Over spring break I visited one of my favorite spots in Chicago… The Harold Washington Library on the corner of State and Lasalle. This bright red architectural gem of a building occupies an entire city block and if the gargoyles aren’t enough to make you stop and look, this library has two makerspaces (one for everyone and one specifically for teens), various exhibits happening throughout the year, a gorgeous skylit garden atrium on the top floor and an amazing teacher resource section. In my opinion, the library is a top notch destination for relaxing, learning and now innovating in the city.
One of these Makerspaces called the “Innovation Lab.” The Innovation Lab is different from the New Media Lab which also a cool space but specifically for teenagers.
Background & Projects The “Innovation Lab” is Chicago Public Library’s version of a hackerspace or makerspace. It is community-operated and when you walk into this space, you can see people working alone, working together and people utilizing the skill-set of the volunteers, who are very knowledgeable in 3-D design, printing, vinyl cutting, laser cutting and milling. People come to the space to use the computers for design or to print, cut or mill their creations.
Ideas & Interests There are definitely people who come to the “Innovation Lab” with a file that needs to be printed. These are typically design students who are testing ideas or printing for school but others are just everyday people who are interested in these technologies. One of the best things about this lab are the free classes they provide each month where newbies can try out the different software and printing devices available.
When you walk in the lab, you immediately notice the printers lining the right side of the lab. One the left wall is a giant whiteboard with all of the information needed to get you started on 3-D design. As I said before, the staff is there to help you along (to some extent) but they will always recommend coming in for one of the classes prior to doing a solo project as their primary job is to facilitate and assist in the lab and not necessarily teach people who have no experience.
Learning Community The “Innovation Lab” is a welcoming place and the volunteers will take time to come over and greet you, answer questions and typically people do not mind if you look over their shoulder while they are working. You have to be 14 or older to use the lab unless you are accompanied by an adult. There don’t appear to be “community guidelines” posted but there are guidelines available on their blog and the volunteers will also ask you if you have been before and then fill you in on certain guidelines before you sit at a computer. For example, they’ll tell you that during open lab you cannot use the printers unless you are a registered participant whereas in between shop times, you can use anything that is available. They also encourage you to chat with people about what they are doing and ask questions so if you are going there to concentrate and work privately, then the “Innovation Lab” is probably not the best place because people are always wandering around and checking things out in there since it is right at the top of the escalator that leads to the first floor of the stacks.
Space The “Innovation Lab” at Harold Washington is about the size of a typical computer lab and the whiteboards in there definitely support the creative learning process. The whiteboards add a brainstorming element to the room and the notes that appear on the whiteboards demonstrate the thinking and creative process happening while people are working in the maker lab as well as resources for makers to use and filetypes compatible with the printers. The furniture is lightweight as are the stools so they are easy to move around. There is also an LCD screen at the front so people who are demonstrating can project anything by computer or camera. The green wall color and lighting brightens up the place and keeps you awake and thinking!
Overall, this is a great free resource for the city of Chicago and if you live in the area, I encourage you to check it out! I hope to see more of these appear in other libraries and especially in our schools!