Community members have enthusiastically received the Teen Programming and Digital Media Room at The Dalles-Wasco County Library since its opening last June, so much so that funds will now be used to add another technological advancement: a dedicated “makerspace.”

The technology lab will be installed in what is now the periodicals’ section on the second floor (the periodicals will be moved to another shelving unit around the corner.)

The makerspace will be funded in the same way the teen lab was: grants and donations from The Library Foundation, Google and Oregon Cultural Trust.

Makerspaces have been described as “community centers with tools,” by Maker Media, which branded them in 2004.

“The goal is to give communities access to equipment, education and peers with similar interests to encourage the creation of collaborative, manufactured works,” stated the company on its website.

The concept is nothing new.

Community-operated, non-profit workspaces for people with common interests to socialize and collaborate have been around for a long time. The difference is that makerspaces are part of an official movement to encourage collaborative creation worldwide.

“What you see in the Maker Movement is a wide range of people, young and old, who are developing their talents and discovering new ways to solve interesting, everyday problems by working together on projects,” founder and CEO of Maker Media Dale Dougherty wrote on the company website.

The Maker Media website offers databases and resources to help community centers like libraries and schools start and run their own collaborative learning spaces.

Dylan McManus, assistant director at the library, who established the first official “MakerBot Innovation Center” in New York and spent over 15 years as a makerspace facility operator before coming to The Dalles, is excited to tackle the local project.

McManus hopes that the new makerspace will foster creative and design development in the region.

“The library can be the central focus and gathering point for the community to share exciting developments,” he said.

The idea behind the new lab is to give the entire community equitable access to the kinds of advanced technology available in the teen digital media room. The recently-opened Athenaeum, a name picked out by the library’s teen volunteer board, resides on the second floor and is blocked off from the rest of the library to give youth ages 12 and up a safe place to be creative.

“We want them to feel this is their space; it’s not school or home or work,” library teen services coordinator Megan Hoak told The Chronicle in June.

The 1,020-square-foot space is just that. It contains a media lab equipped with high-tech tools such as a 3-D printer, a laser-cutter and Adobe computer software, an activity space for simple crafts, a constantly-updated section of young adult literature and comfortable spaces for youth to just hang out. The Athenaeum also houses a number of board games and an X-Box available for use while a librarian is present.

“Our goal is to help young people be excited about learning and foster an environment with access to tools to help them explore and grow and enable us to inspire and equip future generations,” library director Jeff Wavrunek said last summer.

Hoak, who recently won the 2017 “OYEA!: OYAN You’re Excellent Award” for Teen Librarian of the Year through the Oregon Library Association’s Oregon Young Adult Network, also engages youth in literacy with blind book dates.

For the holidays, she has an “Island of Misfit Books” set up, which features a selection of wrapped books with brief descriptions taped to the outside. Young patrons can check out a wrapped holiday-themed book for a surprise read. During Banned Books Week back in September, Hoak did the same thing with books that had a history of being banned in schools and libraries.

Part of the library’s plan for the makerspace is to introduce a residency program, which would give professionals the chance to work on their own projects on the condition that they mentor local youth. McManus believes this pairing will both foster business development in the Gorge and offer youth a much-needed organic learning environment.

The library staff’s commitment to meeting community needs is nothing new, McManus said, remarking on Wavrunek’s desire to emphasize community needs.

Library staff take pride in their extensive genealogy collection, which has attracted people from all over who are striving to trace their ancestry as far back as the Oregon Trail.

Staff also make a conscious effort to regularly update the library’s book, audio and DVD collections to meet commercial release dates, so patrons can access material at the library for free the same day they could buy it at the store.

And if there’s anything the community wants that the library doesn’t have, staff are willing to order it.

“I would like to say anything within reason,” McManus said, but added that he has yet to refuse any patron requests.

He personally hopes that community requests will help fill out the library’s meager graphic novel section.

The library continues to be a safe space for community members of all ages to socialize and learn. Events like weekly story times and playgroups in The John and Jean Thomas Children’s Wing, book groups for adults and movie nights for both give the community plenty of opportunities to engage.

Library patronage is up, McManus said, meaning that not only is there an increase of library cards being issued, more people are taking interest in library events.

“Our staff works very well together to bring the library into the future,” he said.

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