexible and multifunctional, Reutzel explained. The tables have wheels for easy transport. Chairs disappear into specially designed storage spaces underneath tables when not in use. Tabletops can be raised or lowered to accommodate wheelchairs, makers who prefer to stand, or smaller patrons.
Library staff consulted widely with various constituencies throughout the community before embarking on a plan, Pallotta said. The space incorporates much of that feedback, and the result is a thoughtful, intentional design that reflects the diverse needs of the community and fosters collaboration and creativity.
Community input drove the choices about where to allocate funding, with 3D printers topping the list of most-desired tools. Alongside such high-tech resources as laser cutters and fume extractors, Pallotta said people were asking for resources for textile arts like sewing, weaving and knitting.
“The diverse make-up of activities you can do in the space is critical to its success,” Pallotta explained. “Different people will have their curiosity piqued by different activities. The goal is to spark curiosity and to engage a broad spectrum of the population.”
Though the pandemic slowed construction progress, the delay had a silver lining. Reutzel, unable to welcome patrons into the space as soon as originally planned, was able to test and learn every piece of equipment. She created original reference materials for each maker station, including detailed images that show the various results of different machine settings so that makers will know what to expect when planning projects.
Reutzel has also created a series of video tutorials at https://www.cranberrytownship.org/3276/Forge-Tutorials to help patrons become familiar with the equipment. Aspiring makers can get an idea of what tools are available in The Forge, cool inspiration for projects, lessons on puzzle art or puppet making and—most especially—a preview of Reutzel’s enthusiasm and talent for teaching. Her Yogi’s Birthday Bash tutorial not only highlights some of the exciting Forge tools but also demonstrates some creative gift ideas for the beloved pooch (or puppy parent) in your life.
After a soft opening for The Forge’s community partners and a Maker Faire to highlight the new space in August, Reutzel and Pallotta were excited to be able to welcome the broader community this fall. The Forge officially opened to the public in September, with classes and programs for teen and adult library patrons.
Libraries make a natural home for learning and community-building. The Forge @ Cranberry Library offers amazing new opportunities to build, explore, tinker and create. Ultimately, Reutzel says, The Forge should be a safe haven for innovation and a place for joy.
“We need joy right now,” Reutzel said, “and I want The Forge to be a space that allows people to come together to experience joy in the moment and connection for the future.”