How Do We Create Innovators? Our Library’s First Little Bet
Last year, I heard loud and clear that Fremont businesses are looking for innovators — creative problem solvers who expect that jobs at every level will require lifelong learning. Schools are a good place to start learning these skills, but adults need these skills too. So I’m spending another year exploring how the Alameda County Library could help people become innovators and how the Library itself can be a catalyst for innovation in the community.
Similar to last year, I launched this effort with a listening tour by talking to library members (that’s what our customers like to be called), library staff, parents, students, and other members of the community. In addition to my own listening, I got to piggyback on a year-long AC Library strategic planning process that asked similar questions.
Here are just a few of my findings:
- The library is one of the few remaining public institutions that our community (and communities across the country) seems to trust. I’ve seen members come talk to librarians about all kinds of issues, including health, housing, and employment, simply because librarians are trusted to be guides into unfamiliar worlds.
- In a larger sense, libraries are part of our social infrastructure. As Eric Klinenberg describes in his book, “Palaces for the People,” public libraries play a critical, but underappreciated, role in our societies as places of social connection. As Klinenberg writes, our social infrastructure “influences seemingly mundane but actually consequential patterns, from the way we move about our cities and suburbs to the opportunities we have to casually interact with strangers, friends, and neighbors. Social infrastructure affects everyone.”
- There are lots of reasons people come to the library (to study, warm up, socialize, read the news, etc.), but overall the library is seen as an institution of knowledge, not just a repository for books. People come here to learn and try new things. For example, when talking to power users of our children’s program (people who have come to more than 20% of all the programs we offer), I learned that many parents bring their kids specifically because they trust the library to offer enrichments that they can’t provide and that their kids are not getting in school. One mother said she lost count of the number of times she brought an unwilling 10-year-old boy to a program and then left with an enthusiastic participant interested in learning more.
Overall, people seem to trust the library enough to try new things. In that sense, the library seems to be an on-ramp for new experiences and acquiring new skills. It is a perfect place to learn to be an innovator.
In June, after six months of listening, prototyping, and planning, we are launching our first little bet: an innovation space called Archimedes. Archimedes will be full of laser cutters, 3D printers, a new computer lab, and hand tools so that we can fix things. But our dream is bigger.
We want our members to learn and grow the problem-solving and lifelong learning skills that Fremont employers are seeking. We want Archimedes to be a place where our community comes together to define and practice the skills needed to thrive in today’s world — while making some cool stuff along the way, of course.
In May, the board of the Alameda County Library Foundation awarded Archimedes $87,000 for tools and programming. Although we’re up and running, we could still use your help with two things:
- Help us understand the skills YOU think are required to, as the library says, “create your desired future.” Send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and describe the skills you or your company are looking for. This will help us create a roadmap of programs we want to offer.
- Help us create challenges to learn these skills. This summer, we are going to work with Kristin Berbawy, MVROP’s star maker teacher at Irvington High School (check out this MAKE Magazine article), to create a several challenge camps in early August. Each camp will have a group of high school students working on a challenge that will affect our community, similar to the Public Works and Fire Department projects from last spring. We are looking to the community to provide these challenges. Each challenge should have an owner who can describe it to us and a solution we could make either in real life or design in software. This could be a water monitoring system that reports from the field, a bicycle-powered irrigation system, a sign that needs to survive outside for 10 years, or a new headlight design — just to name a few ideas. It’s fine if said solution requires some struggle. That’s one of the lessons to be learned. If you have a challenge, or would be willing to work to develop one, please get in touch (email@example.com).
More news about Archimedes coming soon.